Pumpkin beer is without a doubt an excellent choice of tipple at Halloween.
It combines something popular and beautiful (beer) with something intrinsically linked to Halloween (pumpkins) and if you want to offer beers at your seasonal gathering then they are an ideal option.
The trouble is though, they can be hard to find. Particularly in the UK. And there are two key reasons for this, the first of which is ‘demand’. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) we’re yet to really fall in love with pumpkin flavoured products on this side of the water. In the US at this time of year, you can pretty much get every product, from soft drinks to hand soaps in a seasonal pumpkin flavour – and people buy and enjoy them. So until suppliers can be sure that these beers will sell over here, they will continue to be hard to find.
The second factor is the pumpkins themselves. Pumpkins are harvested once a year and take a long time to grow. This means that there is a small window in which to harvest them and make beer.
But if you are lucky enough to find a way of getting some pumpkin beer, what should you buy and what can you expect?
To help you with this we have taken three popular pumkin beers and put them against each other in a brutal showdown.
Pumpkin Beer Showdown
Pumpkin Beer Contenders
For the sake of this test (and I hope there will be more in future!) we’ve chosed three pumpkin beer giants that can be found with ease in US supermarkets and slightly less ease elsewhere.
Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Malts: Munich, Caramel
Twist: Pumpkin, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove, Allspice
Original Gravity: 15º Plato
Description: A medium-bodied ale with just enough carbonation to balance the rich caramel character.
Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat
A Pumpkin Wheat seasonal offering combines the smooth taste of Shock Top with the flavors of Fall.
They start with a traditional Belgian-style wheat ale and then brew with ripe pumpkins and a variety of autumnal spices, including nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, for a refreshingly smooth beer that fully captures all the flavours of fall.
Description: A traditional Belgian-style wheat ale brewed with ripe pumpkins and a variety of autumnal spices.
First Brewed: 1996
First Bottled: 2002
Available: August – November
Malt Style: Pale Ale, Whole Wheat, Munich Light
Yeast: Top-Fermenting English
Hops: Willamette, Saphir
And so I embarked on the unenviable task of having to taste and compare these beers. And more than one of each too…
With an large amount of beer experience under my belt (or sitting just above it) I could go on about the complexities of each and give detailed analysis, but to the guy on the street, that’s all just a bit of a waste of time. So I’ll keep things simple.
Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale
I’ve been a fan of Blue Moon for some time, finding their most popular and widely available called ‘Belgian White’ very drinkable indeed. That one tastes similar to Hoegaarden wheat beer and is a nice change from the usual gassy, lifeless American beers.
This special harvest beer isn’t similar to drink. It isn’t too gassy, it goes down easily and it packs a punch for a brew that tastes quite light.
The pumpkin flavour (a blend of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice) is unmistakable, but well placed and not overwealming. It’s sweeter than the regular Blue Moon White, but not so much as it becomes sickly.
‘Balanced’ kind of sums it up in a word. It’s a beer that looks good, tastes good and will find favour with all your guests. Best of all, as Blue Moon are a well established brand, the chances are that you will be able to buy some in time for the big night.
Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat
Shock Top is a new one for me, but not for the population of the USA (judging by the store shelves). The flagship beer for this brand is a refreshing is (like Blue Moon) a Belgian style white beer, but with a twist – an orange twist to be exact. Shock Top comes in a variety of flavours, it’s no surprise then that they have a harvest beer with added notes of pumpkin, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.
The first thing that you notice about Shock Top is that it’s gassy. And if you like your beer to have a bit of fizz then that’s great, but if you’d rather not be burping excessively, it’s best to moderate your intake of it.
The flavours are far more subtle but still noticeable and the beer isn’t bad. However, when compared to the Blue Moon offering it becomes apparently that maybe the Shock Top is just a little too muted.
The seasonal flavour has been sacrificed a little too much in order to keep the beer ‘beer-like’ which is great for beer lovers, but kind of defeats the object in a competition such as this. We’re looking for a beer that is decidedly Halloween themed, in look and and taste and sadly Shock Top missed out just slightly on the second part.
It won’t offend your guests, but it’ll be easily forgotten.
Shipyard aren’t well known in the UK (which is a shame) but have a big presence in the US providing a wide variety of brews from regular pale ales to a ark, hard hitting Smashed Blueberry ale.
Pumpkinhead stands out immediately thanks to its imaginitive label and in some ways, this is a beer that has appearances reflective of what’s inside.
Pumpkinhead immediately hits you with flavour, it’s fruity, it’s spiced and it’s fun. There’s no doubt that this is a seasonal novelty beer and it creates a party in your mouth that it’ll be hard to recreate in the outside world with a few Halloween props and cobwebs.
If pumpkinhead was a Halloween song it would be Bobby Pickett’s Monster Mash. It’s an all singing, all dancing Halloween drink. However, there are only so many times you can listen to Monster Mash in one night, and similarly it won’t take long until you’ve had your fill of this super sweet pumpkin beer. Perhaps a little fruity.
And the winner is…
The title in this bout would have to go to the Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale. It strikes the balance of fun and taste and could be enjoyed all night long.
The runners up shouldn’t be looked down upon though as the Shipyard Pumpkinhead would be a big hit at any Halloween gathering and particularly younger (although above legal drinking age obviously) drinkers.
The Shock Top was a good drink, but just didn’t have enough wow factor to warrant the time that you’d need to spend tracking it down outside of the US.
I hope you find this information helpful when selecting your Halloween beverages and if you come across any pumpkin beer that you think we should feature, please do let us know.