What The Hell Is a Pumpkin Ale?


, What The Hell Is a Pumpkin Ale?To the uninitiated this story may seem to pose a stupid question. Yes… it’s an ale featuring pumpkin and yes, it’s now a more defined style as set by the BJCP’s 2014 Guidelines (Spiced Beer: Autumn Seasonal) than ever before, but vagueness has never stopped us before and we’re dead set on finding out what the hell makes this beer tick. It’s this thirst for knowledge that drives us to dig deeper into the stories behind the beer we drink, thus protecting you from the embarrassment of not knowing exactly what it is you’ve decided to put in your mouth.

So welcome to the latest in our ongoing series (drum roll please…) “What the Hell is a Pumpkin Ale?”

The Basics:

Regardless of whether you love or hate today’s rash of pumpkin mania in the US, truth is they’ve been brewed in America’s beers since before we even became a nation (sorry hipsters). Often referred to as pompion by the British (varieties of Pumpkin and Squash), early settlers would literally substitute these gourds in their beers, in lieu of having whole grains, for their mash. The popularity of the style began to wane in the 1800’s as whole grains became more widely available.

, What The Hell Is a Pumpkin Ale?As the craft beer craze took hold in the 80’s, so too did the revival of the Pumpkin Ale with Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale arriving in 1985 which claims to use an original recipe from George Washington. Where once pumpkins were used purely for their pumpkin flavoring, today the addition of spices are more commonly found, creating a liquid version of pumpkin pie. The American public has made these beers so popular that some brewers have even started releasing them in July, stoking a demand for all manner of fruit and vegetable beers as the days grow colder.

As a style, it can feature any number of spices including cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, all-spice and ginger, but you’ll also find yams, sweet potatoes, chocolate, coffee and/or peaches in the mix as well. It’s brewed within almost every style available, historically making classification difficult, considering its hybrid nature. The ABV levels can vary between 5% to over 10% and tend toward the higher end with all those added sugars bumping up the specific gravity.

Pumpkin Beers We Like and You should Try:

, What The Hell Is a Pumpkin Ale?Schlafly Beer, Pumpkin Ale (St. Louis, MO) – This beauty from the heartland provides that aforementioned pumpkin pie flavoring, without all that extra sugar some others might possess. 8.0% ABV.

Cigar City Brewing, Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Tampa, FL) – There’s no doubt Cigar City is cooking up some of the best big beers ever seen these days. Not to be out done, this pumpkin imperial is considered by most to be the best around. 8.5% ABV.

, What The Hell Is a Pumpkin Ale?Elysian Brewing, Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (Seattle, WA) – Elysian will create or collaborate on 17+ pumpkin beers this fall and while they might make better pumpkin beers than this one, it’s their flagship pumpkin, is their most commonly found and a great example of the style. 5.9% ABV.

Our Take:

Much like our readers, the staff of ACB is pretty divided when it comes to pumpkin beers. Thus, it must be said that many purists or beer nerds will often hold up their noses to the pumpkin style, equating it to something more like a cider. We prefer those Pumpkin Ales that are more complex, prominently featuring the base beer style, with added spices and pumpkin for flavoring, not just a slap in the face with a sweet slice of pie. Not all pumpkin beers are alike and with 100’s of varieties available, there’s bound to be a version for even the most discriminating of palates.


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