Fall Seasonal Beers: the Good, the Bad, and the Pumpkin

To make your trip to the beer aisle easier, we tried way too many of the fall seasonal brews from some of our favorite Northwest breweries.

By Nathan Tucker October 8, 2013

Summer is long gone, people. It’s raining, our fleeting tans have fled, and we’ve put away our shorts and sunglasses in favor of sweaters and raincoats. Likewise, beer (and cider) drinkers, it’s time to trade in your radlers, pales, and session ales for the hearty and festive fare of fall: that’s right, we’re talking Oktoberfest beers, winter warmers, and the ever-polarizing pumpkin ales. 

Hop-lovers need not despair, though—there are a few more weeks of the early-fall glory days known as fresh hop season, and some breweries are just releasing their freshly hopped concoctions to the shelves. 

A lot of the good stuff is only available on draft—it’s just a reality of seasonal one-offs for the smaller breweries. But there are still plenty of spiced, fresh-hopped, and otherwise seasonally influenced brews available in stores, and we here at Eat Beat have taken the liberty and the pleasure of sampling some in the hopes of allaying your decision fatigue.

While we’re at it: unless you’ve been hiding under a sad, sober rock, you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of breweries in the Northwest. So, if we missed your favorite, we’re sorry. There’s only so much beer we can drink during a workday.

Pumpkin Beers 

• Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale: This one’s got a lot of pie spice flavors to it, and basically smells like warm pumpkin pie in the glass. It’s not as sweet as that aroma would lead you to believe, though, which is probably a good thing.

• Laurelwood Pumpkin Ale: Sweeter, maltier, and spicier than its Elysian counterpart, this beer isn’t quite as balanced either.

• Elysian Great Pumpkin: Again, man, pumpkin pie spice. This is, like you’d expect, a bigger, boozier version of their pumpkin ale. Honestly, you probably already know whether or not you’ll like this. 

• Oakshire Big Black Jack Imperial Pumpkin Porter: This beer is not nearly as heavy on the palate as the name would make you fear—which is a shame, because I really wanted to make a joke about it being a “mouthful.” Get it? Get it? But this beer is plenty rich without being overwhelmingly sweet. Highly recommended. 

• Elysian Dark O’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout: This isn’t exactly easy drinking, but it’s got a nice roasted bitterness to balance out what are otherwise decidedly dessert flavors. A favorite around the office. 

• Elysian Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner: Basically equal parts ginger beer and beer beer.  This one was a pretty polarizing at the office, but if you like ginger, you’d probably like it. 

And, because we’re tolerant of (food-related) intolerance:

• Teiton Smoked Pumpkin Cider: “This tastes like someone used my cider to put out a camp fire.” Sorry, gluten-free folks; look elsewhere for your pumpkin booze fix.

Non-Gourd Seasonals 

• Bridgeport Hop Harvest Pilsner: Extremely light on the palate and subtle in the nose for its 8% ABV. I could drink quite a lot of this, and it would not end well.

• Full Sail Oktoberfest Lager: It’s got that malty sweetness that you find in a Dunkel or a Doppelbock, with a hint of a bitter finish. It’s almost slightly syrupy—I wouldn’t want to drink as many of these as an actual Oktoberfest would require. 

Ninkasi Oktoberfest Lager: It’s billed as a “Dortmund style” lager, which Ninkasi apparently takes to mean “not as sweet as the Munich version, but also not as interesting.” 

• GoodLife 150 Hippies Fresh Hop Pale: 150 pounds of hops is a lot of hops, and this beer is unsurprisingly heavy on the palate. The Cascade and Centennial hops are in full force, but it’s malty enough that it’s nicely balanced. 

• Elysian Oddlands Spiced Pear Ale: No, that’s not a typo, but this beer has more spice than fruit—the label says something about cardamom and cumin, and we mostly tasted the latter. This beer has a nice bitter, dry finish to offset the flavor kick at the front. Like my mother would say when I played her hip-hop records in middle school: “Interesting.” 

• Fort George Next Adventure Black IPA: Smells and tastes pretty boozy, as more than one person around the office noted. More IPA than black, but it’s got a lot going on; a worthwhile take on a relatively new and unsettled style. 

• Resignation/Red Hook KCCO Black Lager: Not particularly black, not particularly lagery. 

• Elysian Valhalla Red IPA: Not sure what Odin’s hall of fallen warriors from Norse mythology has to do with it, but this is an expertly balanced beer. You like hops, but want something a bit heartier than your average IPA? Easy, drink this. 

• Gigantic The Future Is Now: What exactly is this delicious thing in my glass? Cascadian Dark Ale? IRA? Hoppy brown ale? I don’t really know what to call it, so I should probably have another. 

• Deschutes Jubelale: This year’s version of Deschutes’ annual winter warmer seems a bit more complex than in recent years; it has an almost barleywine-esque quality. The label this year is also much nicer than last year’s low-rent Van Gogh thing.

• Bridgeport Witch Hunt Harvest Ale: The cinnamon and nutmeg in this actually pairs remarkably well with the dry-hopped flavor; it almost fools you into thinking it’s a bigger beer, when it’s actually quite drinkable. Also perfect for people who like pie spice but are allergic to pumpkin or something.

• Red Hook Winterhook: Quite a bit more hop-forward than most winter ales. If you’re not ready to succumb to stout season quite yet, this is a good way to ease into it. 

• Red Hook Audible Ale: The ski-inspired label says this is the “ultimate crushable ale.” Snow sports aren’t my thing, so I’m out of my element here, but if they mean that you can drink a lot of these and not notice, then they’re right.

• McMenamin's Black Widow Porter: This has more depth of flavor and a more unique malt character than many porters on the shelves these days—I wouldn't mind if they brewed this year-round.

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