11 Best Pumpkin / Yam Beers of 2021
Hot take: Pumpkin beers should exist. There, we said it. Yes, we get that these fall-flavored beers are uber controversial. And trust us, we do love hoisting a roasty, toasty Oktoberfest or Märzen during the harvest. But Oktoberfest officially ended last Sunday. And we picked up our pumpkins at the patch this week, so you could say we have gourds on the gray matter.
According to data from Nielsen and Forbes, the pumpkin spice industry was a more-than $600 million market in 2018. Unsurprisingly, Starbucks' infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte drove much of this growth, accounting for $110 million of the market. And pumpkin spice ice cream recorded $10 million in sales in 2018.
In the beer industry, pumpkin beers have actually been around since Colonial times. Traditionally, we all eat pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. But during the 17th and 18th centuries in North America, colonists put pumpkin in everything from pies to breads to beers. Why? Because at the time, you could find the product organically growing everywhere. Pumpkin in the morning. Pumpkin in the evening. Pumpkin at supper time!
Brewers would mash and ferment the pulp of pumpkin. Not for flavor like we do today, but simply because it was an easy source of starch they could convert into fermentable sugars. Other common produce used in this way included apples, pears, squash, and corn. Moreover, typical grains that we find in beer today such as wheat and barley weren't as readily available. All this made pumpkins ripe for the picking and brewing.
But as agriculture developed over the years and those other grains became more readily available, these Colonial pumpkin beers fell by the wayside. Plus, as folks from traditional European brewing countries like England, Germany, and what was then Czechoslovakia (today, the Czech Republic) immigrated to America, they brought with them a history of working with traditional brewing grains. They weren't used to working with pumpkin. All in all, pumpkin beers disappeared like Ichabod Crane's head.
Until the 1980s, when Bill Owen, Founder of Buffalo Bill's Brewery in Hayward, CA, read about a recipe for pumpkin beer in the writings of George Washington. He wanted to recreate the recipe. So Owen ordered pumpkin seeds, grew literal pumpkins, roasted them, and mashed them into Buffalo Bill's Amber Ale. And after all that work…nothing happened. The beer didn't taste any different. Why? Because in modern times, when we think of pumpkin, we're actually referring to the notes of a pumpkin pie—those aforementioned holiday spices.
Instead, Owens built a beer based on a blend of rich spices against a malty backbone. Poof! Cinderella's carriage turned into a pumpkin. And a trend began.
Today, the Brewers Association style guide defines "Pumpkin/Squash Beer" as being brewed with pumpkin and without spicing, while "Pumpkin Spice Beer" may or may not have pumpkin but does include spices.
Whether brewed with actual pumpkin puree or simply balanced with traditional spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, pumpkin beers continue to polarize craft beer aficionados.
But before you get jacked over the jack-o'-lantern, give one or two of Untappd's top-rated versions a try. We promise heads will not roll. From a barrel-aged version to an autumnal aristocratic classic, here are Untappd's 11 highest-rated pumpkin / yam beers.
Powered by Untappd Data (minimum of 1,000 check-ins)
Yes, we admit pumpkin beers are a little bit crazy. Looking for more? Check out some of the craziest beers Hop Culture and friends are trying each week. On each episode of The Craziest Beer I Had This Week, we drop a new crazy beer we've cracked. Watch last week's episode and don't forget to subscribe to Hop Culture's YouTube channel so you never miss a beat on the wild beer we're drinking next!