Column: Pumpkin beer is bad

With leaves changing and Halloween just around the corner, pumpkin beer season is in full swing. More and more breweries are releasing seasonal beers to cash in on the annual pumpkin spice craze. (Will Harris/The Daily Campus)

With leaves changing and Halloween just around the corner, pumpkin beer season is in full swing. More and more breweries are releasing seasonal beers to cash in on the annual pumpkin spice craze. I tried several different pumpkin beers in an attempt to determine if any of these seasonal brews went beyond the pumpkin spice hype, but they all ranged from pretty mediocre to exceptionally terrible. All beers in this review are available at Villa Spirit Shoppe in Storrs.

I started my exploration into pumpkin beers with Pumpkinhead by Shipyard. This pumpkin ale was one of the first of its kind to gain popularity when it was first brewed in 1995. Pouring this beer into a pint glass yields a golden-colored brew with a light and airy head that quickly fades. The aroma is of pumpkin pie with pronounced notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. The flavor mostly confirms the aroma. It is light and sweet with a well-balanced spice profile, plenty of pumpkin pie flavor and a complete lack of bitterness or hop character. The malt base is rather standard, with no complexity whatsoever. While it certainly is an easily drinkable beer, the lack of any hop flavor and an underwhelming malt profile make Pumpkinhead easily forgettable.

Roadsmary’s Baby by Two Roads Brewing Company was next on the list. Two Roads describes this offering on their website as “a traditional pumpkin ale aged in rum barrels.” A faint pumpkin smell is hidden behind prominent notes of oak and rum. On first taste, I was surprised this was classified as a pumpkin beer. For the most part, Roadsmary’s Baby tastes like a standard brown ale with a faint pumpkin aftertaste. The lack of strong pumpkin flavor makes for a decent but unremarkable beer.

I also sampled Jack-O Traveler, a pumpkin shandy from Traveler Beer Company. Off the pour, I was hit with sickly-sweet notes of artificial pumpkin spice. The taste somehow manages to be more vile than the smell. It tastes strongly of artificial pumpkin flavoring and yeast, with an aftertaste of aspartame lingering long after the unpleasant initial taste has faded. I can only imagine this shandy was made by mixing pumpkin spice latte syrup with a cheap domestic lager.

Captain Lawrence Brewing Company’s Autumn Blaze was up next. Notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice are mostly hidden behind bitter pumpkin. With loads of natural pumpkin flavor, this beer lives up to its classification as a pumpkin ale. Unfortunately, the pumpkin flavor is not counterbalanced by sweetness or spice, making for a pretty unpleasant one-dimensional beer. While this may be true to the idea of a pumpkin ale, it certainly is not a good beer.

All of the pumpkin beers I encountered were mediocre at best. It seems like the vast majority of pumpkin beers are made simply to profit off of the seasonal pumpkin spice hysteria that strikes consumers every fall. Unless you are a hardcore pumpkin spice fanatic, your money is better spent on beer that stands on quality rather than an overplayed gimmick.


Will Harris is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at will.harris@uconn.edu.