The Dreaded Pumpkin Beer Attack #BrewedAwakening

By / Wine + Drinks / October 5th, 2017 / 5

This is the time of year when a lot of Oktoberfest style beers appear on the shelves, and also…… the dreaded pumpkin beers.

If you love the annual attack of pumpkin beers, fine. It’s your pumpkin-nickel. I’m not a fan. They are gimmicky, and not particularly useful in terms of the main reasons I drink beer, which are: 1) for refreshment, 2) as a good compliment to food, and 3) as a social lubricant.

Almost all of them use a pile of pumpkin pie spice to flavour the beer, and many are fairly sweet, so you end up with a beer that is too sweet for refreshment and too specifically seasoned for most food matching.

As for the social lubricant function, well, that’s when I want to drink something that I love, which is not liquid pumpkin pie. I had two today, the first from Mill Street, their Nightmare Pumpkin Ale beer (yes, many pumpkin beers are Halloween themed, which makes sense), and it was fine. It isn’t overly sweet, but tastes more like pumpkin pie spice (clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg) than it does beer. Then I tried Snickerdoodle from Red Racer. It tastes more like the pie, perhaps because it is sweeter and has lactose added, giving it a sweet creamy note.  I’ve done my pumpkin beer duty for 2017.

Two Pumpkin beers that are fairly widely available, NIghtmare from Mill Street and the stronger flavoured Snickerdoodle from Red Racer


I used to co-brew pumpkin beers back in my homebrewing days with my friend Mike Ligas, who ended up starting up a beer yeast company and eventually Magnotta Brewery. He insisted on roasting (a huge pile of) fresh pumpkin to make the beer authentic, but many breweries just use bulk processed pumpkin, essentially the canned stuff my mom used to make pie. The beers we made were pretty good, but, even though we used only fresh roasted pumpkin, I wouldn’t say the beer tasted like pumpkin, really. It tasted like a spiced, malty ale. If I recall correctly, star anise was our secret spice.

Pumpkin itself doesn’t really result in a very distinct flavour. You need the spices just so that people realize this is supposed to be a pumpkin beer. Some breweries do other things like use a very strong flavoured base beer or use a lot of hops or other flavours to try to make something unique and tasty. It’s still just a gimmick.

I guess it’s one of those things that breweries feel they have to do every year. I was talking to the owner of a great local pub in Fredericton that features a lot of good local beer on tap, and he laughed when I mentioned pumpkin beer. He said that the person in charge of ordering the beers says he’ll bring in anything on tap, but not pumpkin beer.

It seems we have a pump-kin-ship.


Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

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