Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
There are so many pumpkin beers on the shelves these days that it’s difficult to figure out what’s a trick and what’s a treat. We’ve done the tough work of drinking the best pumpkin beers in America to ensure your next six-pack is full of sugar, (pumpkin) spice, and everything nice.
This fall, skip the pumpkin spice lattes and slices of pumpkin pie and opt for one of these stouts or ales instead.
Sure, there’s the standard potent variation kicking in at 8.4% brewed with the quintet of pumpkin spice essentials but look out for the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Frog’s Hollow Double Pumpkin version aged in whiskey barrels boasting notes of vanilla and oak. This one’s perfect for enticing particularly bourbon lovers to take a hop to the other side.
Proud to be the only brewery/distillery combo along its city’s iconic Bourbon Trail, Lexington Brewing is also recognized as one of the first to brew and package a barrel-aged pumpkin ale for retail. To keep it all the way 100, the pumpkins are locally sourced, and enhance the flavor with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, resulting in a delicious concoction to bring in the fall weather Kentucky style. With a high-octane ABV, this one is strictly for Thoroughbred-level sippers.
Middleburg Heights, Ohio
This brewery has been rocking Ohio and eventually the rest of the Midwest scene since 1992 thanks to its award-winning brews including the revered Head Hunter IPA. But now it’s fall and the Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin Ale is staking its claim. The beer is as robust as its famed Fat Head logo and does one helluva job mimicking a pumpkin pie from the flavors of fresh-baked crust to the finishing dash of brown sugar. Drink you a slice.
With the invasion of pumpkin ales and lagers hitting the shelves during the fall season, Left Hand flexed their creative muscle and wisely blazed their own trail to entice especially java lovers. This brew honors the traditional combo of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice seasonings, real pumpkin, plus oats and lactose for a mouthfeel smoother than Sade ballads. Taking it a step further, Left Hand delivers a southpaw slap of local coffee authority Ozo’s Ursa Major Dark Roast along with a nitro widget in the can to deliver a latte foam a barista would envy. Ingenious.
When it comes to pumpkin beer season, Elysian arguably takes it the most seriously nationwide. The brewery hosts the Annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival pouring 80-plus pumpkin beers from around the country. The PNW spot also taps a “several-hundred-pound” pumpkin that’s been conditioning a beer of its namesake during the celebrated gathering. Elysian is releasing a trio of pumpkin beers—The Punkuccino, The Great Pumpkin, and Night Owl. The latter is brewed with roasted and raw pumpkin seeds, plus a nice dose of cloves, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Be as wise as the mascot and pick one up this season.
Surely the finest beer ever named after a movie in which (spoiler alert) a woman gives birth to the Devil’s offspring, Roadsmary’s Baby is a devilishly delicious take on a barrel-aged pumpkin beer. Two Roads takes the rum barrel-aged mantle and runs (rums?) with it, offering up a beautiful, deep copper-colored ale with an intoxicating pumpkin spice blend on the nose. Your tastebuds will dive into pools of vanilla and oak imparted from the rum barrel. And unlike most barrel-aged brews with super high ABVs, this brew will give you all those flavors you know and love from the cellaring process without making you want to take a nap immediately after drinking it.
Good Gourd is often cited as the pumpkin beer against which all others are measured, as it tastes like liquid pumpkin pie. Check the spice list: cinnamon, Jamaican allspice, Zanzibar cloves, vanilla, and nutmeg. And you bet your sweet bippy those spices show up in every sip. You also don’t need to drink much of it to get into the Halloween spirit. Also, you can’t drink much of it because you it’s now impossible to buy a bunch of bottles and stash them away for future consumption—it’s currently only available on tap.
This brewery outside of Baltimore has gone through a few recent facelifts—both in its taproom and on its packaging—but a mainstay is its bold, barrel-aged pumpkin ale. Brewers used real pumpkin for the recipe and also age the beer in bourbon barrels, giving it slight notes of oak and vanilla, on top of cinnamon, ginger, and clove flavors. This is one your nose will notice as soon as the bottle opener flips off the cap.
Fort Collins, Colorado
The Voodoo Ranger IPA is one of New Belgium’s best-selling and beloved beers, which explains the release of multiple variants like Imperial and Juicy Haze. Atomic Pumpkin throws out the pumpkin beer rulebook that says every pumpkin beer must taste like pumpkin pie, and adds a spicy twist. This surprisingly hot brew adds Saigon cinnamon and peppers like habanero, aji, and de árbol. While the first few sips yield sweetness and a little hoppiness, it’s not long before you feel a lingering burning in the throat and on the tongue. A pumpkin beer hiding a dastardly surprise? Why, that’s a perfect Halloween drink, and one of the more unique, nationally available pumpkin beer options.
If you’ve heard of New Holland Brewing, you likely either live in the Great Lakes region, or are aware of its fantastic bourbon-barrel aged Dragon’s Milk beer. Or both. Taking a whiff of this brew rewards you with loads of nutmeg aroma, but the taste is not the pumpkin-spice bomb you’re expecting. It’s a restrained take on the pumpkin brew, with more hops (26 IBUs) than most offerings in the liquid-gourd space, and it results in an easy-sipping beer that doesn’t immediately remind you of dessert served at the Thanksgiving table.
