It is the season for all things orange and black. In the fall an otherwise unremarkable member of the squash family rises to the peaks of power before, like Prosperine, unhappily returning to the underworld. I have tried to evaluate the ales here with a variety of palates in mind. However, my reviews are not absolute and do not try to be comprehensive. They merely reflect my impressions from one sampling. Finances, work and liver enzymes prohibit multiple samplings. I did not look at any ratings before trying them as this would undoubtedly have affected my judgement.
Fall Hornin’ by Anderson Valley
Location: Boonville, California
Beer Advocate Score: 85%
Fall Hornin’ has received mostly positive reviews. I sampled it first from the can, then from a pint glass. Made in a solar powered building, the spices are prominent and well blended. This is no doubt a selling point for sustainability enthusiasts. There is nothing artificial tasting, although I myself have no issue with some of the marvelous molecules modern food science has brought us. If you genuinely like the taste of pumpkin this is a good choice. With an IBU of 22 it is bit hoppier than other pumpkin beers, but what you are tasting is likely the puréed remains of some poor pulverized pumpkin. The Munich and chocolate malts are detectable. Anderson Valley recommends pairing it with cranberry scones, roasted root vegetables, steak chili and caramel flan. Oddly specific. I ate a piece of sharp cheddar, not knowing it was one of the recommended cheeses (the other is brie). It was orgasmic.
Johnny Rails by Erie Brewing Company
Location: Erie, Pennsylvania
Beer Advocate Score: 79%
From the brewery: “a blonde based ale. It is a fruit beer with delicious flavour, a great nose, and the perfect poise of pumpkin and spice.” This is an accurate description. I think many connoisseurs can appreciate the balance of this drink even if it is not what they want from the style. I noticed cinnamon more than the other ingredients when I took my first whiff and taste. This is a crowd pleaser and cheap alternative to the Dogfish Head. For this remark I expect an angry mob will chase me within a fortnight. It was worth it since it gave me an excuse to use the word fortnight. However, I don’t foresee Johnny Rails utterly offending any of your party guests and, with an elevated but well masked ABV (too low for them to become tipsy after one (or be wary of becoming tipsy), but enough to get them there after two or more), they will quickly become too wasted to care.
KBC Pumpkin Ale
Beer Advocate Score: 65%
It’s BA score is horrendously low. It may not be an award winner, but it does not deserve such a low ranking. Although, I must admit, it is not pleasant to drink a room temperature (though this by no means makes it a bad beer). It is inexpensive and available at Trader Joe’s. I suspect some snobbery has come into play here. The makers attempted to duplicate pie and, to some extent, have succeeded without using particularly hearty grains. Between the price and the balancing of the spices, I think this deserves at least an 75% at the lowest and an 80% at the highest. It is a pity because while it is good quite good as is, with some tweaking it could be excellent.
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Location: Easton, Pennsylvania
Beer Advocate Score: 87%
From the brewery: “like a pyramid for a Pharaoh, we set out to make a bold monument for The King of the Pumpkins! This 8.0% ABV pumpkin ale is the mother of all pumpkin ales. It is heartier, spicier, and more ‘caramelly’ and ‘pumpkiny’ than its faint brethren!” It is significantly richer than the other members of this list. Many people avoid beer because they find it too filling. If you are one of those people, then I do not recommend the Weyerbacher. It is easier to quaff than other Imperial Ales, perhaps partially because of the spices. If you can appreciate a complex and carefully crafted drink then this should be your go to fall brew. Well-received, the Weyerbacher will become a fall fixture for those looking for an October warmer. I regret having tried it in September…September in Florida. Also, what I said about the Johnny Rails applies doubly here. A high and well-hidden ABV can lighten the mood of any would-be bacchanalia.
Punkin Ale by Dogfish Head
Location: Milton, Delaware
Beer Advocate Score: 89%
“A full-bodied brown ale with smooth hints of pumpkin and brown sugar. We brew our Punkin Ale with pumpkin meat, organic brown sugar and spices. As the season cools, this is the perfect beer to warm up with.” They ended a sentence with a preposition, but I’ll forgive them. It is reminscent of a slice of pie and I would recommend it as a dessert. It is, as DFH claims, stupendous when paired with duck. Much has already been written about this one. No need to add more.
Pumpkinhead by Shipyard
Location: Portland, Maine
Beer Review Rating: 69%
Neither heavy nor watery. Honeyed, but far from saccharine (though some may disagree). Its prominent honey tinge is complimented by allspice, giving it a flavour reminiscent of tea. Malt is tasty and sweet. The overall candy quality of the Pumpkinhead makes it accessible but has alienated its share of connoisseurs and snobs. I can’t imagine even the disparagers of mild bocks finding fault with his cheap but fun beverage. However, like mead or any other sugary libation, I’m not sure if I would want to drink more than three bottles in a single sitting. It is light enough to keep one from feeling overloaded. If you can down bocks and stouts without flinching this one should be smooth sipping. I like the label.