Now that I’ve reviewed some seasonal coffee, it’s time to move on to one of my other favorite seasonal beverages: beer.
I don’t know when I first started seeing, or noticing, seasonal beer hitting the shelves. It seems like it kinda snuck up on me. One minute, there was the same old beers year around. Next thing I knew, I was seeing 12 packs with snow and jingle bells on them.
To take it back even further, I don’t remember when the whole craft beer thing started. I mentioned it in my Dragon*Con recap, but I remember when I was in college going into a place that boasted “20 beers on tap!!!”
It all seemed so exotic. And it was about imports, not craft American beers. American beer was seen as bullshit, even Sam Adams.
My first beer was a Miller Lite. I can’t even fathom what the future looks like when, 20 years from now, people will be waxing nostalgic about their first beer: some local beer that the brewery only made like 2 kegs of.
I can still go back to Miller Lite. In fact, I drink enough Miller Lite during Mardi Gras that I could probably float myself out to the Isle of Joy on it.
And it never fails that someone is gonna give us shit about it. “Ha! Miller Lite!”
Which is where this post wades into treacherous waters. It’s one thing to say, “This is the best seasonal coffee!” because there aren’t a lot of coffee snobs out there, and the ones that are out there are, more or less, laughable (sowwy).
But beer snobs are everywhere these days. You can’t even have a cup of Bud Light at a minor league ballgame without some bearded asshole popping out and saying how he wished they had that new steamed monkeyshit beer.
So I fully expect someone to disagree with my choices for “top 5 beers” (of any sort).
And that’s fine, but let’s please keep a level head about these matters. To paraphrase my friend Doug (whom I quoted in the last post), “It’s just beer, man!”
Moving on, I want to express how tough it was to narrow down the field of competitors. It also hurt my feelings a bit to exclude other Fall seasonals (Abita Oktoberfest) and focus on pumpkin exclusively.
No matter how much pumpkin backlash I see online, I will never hate the pumpkin.
Although I want to discuss something real quick: it seems that a lot of people think of pumpkin as a Thanksgiving flavor, while I think of it as being firmly a Halloween flavor. I don’t think I’ve ever associated pumpkins with Thanksgiving more than Halloween. Jack-o-lanterns, pumpkin patches, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, etc.
All that stuff is Halloween. Thanksgiving is turkeys and orange leaves. Here’s a fun fact: my birthday is on Thanksgiving Day this year… and it sucks. It rolls around like that every few years, and I hate it.
So before we get to the top five, let’s review:
– beer snobs are assholes. no one wants to be an asshole.
– pumpkin flavor is awesome. don’t join the backlash bandwagon. Halloween!
– as always, your tastes may vary
Honorable Mention: Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale. I really, really wanted to include this one, but I just couldn’t with a clear conscience.
I love this beer. It’s the first pumpkin beer out (usually), for which it won me a bet this year. It’s available most anywhere (bought some in a gas station a couple days ago). It’s affordable ($13 for a twelvepack at my local Publix).
I also really like the packaging. I like the name. For some reason, I associate the word “harvest” with “scary time”. I think I watched “Children of the Corn” too many times as a kid.
I know there will be people out there who are like, “Blue Moon is owned by Coors!” and I hear ya. I like to drink/eat locally too, but sometimes you just need a Blue Moon Pumpkin.
In case you missed it, that raven has a cranberry in its mouth. That’s because New Belgium, who brought you perennial favorite Fat Tire, decided it was a good idea to throw some tang into their pumpkin beer, in the form of cranberry juice.
Does it work?
Depends. I like this new wave of “sour” beers, and it almost seems like New Belgium wanted a little bit of that trend to sneak into their brew. If you like a little sourness in the back of your throat, you will like this beer. The spice and pumpkin hits you hard at first, but on the way down you get that cran-tanginess.
I like the packaging also. It looks like that jack-o-lantern is contemplating whether the raven would be good to eat. I’m such a sucker for a jack-o-lantern on anything.
I know I’ve mentioned my method for picking out wine before: find one in my price range with a cool label.
I, more or less, do the same thing with beer and, while this one doesn’t hit a homerun with me, it does have a jack-o-lantern and a raven on it, so it’s at least a double.
Yeah, you read that right, “Pugsley’s Signature Series”. I don’t know if it’s meant that way or not, but I am taking that to mean Pugsley Addams made this beer.
Shipyard also makes the ever-popular Pumpkinhead beer, which possibly has the greatest label art of all time.
