Now that pumpkins have evolved from door-step freakshows to headlining stars in everything from lattes to doughnuts, they’ve become as divisive as ever—particularly among beer drinkers.
Pumpkin ale has been popular for years now—many trace the revival of the style to Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in the late ’80s—but it seems to inspire more hatred than any other style. Some kneel at the alter of the gourd and give thanks for the autumn bounty; others raise their eyebrows at “fresh” pumpkin beers that were released as early as July, and generally find the stuff oversweet and overrated.
If you hit a beer bar between now and Thanksgiving, you’re sure to run into some pumpkin beers and meet the inevitable armies of pro-pumpkin drinkers and anti-pumpkin haters. Here’s a simple guide to how the argument will go down—pick a side and be unreasonably bullheaded about it!
Pro: Pumpkin beers are a seasonal product and drinking seasonally makes me a good person!
Con: But many pumpkin beers on the shelves were created months ago, before the pumpkin harvest even began using canned fruit, or no fruit at all. Why? Because the hyper-competitive beer market has forced a seasonal creep that basically negates the idea of seasonal drinking entirely.
Tie-breaker: Drink local pumpkin ales and check the date of bottling to see if it makes sense.
Pro: Nothing says fall like a nice pumpkin ale—it’s the best way to celebrate autumn in a glass.
Con: Actually, there are plenty of other—and arguably better—fall seasonals, including fresh-hopped IPAs (which are harder to fake, since they are made with just-picked hops) and Oktoberfest lagers.
Tie-breaker: While there are plenty of hoppy pumpkin ales out there, a fresh-hopped pumpkin beer is a pretty rare beast. So just drink all of the seasonals and don’t get too caught up in the pumpkin frenzy.
Pro: Pumpkin beers are one of the few true historical styles in the U.S. Colonials who had a dearth of malts deployed the native squash for its fermentable sugars. Pumpkin beers were also believed to have health benefits, which made them popular among early settlers trying to survive the new terrain. Even George Washington had a recipe!
Con: That’s cool and all, but if you think today’s pumpkin beers are anything like the ones they were drinking during the 18th century, you’re kidding yourself. The historical pumpkin beer has morphed into more of a pumpkin-pie beer, with almost all varieties using spices like cinnamon, clove, and allspice to evoke that dessert-tray flavor profile.
Tie-breaker: At least make sure the pumpkin beer you buy is brewed with actual pumpkin.
Pro: But wait—what’s not awesome about a beer that tastes like pumpkin pie? Dessert in a glass!
Con: Agree to disagree—too many pumpkin beers are cloyingly sweet and smell synthetic, like potpourri in your grandma’s drawing room.
Tie-breaker: Choose your pumpkin ale wisely—at this point, there are enough options on the market to suit all palates, so chat up your local beer-store pros to find one that’s as dry, hoppy, tart, or pie-like as you want it.
To get started, click through the gallery above to see some of our favorite pumpkin ales available now.