It’s October and things are officially spooky what with the dark and stormy nights, creeping fog and pumpkin beers showing up on beer store shelves. Yikes!
It’s no secret that I have no love for pumpkin beers. In fact, one of the very first columns I ever wrote for The Growler way back in 2016 was about how much I detest pumpkin beers and what a terrible idea they are and how no one should drink them so that they’ll just go away.
I stand by my opinion that pumpkin beers are the Hawaiian pizza of craft beer: some people love them, and other people think they are an abomination and are further proof how far we, as a society, have strayed from God’s light. And the latter would be correct. In both cases: Hawaiian pizza is frickin’ terrible.
Historically, pumpkin beers have been cloying sweet, overly spiced hamfisted seasonal horrorshows. I don’t know that any single craft beer trend is responsible for producing worse beers. But milkshake IPAs come close.
Despite my… shall we say “reservations”… about pumpkin beers, I valiantly volunteered, against my better judgment, to find a few local examples that I would recommend to you, my dear readers.
I wasn’t optimistic that I’d succeed, but thankfully, I was wrong!
Mind you, I had originally hoped to find 10 beers for this list. However, that proved difficult, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, a bunch of the beers I sampled were goddamn terrible and I poured them straight down the drain.
Secondly, not nearly as many breweries are making pumpkin beers as they used to. Five, 10 years ago, everybody was doing a pumpkin beer. I’m pretty sure it was requirement of their liquor licence that B.C. breweries had to release at least one sickly sweet pumpkin abomination every October. (It wouldn’t be the strangest liquor law, let’s be honest.) The trend might have reached its zenith in the mid-2010s when Seattle’s Elysian Brewing began putting out 20-plus different pumpkin beers every year. Thankfully, most brewers have calmed the eff down with the pumpkins, much to their sales and marketing team’s chagrin, no doubt.
Thirdly, though, and this was interesting, is that demand for pumpkin beers this year is way up. Like waaaaaay up. I visited nine (!!!) different craft beer stores looking for pumpkin beers, and was repeatedly told by store employees that they were all sold out. In some cases, people showed up at opening time and bought FLATS of pumpkin beer, completely buying out the store’s stock. Crazy, right?
As it turns out, in the five years since I last had a pumpkin beer, the breweries that have continued making them have really dialled it in (for the most part). But with less supply and greater demand, it’s harder than ever to find them.
So here, then, are the five least worst pumpkin beers in B.C. this October (according to me, which means nothing). If you can find them, try them!
Lost Souls by Parallel 49 Brewing
This chocolate pumpkin porter is malt-forward with notes of chocolate, toasted barley, caramel and cola. The pumpkin flavour is present but subtle—which is great! Because you can barely taste it. The finish is thankfully dry enough to prevent any significant lingering sweetness.
Full Patch by Longwood Brewery
This imperial pumpkin saison is big and boozy, with notes of dark fruit, pumpkin, spice, pepper, clove, and just a biiiiiit of alcoholic warmth. It’s nine frickin’ per cent, after all, but it doesn’t taste like it. Be careful.
Pumpkineater by Howe Sound Brewing
Arguably the most in-demand pumpkin beer this season from what I could tell. And for good reason—this beer is crazy smooth for 8.0% ABV. There’s lots going on flavour-wise; caramel, clove, ginger, pumpkin, dark fruit, cinnamon. But it’s all very balanced. A creamy, velvety body and a bit of residual sweetness, but not enough to be cloying. You’re not gonna shotgun a sixer of this one (because that would kill you), but you won’t get sick of it after the first pint, either.
Pumpkin Ale by Steamworks
This is just a perfectly sane, well-executed, no-nonsense pumpkin ale that isn’t trying to curb-stomp you with clove and cinnamon, for which I am thankful. There’s a good balance here between pumpkin and malt, supported by notes of ginger, spice, and caramel. Finishes much drier than it starts.
Crookeder Tooth by Phillips Brewing
The big barrel-aged version of Phillips’ popular Crooked Tooth, the boozy notes of vanilla and oak work well with the pumpkin, nutmeg, dark fruit and caramel flavours. It’s full-bodied with substantial residual sweetness, but I was pretty drunk at this point, so it was yummy all the same.