I dislike most pumpkin beers. Most of them try to create the illusion that you are drinking a glass of pumpkin pie, so they tend to be sweet and loaded with nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar and cloves. Dogfish Head makes a good (but not great) pumpkin beer, and they manage it by being subtle with the flavor profile and muting those spice flavors, which is unusual for them. All of these attempts at a liquid pumpkin pie trompe l’oeil effect are unnecessary. There is a long tradition in American brewing, dating back to the earliest settlers, of using pumpkin as a source of fermentable sugar in the mash. While it appears that the use of pumpkins in those days was born of necessity rather than flavor, I would like to see the better American brewers move away from the spicy sweet pumpkin pie ales, and try their hand at making a true pumpkin beer.
Neither Cisco Brewers’ Pumple Drumkin nor Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale are what I am looking for in a pumpkin beer. The Pumple Drumkin pours a deep copper, and the nutmeg, cinnamon and clove is right up front in the nose and the taste, with the brown sugar coming in on the aftertaste. Cisco does not over spice this beer, so I do not find it as objectionable as other samples of the style, but they still go for that pumpkin pie effect. This beer is subtler than other pumpkin beers, but nothing great, 6/10.
Weyerbacher makes no attempt at subtlety with their Imperial Pumpkin Ale. It is aggressively spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamon, and even the 8% ABV does not cut the brown sugar sweetness. If you like heavily spiced pumpkin beers, this is the beer for you. If, like me, you do not, stay away from this one, 4/10.
Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead is a bit closer to what I am looking for. The nutmeg and cinnamon are faint, while the pumpkin flavor is more pronounced, and there is a honey like sweetness to it that is a nice change of pace from the standard brown sugar flavor profile in pumpkin beers. This is not a great beer, but it is one of the few pumpkin beers that I would open a second bottle of, so it gets a 6.5/10.