The weather has gone colder and the leaves are crunching: Yes, fall is here. And with fall comes a change in what we eat and of course, what we drink. On the beer front, we move away from the summer pilsners, lagers, and hoppy IPAs that quench our thirst under the hot sun and turn to maltier, heavier beers that sustain us through the cooler temps and grey days. In recent years, the time between summer and winter has produced a new — now wildly popular — beer style: The pumpkin beer. That’s right, pumpkin! When you look at the beer that’s being brewed in a Buffalo trace barrel, you’d never even think it’s flavoured with pumpkin!
Pumpkin ales appeared on the scene in maybe the last five to ten years, but are now a force to be reckoned with, as nearly every craft brewery on the western side of the country concocts some sort of pumpkin ale. Whether it be light, dark, rich, spicy; you name it, it’s being brewed.
As these beers began appearing in grocery stores and bottle shops all over the Pacific Northwest in the last month, I began getting questions from beer consumers asking, “Which one is right for me?” Some people are afraid a pumpkin beer will be too sickeningly sweet, like drinking a pumpkin pie, and for some that’s precisely what they’re after.
So, I rounded up six local pumpkin ales that you can find in the greater Seattle area. Yes, there are more than merely six pumpkin beers being crafted here in the Pacific Northwest, but I went with a few that are made here in the greater Seattle area by breweries that are close to my home and my heart. These are beers that are easily available to you, the consumer, at your nearest bottle shop. After the beer descriptions, keep reading if you’d like to know more about baking with pumpkin beers.
Six local (Seattle area) pumpkin beers:
Elysian Brewing Night Owl: 5.9% by volume, sold in both 22 oz and 12 oz bottles and on tap around the Seattle area. Night Owl Pumpkin Ale is the most popular pumpkin beer that Elysian makes and is brewed with over seven pounds of pumpkin per barrel and spiced in conditioning with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Made with Pale, Munich and Crystal malts green and roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin in the mash, boil and fermenter. Bittered with Horizon hops.
Pours a medium orange/amber, slightly cloudy. Lots of pumpkin flavor and spice, nice light body, very drinkable. This is Elysian’s most popular, widely sold pumpkin ale. Usually on my “recommends” list for someone who’s never had a pumpkin beer before as an introduction to the basic style.
Not sure which beer to try, or afraid, it will be too sweet? We’ve got the perfect pumpkin beer for you!
The Great Pumpkin Imperial Pumpkin Ale: 8% by volume. Sold in 22 oz bottles and on tap around the Seattle area. The Great Pumpkin was the 2007 Silver Medalist at the Great American Beer Festival in the Fruit and Vegetable category and was also the world’s first imperial pumpkin ale ever made. Many other breweries now emulate this style, such as Southern Teir (Pumking) and Howe Sound (Pumpkin Eater).
Pours dark orange/brown. The imperial style has a heavier malt and alcohol character, rich pumpkin taste and lots of body — bursting with flavor. Definitely a “step-up” from the Night Owl.
Dark ‘O the Moon Pumpkin Stout: 6.5% by volume, sold in 22 oz bottles and on tap around Seattle. A classic stout style with pumpkin added to the mash, boil and fermentation, along with pumpkin spices. Smooth and chocolatey with a touch of cinnamon. Won the silver medal at GABF in 2010 in the Field Beer category.
Pours dark black. With the rich molasses and chocolate flavor mingled with the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove ginger and allspice, this beer tastes much like a liquid gingerbread cookie.
Note: Hansel & Gretel Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner will be bottled and released in the upcoming weeks and the ninth beer in Elysian’s “12 Beers of the Apocalypse” series is the Blight Pumpkin Ale which was released on September 21.
All of these plus 8 others made by Elysian and 60 in total from all over the country will be available for sampling at the Great Pumpkin Beer Festival held on October 19 & 20 at Elysian’s Georgetown campus. The highlight of the event is a tapping of the Great Pumpkin! Read more about the event and ticket sales on the Elysian Brewing website.