Some might say this is the best pumpkin beer in America. Those someones happened to be beer judges for the Great American Beer Festival, where they awarded it gold in the Pumpkin/Squash or Pumpkin Spice Beer category in 2017. The brew doesn’t skimp on ingredients—it’s a rich, dark, malty treasure overflowing with molasses, brown sugar, pumpkin spices, and enough pumpkins to bake 437 pumpkin pies, according to the brewery. If you’re in Houston and want one, order it in the literal cathedral Saint Arnold opened. It may not be a religious experience, but at 10.5%, it certainly might have you speaking in tongues.
Tröegs knows how to embrace its environs while making a truly seasonal beer by using 3,000 pounds of Pennsylvania longneck pumpkins grown by neighbor Strites Orchard for their revered Master of Pumpkins ale. From de-stemming the longnecks, to roasting them in the kitchen, and then finally adding them to the mash, the dedication to making this highly anticipated fan favorite deserves some love! The subtle notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla bean, and caramel pouring with a hue of walnut brown justify the wait for 2021’s batch.
Often credited with putting the state of Oklahoma on the map for craft beer with its beloved—and potent—Bomb! imperial stout series, Prairie continues to justify the “artisan” title with the Pumpkin Kerfuffle. It’s not often you see a pumpkin beer fall into the imperial sour category, but this complex version finishing with well-balanced notes of toasted marshmallow and your traditional pie spices to avoid overwhelming sweetness make this one a must-try ale which boldly defies the norm.
Fort Collins, Colorado
New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger IPA series is straight killin ’em, but the hipster-garbed skeleton mascot literally spices things up with the Atomic Pumpkin. Instead of solely settling for the traditional pumpkin flavor, the Ranger carves his own lane by adding a respectable dose of habanero chili peppers. (Don’t sweat it, his skull doesn’t come with crossbones—it’s just spicy enough.) The result is a crushable, lighter-bodied pumpkin ale that ideally cuts through a hearty fall feast with a little heat to jazz up the squash and proteins. The Atomic is simply one of the most culinary-friendly pumpkin beers on the market, one that gourmands will respect.
Maryland Heights, Missouri
This O’Fallon pumpkin joint warrants a shoutout since it’s more sessionable than most of the pumpkin beer segment. To make sure it’s not too crisp on the tongue, however, the brewery adds a dose of lactose. On the flavor side, a welcomed caramel maltiness is seasoned with a perfect companion of pink Himalayan sea salt The pumpkin puree and complementary, house-made medley of pie spices don’t need to overwork to make this a legit seasonal. All the taste buds get some love after one—or three—of these. It’s sessionable, remember?
Shipyard’s kind of the OG of Maine’s brewing scene, and the stalwart brewery offers up two different takes on the seasonal brew. And while we do love us some Pumpkinhead, we’re also suckers for Smashed Pumpkin, and not only because it makes us feel like dusting off our old Zero long-sleeves. This beer walks a tightrope of flavors beautifully, giving you a hint of spice that lingers on the palate just long enough, cut with a nice sweetness that walks right up to the line of cloying without crossing over. This beer is infinitely quaffable, but also comes in full pint cans clocking in at 9%, which could lead you to discuss the finer points of Zwan’s musical output if you go too fast.
This is the pumpkin beer for people who say they don’t like pumpkin beers. It won’t overpower you with sweetness, and the finish is quite pleasant. And because it’s brewed by people who always seem to brew beers that sound like that could be absolutely disgusting but always turn out fantastic, you can feel confident that you’re in good hands with a pumpkin pint from Dogfish Head. This beer releases early September but often sells out right around the Thanksgiving mark, so stock up on this fall favorite.
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
The folks at Stevens Point—who are behind this new offshoot label—must have just liquified a pumpkin pie and put it in a bottle, because this mimics the pumpkin pie experience better than any beer we’ve tried. But, it’s not overly sweet. Expect a host of intense pumpkin pie flavors like nutmeg and cinnamon, and just a flat out marvelous beer.
Jolly Pumpkin has endured years and years of people making jokes about not actually making pumpkin beer, and has finally caved with La Parcela. Unlike fan demand for a second Dumb & Dumber movie, it actually paid off. This beautiful, bubbly oak-aged ale gets all the pumpkin notes right, with a hint of cocoa on the back of the tongue. “Guess now folks will have to find something else to joke about,” reads the bottle. All right, JP. How about a Blue Raspberry Jolly Rancher saison?!
St. Louis, Missouri
No conversation about pumpkin beer is complete without Schlafly, which might just be the most well-balanced bottle in the patch. The spiciness on the nose may spook some, but one sip reveals how it’s medium-bodied and smooth on the palate, with pumpkin flavors playing along more as an accent than the language. It’s what people in the industry call a “converter” beer because even people who hate this style will usually find something they like. Not surprisingly, this makes it a pretty obvious choice for a cooler option at your Halloween party or mid-season tailgate.
Do you own a smoking jacket? If not, we recommend purchasing one, finding the nearest fireplace, and cozying up to it with a glass of Lakefront Imperial. After all, this brew smells like brandy and pumpkin spice, and it demands to be sipped on a cold winter night. Perhaps one of those nights is after Thanksgiving dinner. You’ve got a fork in one hand digging into a huge slice of apple pie, a glass of boozy pumpkin juice in the other, and enough alcohol running through your system that you can tune out everyone in the room asking you to justify your life choices.
Ale Sharpton is an award-winning journalist, blogger, photographer, and beer authority based in Atlanta. Follow him @realalesharpton.