Ah, I love fall, with its crisp air, colorful leaves, cool mornings, boots, jackets, scarves, and football. Oh wait. This is San Antonio. Only one of those things is actually true right now. I spent last Saturday at a football game wearing a T-shirt, shorts, flip flops, and a lot of sweat. Even though it still feels like summer here, I want to pretend like we are smack in the middle of fall.
Have you noticed the pumpkin craze that goes on in fall? How can you miss it? From Pumpkin Oreos to specialty pumpkin items at your favorite bakery or restaurant to the infamous Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte (or PSL for the mega fans), this ubiquitous squash has left a mark in the mainstream fall menu. Did you know that Trader Joe’s has 57 DIFFERENT pumpkin items in their store right now?
One of my favorite seasonal pumpkin specialties is pumpkin beer. I fell in love with pumpkin beer in St. Louis when we lived near Schlafly Brewery. Back then, there were not many pumpkin beers available. Lucky for us, the pumpkin craze has inundated the $22.3 billion craft beer market. This means that just like pumpkin patches in San Antonio, you have choices. I made it my job over the last couple of weeks to try as many pumpkin beer varieties as I could. Did that mean rolling through the checkout line with more beer than could fit in the top part of that HEB fire truck kids’ cart? Did it mean forcing my husband to blindly taste beer and describe flavors? Did it even mean starting happy hour a little early multiple days in a row? It sure did, and it was all in the name of science.
Without further ado, here are my favorites. You will be happy to know that each beer on this list does not scream pumpkin, meaning that you won’t have to be crazy for pumpkin to enjoy the beer.
Sam Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin ($6.99 for one pint at Central Market)
This is a great beer, but you need to be committed to drinking it. Fat Jack is sold as a pint. Sam Adams claims that they use 28 pumpkins per barrel of beer. I really can’t speak to to that number; however, I know the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to chop up one pumpkin so I am assuming by giving us a specific number of pumpkins and only selling pint bottles, we should appreciate the work that it takes to make this beer. Aside from that, it had an excellent flavor. It was creamy but did not have an over-the-top pumpkin flavor. Be advised that the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) is 8.5%. Sam Adams also makes a Harvest Pumpkin Ale (5.7% ABV) that comes in a six-pack and has a lighter flavor.
Nebraska Brewing Company Wick for Brains Pumpkin Ale ($8.99 for six cans at HEB)
Wick for Brains can only be described as tangy. The company notes that they actually use pumpkin as well as pumpkin spices which leads to its unique flavor. The pumpkin is combined with amber ale. It reminded me of a smooth cider. I can imagine drinking this while eating a piece of cheesecake or another dessert. On a side note, this is one of my favorite labels and the entire top of the can comes off when you open it, which is fun, right? 6.1% ABV.
Ballast Point Pumpkin Down ($9.85 for a six pack at Central Market)
Pumpkin Down had one of the lightest pumpkin flavors and is a good choice for the person who is new to pumpkin beer. My husband actually described it as the beer drinker’s pumpkin beer, which, I assumed, means that most will appreciate it first as a beer and then for the pumpkin flavor. The base for this beer is “caramel and toffee maltiness [from Ballast’s] Piper Down Scottish ale” and will be good with a creamy fall soup or light pasta dish. 5.8% ABV.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale ($9.99 for four bottles)
First of all, have you ever watched a punkin chunkin event? If not, check this out. Great entertainment. As one of the more expensive options, Punkin Ale did not disappoint. It was very creamy and still a good beer, not just a good pumpkin beer. I would try this with chicken or hot wings, some sort of substantial food. I can also imagine sitting by a fire on a chilly night sipping this beer. However, I may need to hoard the beer for cooler days because I read that this one sells out quickly. 7.0% ABV.
Karbach Brewing Company Krunkin Pumpkin ($9.99 for four cans)
This is another pricey beer at $2.50 a can, but ended up being one of the most interesting as far as flavor goes. It had a caramel hue and a creamy pour. The pumpkin flavor was so subtle; I almost forgot it was supposed to be a pumpkin beer. In describing Krunkin Pumpkin as a “man’s beer,” my husband immediately decided that we needed to have this one with chili or barbecue. On the other hand, Karbach recommends cracking one open at your Thanksgiving dinner. Watch out though, Krunkin has 8.5% ABV.
Special Mention: Last Valentine’s Day, we tried combining Lindeman’s Framboise with a Double Chocolate Stout and the result was an amazing chocolate raspberry treat. This time, I added a cream stout to the Krunkin Pumpkin and the Double Pumpkin and both tasted like dessert. Give it a shot! My next goal is to try a few recipes that include pumpkin beer.
In the end, I didn’t meet a pumpkin beer I didn’t like. I can safely say that we will gladly finish the rest of our stash and hope to try others as they come out, especially from local San Antonio breweries.