Pike Brewing Harlot’s Harvest: 8.5% by volume, sold in 22 oz bottles and on tap at the Pike Brewpub. Made with organic pils, organic pale, special b, Vienna, organic caramel, and crystal. To take full advantage of the bounty of the season, Harlot’s Harvest is brewed with the finest Yakima Valley hops, including Nugget for both bitterness and aroma, and Mt. Hood for aroma; and organic pumpkin puree from Stahlbush Island Farms, Corvalis, Oregon and organic brown sugar. The beer is then “seasoned” with cassia bark, allspice, vanilla bean, nutmeg, ginger and clove.
Pours a cloudy tan/brown in color. On the palate, this beer is round and rich with a burst of caramel and molasses with a smooth sweetness reminiscent of pumpkin pie, and the boldness of a Belgian, monastic-style, strong dark ale. One of the only (if not the only) Belgian-style pumpkin ales being bottled this year; a truly unique style. This beer is best served at just a smidge cooler than room temp to really allow the spices and malt shine through.
Two Beer’s Pumpkin Spice Ale: 5.2% by volume, available in 22 oz bottles (first time ever!) and on tap at The Woods, Two Beer’s taproom. Pours bright orange and very clear, LOADS of spice notes on the nose and a very strong clove flavor on the tongue. Two Beer’s Pumpkin Spice Ale is brewed with pumpkin, nutmeg, clove, allspice and cinnamon. This is their third year brewing this particular small-batch seasonal and the first year bottling it. A very light, spicy beer, which is great for sipping but even better for cooking/baking with due to the high amount of spice that comes through.
I would categorize this as the perfect pumpkin beer for people who don’t like heavy beers and don’t want something overly hoppy or malty.
Puyallup River Brewing Jack O’Lahar Pumpkin Ale: 5.8% by volume, available in limited release 22 oz bottles around the greater Seattle area. Saved the best for last: This pumpkin ale was by far my favorite out of the six. As a malty beer lover that enjoys a dry, not overly sweet taste or finish to my beer, this hit all the right notes. The beer pours a cloudy dark orange/brown and has loads of pumpkin and caramel smell to it.
Tastes like a gingerbread cookie without the heavy, molassesy taste that the Dark O’ the Moon beer tends to offer, thus a bit lighter on the tongue. Very drinkable at 5.8% and really smooth, balanced and tasty. A great beer for just about anyone that is looking for the pumpkin beer essence within a rich, full-bodied beer.
Using pumpkin beer in baking:
It’s quite easy to make any pumpkin baking recipe into a pumpkin beer baking recipe. If a recipe calls for milk, this is the best place to substitute in your pumpkin beer. If a recipe is not a pumpkin recipe at all, substitute butter, margarine or shortening for pumpkin puree, and voila! You have a pumpkin bread, cookie, cake, and so on.
Here’s one of the easiest and most delicious recipes that I borrowed from the lovely Ladies of Craft Beer which uses pumpkin puree and Night Owl to make a delicious, moist pumpkin beer bread. Since many pumpkin ales come in 22 oz bottles, you can double this recipe and make two loaves. Alternatively, Night Owl (which now comes in 12 oz bottles as well as 22 oz bottles), Shipyard Pumpkin Ale, Uinta’s Punk’n and Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale all come in 12 oz bottles as well and can be found at most of your local bottle shops.
Pumpkin Spice Beer Cake
Ingredients (one loaf)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. ground ginger
- ? tsp. ground cloves
- 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
- ½ cup pumpkin puree [from scratch, if ambitious; from a can, if you’re lazy like me]
- 11-12 oz. pumpkin ale of your choice
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup toasted almonds, sliced or finely chopped
Optional Almond Topping
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ cup toasted almonds, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×5 inch glass pan.
Toast almond slices for 10 minutes on an ungreased baking sheet, and finely chop. For almond topping, mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
In another bowl, combine oil, pumpkin puree, and ale.
Quickly combine wet and dry ingredients. Add optional ingredients at this point as well. Stir only until you are not able to see any white flacks from the flour.
Pour batter into loaf pan. If desired, add almond topping.
Bake for at least one hour. The loaf should be slightly golden and will spring back when pressed, if fully baked. Insert a toothpick into the center of the loaf to see if it comes out clean. The first loaf I made came out a bit doughy, so keep an eye on your bread until you find the right temperature and timing for your oven.
Allow loaf to cool on a rack before slicing. Store in an airtight container.