Pumpkin beer season comes but once a year. Brewers indulge our nostalgia for fall with heavy dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and ginger — better known as pumpkin spice. With the help of two Food Science graduate students and one homebrewer, I tasted five pumpkin beers brewed in New York State; because let’s face it, you’ll probably only make it through one six-pack of pumpkin beer this year.
5. Saranac Pumpkin Ale, Utica
Saranac ale was by far the least flavorful of the lineup. At 5.4 percent alcohol by volume (A.B.V.), this amber ale was pale in color and pale in flavor. The initial skunky odor gave way to a heavily carbonated beer that only hinted of spice and delivered a nonexistent finish. One taster thought it was “like waking up with bad pumpkin breath.”
4. Sixpoint Autumnation, Brooklyn
Unlike the Saranac Pumpkin Ale, the Autumnation was heavy on flavor. At a slightly higher 6.0 percent A.B.V., this craft brew beer is packaged in a 16 oz. aluminum can. Brewed with lots of hops, this beer was a bit too bitter and pungent for its perplexing sweetness, spice and “creamsicle” aftertaste that also managed to be described as “somewhat meaty.” Bold and bitter, Autumnation is best for hops lovers seeking a fall India Pale Ale.
3. Southern Tier Pumpking Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Lakewood
Two years ago, Southern Tier’s Pumpking 8.6 percent high alcohol brew truly was the king of pumpkin ales. It had a balanced pumpkin spice profile that I suspect the brewery has ached to recreate. But the monarch has fallen from grace. Last year’s batch swung into Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte territory, and this year’s ale reminded us of the love-it-or-hate-it buttered popcorn-flavored Jelly Belly. Once the cloying butter flavor faded, the beer had a pronounced chai tea flavor, and a short finish that smelled dusty. The bitterness of the hops helped balance the syrupy taste of pumpkin, and we found the spiky flavor profile smoothed with more sips. That might have been our taste buds getting drunk, though. For a caramel corn fix with a buzz but no kernels, Pumpking gets the job done, fast.
2. Cape Ann Brewing Co. Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout, Saratoga Springs
We tasted Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout, which comes from Gloucester, M.A., on a technicality because the company owns a brewery in New York. The dark black stout (7 percent A.B.V.) had a sweet, vanilla flavor and a rich, creamy mouthfeel. The spice flavor and bitterness was a little weak for a stout, but a pleasant change for the pumpkin beer genre.
1. Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale, Brooklyn
This 5 percent A.B.V. ale, from the venerable Brooklyn Brewery, pleased our seasoned beer-drinking crowd, which proclaimed it “smells more like beer” than the others. It was balanced, floral and just bitter enough from the hops to counter the rounded pumpkin spice flavors. For Halloween revelers looking to drink more than one pumpkin ale in a sitting, Post Road is the one to travel.