In the past, pumpkin beers were rare -- a seasonal sideshow, showing up only in the breweries daring enough to make them and enjoyed only by drinkers willing to take a chance on the oddities. Today, however, brews made with pumpkin have officially become mainstream, with nearly every brewery worth its yeast churning out bottles and kegs packed with pumpkin, nutmeg, ginger and more. It's gotten to the point that finding the right pumpkin beer for your personal tastes can be as difficult as digging through the piles of orange at the grocery store to pick out the perfect Jack-O-Lantern.
Luckily, we're here to help. Below, a handy guide to all the pumpkin beers available in the Valley organized in order of those with just a dash of pumpkin to ones that'll make you feel like you got face-smashed by a pumpkin pie. No carving tools required.[jump]
Mini-Pumpkins With just a touch of pumpkin flavor, these brews are best for drinkers just getting into the flavors of fall.
Uinta Punkn' Utah Brewers Cooperative, Utah 4 percent ABV
In a glass, this sessionable pumpkin ale shines with auburn brilliance. A nose of subtle roast pumpkin, cooked butter and pumpkin bread gives way to a light flavor that blends subtle squash, musty grain and mild pumpkin spice with a dry finish that wipes the tongue clean.
Pumpkin Lager Lakefront Brewery, Inc., Wisconsin 6 percent ABV
The light, grainy character of a lager blends with the sweet spice of pumpkin in this brew. Easy-drinking, but perhaps lacking in depth.
Pumpkin Springs Porter Grand Canyon Brewing Company, Williams, Ariz. ABV unknown
This brew is named for the Pumpkin Springs, a large pool within the Grand Canyon that's been stained orange by trace minerals in the water. Like the landmark, the beer doesn't have much connection to actual pumpkin -- a flavor filled with bittersweet crumbles of dark chocolate and burnt malt masks most of the gourd's flavor.
Peaceful Pumpkin Mudshark Brewing Co., Lake Havasu City, Ariz. 5.2 percent ABV
Though this brew is spiced with a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and coriander, brewers used a gentle hand -- pumpkin shines through while the overt spiciness that turns many off of pumpkin beers is left behind.
La Parcela Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Michigan 6 percent ABV
La Parcela is special for two reasons: it's the lone sour beer on this list, and it's the only actual pumpkin beer Jolly Pumpkin makes. Tart lemon, apricot and wheat mix up front while sweet pumpkin puree, cacao, clove and nutmeg chill in the background. A pumpkin ale...from Jolly Pumpkin? MADNESS!
Shipyard Pumpkinhead Shipyard Brewing Co., Maine 5.1 percent ABV
Shipyard brews two pumpkin beers -- one for the laymen and one for the pumpkin freaks. Pumpkinhead is the former, blending a light wheat ale base with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. Good Gourds These beers are showcases in balance -- the pumpkin is noticeable and sweet, but doesn't clash with the underlying flavors of the brew.
Pumpkin Porter Four Peaks Brewing Co., Tempe, Ariz. 5 percent ABV
The Valley's most popular pumpkin ale premieres October 1 and will likely run out before Thanksgiving. The pie-crust-flavored brew will mostly be available on draft at accounts around town, but you can also pick up growlers at the brewpub in Tempe.
Wasatch Pumpkin Utah Brewers Collective, Utah 4 percent ABV
This beer geek's personal favorite, Wasatch Pumkin boasts an aroma that could be whiffed for days. Sweet heavy cream, cinnamon, almond and nutmeg blend with buttery baked bread and pumpkin so sweetly caramelized it tastes like it's been thrown on an outdoor grill. In the flavor, pumpkin rind mixes with apple juice and subtle allspice. Truly sessionable, truly delicious.
Pumpkin Spice Sonoran Brewing Co., Scottsdale, Ariz. ABV Unknown
Little is known about this mysterious brew except that it will premiere October 26 during a tapping party at Monsterland and will be available on draft and in bottles soon after. Sonoran has a penchant for using spices to their full potential, so expect this one to be stuffed with cinnamony, nutmegy goodness.
Punkin Ale Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Delaware 7 percent ABV
Dogfish Head's first beer, brewed for the annual Punkin Chunkin contest held in the brewery's home state, is still one of their most popular. Sweet brown ale flavors of bread and caramel provide the perfect backdrop to smooth roasted pumpkin.
Pumpkings Prepare for pumpkin pandemonium! These brews are high in alcohol and packed with excessive amounts of pumpkin and spice.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin Shipyard Brewing Co., Maine 9 percent ABV
Smashed Pumpkin is the second of Shipyard's pumpkin offerings, and this one brings the heat. An aroma like pumpkin pudding blends sweet pumpkin puree with whipped cream, apple juice, maple and nutmeg, while the flavor adds graham crackers.
Fermentation Without Representation Epic Brewing Co., Utah 7.7 percent ABV
Utah's Epic Brewing made this imperial pumpkin porter in collaboration with D.C. Brau, an established craft brewery located in our nation's capital. To a base of strong porter, brewers added a five-spice blend, whole Madagascar vanilla beans and more than 200 pounds of real pumpkin per batch. The result: a flavor strong in vanilla, marshmallow, nutmeg, clove, milk chocolate and dried pumpkin pie. 4
Uinta Oak Jacked Utah Brewers Collective, Utah 10.31 percent Brewed to an absurd and gimmicky 10.31 percent (the date of Halloween), this imperial pumpkin ale spends time again in oak barrels, which gives it nice vanilla tannins that play off sharp, uncooked pumpkin and the usual spice array: clove, brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. A smooth, medium-light body buoyed by sticky, viscous booze makes this one for sipping and sharing.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.