Pumpkin Beer Taste Test

Pumpkin can be way more than just pie. It can hit the sweet or savory notes. Bread, desserts, vinegar, sauces, soup, pasta, molasses… the list goes on. But you might be surprised to learn that one of pumpkin’s earliest uses was for beer.

Pumpkin beer is on a short list of styles that originated right here in North America. For the earliest European settlers, good beer malt wasn’t an easy find. So they tried everything they could as a substitute, and finally found a winner: pumpkin.

Love it or hate it, pumpkin beer is a growing trend in the craft world today. Just take a look at the sea of orange labels that washes in each autumn! The most common type is a Pumpkin Ale – usually a brown or pale ale, brewed with the star ingredient itself, and often with added “pumpkin spices” (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, etc.). But pumpkin can be used in almost any variety of beer. 

Pumpkin Beer

To show some of its versatility, we’ve taken a variety of pumpkin beers off our local shelves and put them through a taste test.

Grand River Highballer Pumpkin Ale

Grand River Highballer Pumpkin Ale

On the paler side, the taste and aroma of fresh, raw pumpkin runs right through this brew. Jessica’s immediate reaction: “It tastes like the smell when you carve a jack o’lantern.” Although the flavour of the pumpkin itself was clear and fresh, it lacked an accompaniment that could have brought it to the next level.

Overall: 6/10

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale

This was not the pumpkin ale we were looking for – but that wasn’t not necessarily a bad thing. The pumpkin taste was very subtle, but it focused on the roasty, savory flavour of the pumpkin, instead of the sweet side. Some extra points for going a slightly different route.

Overall: 7/10

St-Ambroise Citrouille (AKA the Great Pumpkin Ale)

St Ambroise Citrouille

This ale is definitely on the darker side of pumpkin beer, similar to an amber or Irish red. Unsurprisingly, the flavour is pleasantly rich, and reminiscent of your grandmother’s pumpkin pie. It’s got the spices, the subtle sweetness, and the mouthwatering tartness of a proper pumpkin treat. We were glad it came in a 4-pack. Great product!

Overall: 9/10

Mill Street Nightmare on Mill Street

Nightmare on Mill Street

We were missing the gourd in this one: it just wasn’t particularly pumpkin-y at all. Some pumpkin spices lifted it out of the general ale category, but it just didn’t have that oomph for us.

Overall: 5/10

Black Creek Pumpkin Ale

Black Creek Pumpkin Ale

We’ve had it twice, once in a recent bottle and another on draft at the Hamilton Beer Festival in August, and it was a vast difference. In the bottle, it had a slightly burnt taste, like when the edges of your pie get blackened. With all the sweet flavours too, that slightly burnt taste seemed a bit syrupy. On draft at the festival though, we found it flavourful and smooth, with a not-too-heavy pumpkin flavour. We’re averaging out our score, on the off-chance that we got a bad batch. 

Overall: 6/10

Beau’s Weiss O’Lantern

Beau's Weiss O'Lantern

Very light with just a little of that weiss-like cloudiness. Had a very distinctive tart pumpkin flavour, along with a sweeter flavour from the wheat. Unfortunately, neither flavour really complemented the other as much as we’d hoped, so we didn’t love this one. 

Overall: 5/10

Great Lakes Saison Dupump

Saison Dupump

A quality saison with a hint of uncooked pumpkin. The tang of the saison with the fresh, vegetal taste of raw pumpkin worked really well together. Like a blend of summer and fall flavours, appropriate for either season. 

Overall: 8/10

*Pumpkin patch photo from: 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bake_these_(pumpkins_in_Toronto).jpg 

Best Fruit Beers You Can Find Locally

We’ve been drinking all the faux-juice beers so you don’t have to. Instead, here’s our top picks for great-tasting fruit beers you can find throughout Ontario – fruit by fruit.

Grapefruit

Our three grapefruit hits were all radlers. The word “radler”, if you’re not familiar, is generally used interchangeably with “shandy” (the British word). It’s a half juice / half beer combo, with the low alcohol percentage to match. The word “Radler” is actually German for cyclist – so yep, it’s the beer where you can still drink and bike (not that we recommend it).

