Sep 22, 2022 - News

Blind tasting pumpkin beers

A row of pumpkin ales on a table.
Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

Some love it, some abhor it. But pumpkin-flavored beers are back and spilling out into the beer sections of your local grocery stores and bottle shops.

  • To help you sift through the many options, your Axios Raleigh team picked a mix of five North Carolina and out-of-state beers for a blind taste-test.

What happened: Zach enlisted his wife, Hannah, along with friends Danielle and Matt to do the tasting.

  • We only tasted pumpkin ales, with the thought that comparing an ale to a pumpkin stout would be too much of a difference.

With the beer unknown to us, we scored each on aroma, pumpkin taste, complexity and overall enjoyment.

  • The highest score a beer could get was 20. We averaged our collective tallies to determine the ranking.

1. Foothills Brewing's Pumpkin Ale, 17.75/20 ($10.99 for six; 5.7% ABV): This Winston-Salem beer won high praise from the entire group, especially for its balance between pumpkin spice and a traditional ale.

  • "It tastes like early fall," Danielle wrote in her notes. "Could sip during a bonfire. Easy to drink."
  • The beer ranked highest for Zach, Matt and Hannah.

2. NoDa Brewing's Gordgeous, 17/20 ($14.99 for four; 6.4% ABV): The Charlotte brewer’s beer was by far the best smelling of the group. "Downright delightful smell, with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg," Zach wrote.

  • This was Danielle's highest rated beer, who wrote she "would make the scent into a candle to light on a crisp fall evening."
  • The group did think it was much heavier on cinnamon than the pumpkin, making it almost a "November/Holiday" beer, Hannah wrote.

3. New Belgium Brewing's Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin, 13.75/20 ($11.99 for six; 6.4% ABV): Colorado-based New Belgium's selling point for this beer was its spiciness, which came from added habanero chili peppers. And, boy, do the peppers really come through.

  • The group saw this as a pretty divisive beer, potentially endearing itself with pepper lovers and scaring away those hoping for pumpkin pie.
  • The transition from sweet spices to habanero pepper makes for an interesting flavor profile, but was "uncrushable" and had "a little too much spice," according to Matt's notes.

4. Big Boss Brewing's Harvest Time, 12/20 ($12 for six; 5.5% ABV): A Raleigh favorite of Zach and Matt's, Harvest Time was once sold in bottles and now comes in cans.

  • The aroma on the Harvest Time was relatively tame, according to our notes.
  • The flavor, too, was less bold than other beers above. But it improved as the beer got warmer, when the cinnamon spice began to come forward more, according to Zach’s notes.

5. Southern Tier Brewing's Pumking, 10/15 ($13.99 for four; 8.6% ABV): The Pumking, from New York’s Southern Tier, had the highest ABV of any of the beers we chose. But what stood out to the judges was the intense presence of vanilla.

  • "Smells like vanilla extract. Like pumpkin in vanilla ice cream," Matt wrote. "Like a vanilla candle," Hannah wrote.
  • The beer was too sweet overall for the group's tastes.
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