The Pumpkin Kings: 7 of the best fall seasonal ales

Autumnal brews

If you’ve noticed anyone patiently staring at the trees, then jumping for joy when the first leaf hits the ground, you were probably observing a craft beer drinker going through his or her pre-autumn routine.

Yes, it’s pumpkin ale season again, when the nation’s top craft brewers set about infusing the most  seasonal vegetable into all manner of tasty brews.

What makes a great pumpkin ale?

Well, natural ingredients are a must. Unlike the artificial stuff that goes into spiced lattes and what-have-you, brewmasters are pureeing enough pumpkins to adorn all the front porches of a small village.

All of that goodness gets dumped into the fermenter, which concentrates the flavor.

However, the pumpkin alone is only part of the puzzle; careful use of spices are another important element. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and all-spice are often prevalent, gifting flavor and aroma, without overpowering the drinker.

Indeed, a world-class pumpkin ale walks the balance of sweet and spice so finely that it often feels like you’re enjoying a slice of Thanksgiving dessert.

Color is also important. Those rich ambers, browns and rubies that connote the turning of the season are enough to entice the taste buds before the first sip.

So, settle in next to the fire and savor this selection of fine fall beers. 

Beer: Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale

Brewery: Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co.

Lexington, KY

ABV: 10%

There are few breweries in America who have the barrel aging process mastered quite like Lexington Brewing. Sipping on this ultra-smooth fall seasonal feels like someone kindly dropped-in a shot of high quality bourbon. The infusion gifted by freshly-decanted oak barrels dominates upfront, while the subtle pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg spices balance out the flavors at the back end. It has a smoothness that belies its 10% ABV, but make no mistake, this one will sneak up on you.

Perfect for sipping - slowly - by the fireside.

Beer: Pumpkin Autumnal Ale

Brewery: Rivertown Brewery

Cincinnati, OH

ABV: 5.2%

While, it’s always a tough ask to return to the same pumpkin beer again and again - given the richness of the flavors on offer - Rivertown’s mighty fine effort is comfortably the most repeatable among our fall collection. Almost lager-like in body with a rich ruby coloring, the Autumnal Ale boasts subtle seasonal spices that are finely balanced out with the addition of darker sugars. If you’re lucky enough to be spending fall in warmer climates, this could be the pumpkin ale for you. Think Thanksgiving in Florida.

Beer: Warlock

Brewery: Southern Tier

Lakewood, NY

ABV: 10%

Amber-colored ales tend to dominate the fall season, but Southern Tier’s Warlock proves there’s plenty of room for those on the Dark Side. This big imperial stout brings huge flavor from the pureed pumpkin, complemented by dark chocolate, coffee and natural spices. If you want to turn it up a notch, try adding in a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream. Either way, you’ll definitely want to liberally share the 22 oz. bombers of Warlock, part of the Lakewood-based brewery’s Blackwater Series.

Beer: Isle of MaGourdo

Brewery: Due South Brewing

Boynton Beach, FL

ABV 5.5%

The brewmasters in Boynton Beach have concocted one of the most interesting beers of the fall season with its annual Isle of MaGourdo. Rather than join the brigade of super sweet-tasting pumpkin ales that have you running back to the IPAs after a single serving, Isle of MaGourdo offers subtle and mild spice - with hints of nutmeg, pumpkin, yam and gingerbread – with a very apple cider-like sourness at the back end. Refreshing and intriguing, yet, ultimately, very festive.

Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Fat Head’s Brewing

North Olmsted, OH

ABV: 9%

With Spooky Tooth, the Ohioans may be the closest to replicating the pure decadence of a pumpkin pie. “We stopped just short of the whipped cream, but we like the way you think,” the brewer even jokes on the label. Indeed, its provocative aroma and rich autumnal coloring wins you over before Spooky Tooth even hits your lips. From there, the smooth initial sip gives way to intense flavor on the back-end featuring hints of brown sugar, roasted pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice and even a little ginger. Bring a six-pack of this to Thanksgiving dinner – it’ll go well with the turkey and sweet potatoes.

Beer: Punkin Ale

Brewery: Dogfish Head

Milton, DE

ABV: 7.0%

Named after the annual Punkin Chunkin’ contest in Delaware - during which pumpkins are launched thousands of feet from trebuchets and cannons - Dogfish’s interpretation is one of the most anticipated and beloved seasonal ales on the US craft beer scene. Unlike many of the Milton-based brewer’s “off-center” beers, the beauty of Punkin comes through its relative simplicity. Modest pumpkin spice countered with caramel and brown sugar makes for a supremely enjoyable, drinkable ale that’s flavorful without ever overpowering the palate. Pair with food, fun and football.

Beer: Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Brewery: Weyerbacher Brewing Company

Easton, PA

ABV: 8.0%

There’s an awful lot going on in this beer, so much so, we’ll be temporarily be retiring the word ‘hint.’ Indeed, this full-bodied, ruby-colored beer is anything but subtle, offering strong flavors with clove, nutmeg, bready malt and pumpkin really shining through.

As with many of Weyerbacher’s ‘bigger’ beers, the alcohol offers a little sweetness at the back end, with caramel and molasses balancing out the heavy dose of spices. “Like two beers in one,” as a fellow taster commented.

Want to try your pumpkin ales in autumnal scenery? Check out the best places to leaf-peep in the US. Wrap up in our Winter Wool Collection before you head out.