The winners, which can all be found at Southern Ontario LCBOs:

  • Stiegl Radler – this Austrian brew has to be the king of grapefruit Radlers today – tangy, hazy, sparkling grapefruit juice mixed with crisp pale beer.
  • Waterloo Grapefruit Radler – very similar to Stiegl, with the same fizz, tang, and flavour profile, but brewed locally.
  • Schofferhoffer Grapefruit Hefeweizen – not actually billed as a Radler, this one has more of a wheat beer profile that the others, but still the grapefruit is strong with this one.

Blueberry

Pump House Blueberry Ale

Jess in particular went into this one with reservations, since she loves fresh blueberries, but generally hates anything “blueberry” flavoured. But no worries! Pump House Blueberry Ale out of Moncton, NB is far from fake. Instead, this full flavour ale has a tart blueberry bite to it. Mixed with the hop overtone, Josh even described it as tasting almost “imperial” (one of his favourite styles).

Watermelon

There’s some scary-fake watermelon beer and coolers hanging around out there. We’d love to see more good offerings, but so far our sole winner is Kensington Brewery’s Fruit Stand Watermelon Wheat. It’s a wheat beer first, with that soft, sweetly clean watermelon flavour creeping in as you drink it. It’s a seasonal, so it’s gotten to the point where Jess starts asking our local pub (Hamilton’s Winking Judge) in the spring if they have it in yet. And it turns out we aren’t the only ones that ask.

Red Berry

Liefmans Fruitesse

Yes, “red berry”, because there’s some excellent combos out there. Both of our winners in this category come out of Belgium, but can be found in LCBOs and pubs around Ontario.

Liefmans Fruitesse bills itself as an appetizer beer. It’s a deep red, cranberry juice colour, sparkling, and oh-so-juicy. It also tastes something like cranberry juice,  with a bit more sweetness, and a nice alcoholic kick. Like how you (or at least Jess) wish wine would taste. There’s no cranberry involved though; it’s actually cherry, raspberry, elderberry, strawberry, and bilberry.

Lindemans is another Belgian brewery, family owned since the 19th Century. They specialize in lambics, a style of sour beer, often brewed with fruit, made using spontaneous fermentation with local wild yeasts. Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic is a real punch of sweet and sour raspberry, with a sparkling dessert beer feel. It rings in at only 2.5% alcohol, so it’s more guilt-free.

Apricot

St Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale

Apricot seems like a strange flavour to combine with beer, but St Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale is one you shouldn’t miss. If you were to juice a fresh apricot, it would likely taste a lot like this brew – pleasantly sweet with a familiar tartness to finish it off. It’s worth noting that Josh, who is less excited about fruit beers, is a big fan of this one.

Rhubarb & Friends

There’s a few local winners in the rhubarb field (pun intended). Two of our offerings come paired with strawberry, and the other is a saison.

  • Wellington Brewery’s Farmer’s Market Rhubarb Saison – It’s a bit sour, lambic-style, with the rhubarb coming in as a light second note. The rhubarb itself is locally sourced from the Aberfoyle Farmer’s Market. However, this beer was a 2014 “Welly One-Off”, and is currently out of production. It’s still pouring here and there  though, so get it if you see it!
  • Oast House’s Gramma’s Strawberry Rhubarb – Hazy and wonderful. You get the strawberry. You get the rhubarb. You get the caramel undertones of the beer. It’s the whole kit and caboodle, as gramma might say.
  • Church Key’s That’s My Jam Strawberry Rhubarb – Another fruity delight, with the rhubarb and strawberry flavours coming in on top. It’s not overly sweet, and even a bit dry, but it has that definite jam feel.
That's My Jam
Yes, we often drink on patios at night.

So the verdict is in: there’s a lot more to easy-accessible fruit beers than faux-juice flavours. And there’s more we still need to find! What else are we missing out on?