Saturday, October 31, 2015
Once upon an All Hallows Eve, taps and shelves everywhere featured an old-fashioned beer called a "pumpkin ale." Now pumpkin beers complete their distribution cycles well before you head out for trick-or-treating, and its hard to find one whose strength hasn't been ramped up to imperial level.
Luckily, the brewers who know how to make it bigger also know how to supplement high alcohol-by-volume levels with some serious flavor complexity. And assuming you can find the liquor stores and taprooms that haven't laid their Christmas beer section yet, here are five pumpkin beers you should pair tonight with your favorite zombie movie or with the candy you steal from your kids' baskets.
Copper Kettle Imperial Pumpkin Porter (pictured at left)
The best offering of this season is robust - dark and heavy with layers of pumpkin-pie spices that do not disappoint. The spice bill has the cinnamon highlights that mark many beers of this season, but it also has a vaguely Mediterranean complexity that fills out the body and makes this 7.3% ABV gem one of the more unique pumpkin beers.
Strange Pumpkin Porter
After several years of producing a pretty good Halloween accompaniment, the little Denver brewery that could knocked it out of the park this year. This is a bold porter first and foremost - roasted but not burnt - that is supplemented by a spicy flavor that somehow is bereft of bitterness. While the dark body may look intimidating, it's one of the most smoothly blended beers of the season.
Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
Admittedly, you have to go out of state to find one; I tried some while visiting family in Baltimore, which ironically is much further from this St. Louis brewery than Denver is. But if you can get your hands on one, this may be the sweetest of the pumpkin offerings, an easy blend of malty ale with pumpkin flavorings that run toward the sugary end of the spectrum.
Southern Tier Brewing of New York (available locally) wins the award, however, for crafting the effort that most resembles pumpkin pie. A late-breaking spicy bitterness both contrasts with and compliments the fascinating bread-y flavor of pumpkin pie crust that serves as the underbelly of this surprisingly easy 8.6% ABV imperial pumpkin ale.
Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale
The longtime pumpkin king still can bring it, despite being purchased since last Halloween by an international conglomerate whose first post-expansion commercial specifically mocked pumpkin ales. But it bucks the seasonal trend by producing a regular-strength offering - albeit one brewed with more than seven pounds of pumpkin - that is richer and sweeter than the heavier-bodied Great Pumpkin imperial ale.