Unfortunately, I like “Smashed Pumpkin” better. The label is still good, just not as good. I mean, seriously, how could anyone compete with the Headless Horseman at Halloween?
And on that note, these labels are all clearly Halloween-oriented, not Thanksgiving, further cementing my thoughts that pumpkin is a Halloween flavor. People love dat Halloween.
This one is 9% also. So there’s that.
The taste? It’s good! It has a heady alcohol taste, as you would expect from a 9% beer, but it’s not beating you over the head. I also appreciate that Shipyard seemed to take care not to overdo the spices, in an attempt to cover up the strong alcohol flavor.
I’m not sure if “Smashed Pumpkin” is a reference to the band or not. My wife hopes it is, while I hope it is not. I’m hoping it is a reference to the time-honored tradition of smashing the shit out of pumpkins on Halloween night.
Double pumpkin. DOUBLE. PUMPKIN. That’s twice the pumpkin.
I first discovered Sam Adams Fat Jack last year, and I was really hoping to see it come back this year.
Look at that label! Somehow, this fatass Jack looks both friendly and menacing. And I think he’s holding a spoon. Is he about to eat himself? Is he about to eat you? Maybe he just wants some ice cream. Regardless, I love this guy, warts and all.
The taste is, as you would imagine from the “double pumpkin” moniker, a strong pumpkin flavor, and that’s what sets this one apart, in my opinion. You get more pumpkin than spices.
As we all know, the predominant “pumpkin” flavor this season is “pumpkin spice”, not just straight-up gourd. Keep that in mind. If you want spicy, and don’t really like pumpkin, you may not like this one, but I love it.
Plus, it’s 8.5%.
#2. Southern Tier Pumking
I haven’t had a lot of Southern Tier stuff, but I have had about a bazillion Pumkings.
Most of my friends claim this as the end-all, be-all, of pumpkin beers. I guess it is aptly named, if you feel that way. Personally, I truly love it. I count down the days until it shows up at my local package store. I start asking about when it will show up sometime in June. Not kidding.
As a side note, people always think this is a local, or at least regional, beer because it is called “Southern Tier”. Then they check out the label and it is from Yankeeland. I don’t care. They make a helluva pumpkin beer, and one that I may not have tried if it hadn’t been recommended to me, just because I don’t think that label is too great. It’s not even as good as the label on their “other” pumpkin beer, “Warlock”, which is a pumpkin stout.
It really doesn’t matter. It could have a white label with “Pumking” written on it in Sharpie and I’d still buy it.
A strong, spicy, pumpkin flavor and it’s 8.6%. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this beer, which has earned its current place at the top of most people’s pumpkin beer lists.
My personal favorite, recommended to me by an employee at my local, is Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale, brewed by Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin.
Remember in the coffee post how I talked about the difference between pumpkin spice flavor and pumpkin pie flavor? Well this one is absolutely on the pumpkin pie side of that equation.
It’s weird, because I’m not a fan of any of the other Whole Hog series of brews, but they really nailed it with their pumpkin.
Coming in at 7.5%, Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale tastes like a beer, but also tastes like you’re drinking a pumpkin pie. One that isn’t too sweet, but is a perfect balance of pumpkin and spices.
The only problem is that it is expensive, and I know that is a taboo subject when it comes to craft beer, but it is one that most people must, at the very least, consider. Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale comes in fourpacks, which will run you about $15. I realize that’s still a lot cheaper than drinking at the bar, but paying over $3/beer for something to drink at home on the couch seems pricey, to me.
But really, almost all the beers I’ve mentioned are roughly in the same price range, so I don’t know why I’m making a big deal out of it with this one. Maybe it’s because I want it to be so cheap that I can drink this pumpkin ale exclusively, throughout the year, cutting out water, or anything else, entirely.
Go buy some now and drink it at work, in the parking lot. You won’t regret it. Even if you get shitcanned.
Well, that’s it. I did it.
Picking my favorite pumpkin beers is like picking my favorite movie. It really just can’t be done. All five of these are solid contenders and I wouldn’t kick any of them out of my fridge, where they’re currently sharing space with a twelve pack of Lone Star.
Like picking a favorite anything, next week this order may be completely reversed, or I may be burned out on pumpkin. It’s not likely to happen, but that possibility is still there. My favorite movie or television show changes daily!
I hope you enjoyed this top five, and I encourage you to check out the rest of the blog, if you’re new here, or backtrack through my old blog, Fit for Dragon*Con, linked to on your right there.
Happy First Day of Fall! Cheers!