Fall, perhaps more than any other season, has a way of manifesting itself in crisp, nostalgia-inducing smells and tastes: burning leaves, newly sharpened pencils, caramel apples, cinnamon and, of course, pumpkin. Pumpkin pie is arguably one of the most comforting desserts there is, so it seems only natural to combine that sweet ’n’ spicy autumnal flavor with another one of life’s great comforts: beer. Pumpkin ale as we know it today is heavily influenced by the sweet and sharp spices contained in pumpkin pie (think cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, allspice and clove); however, using regular old pumpkin to make beer dates back to 18th-century American colonists who were known to use pompion (pumpkin!) or just about anything to craft a brew when times were tough. So, pumpkin ale is as American as ... well, pumpkin pie. This fall, pumpkin beers are sprouting up all over Philly. See our top picks below, plus the best haunts to sip them in and which munchies go great with a mouthful of fall.
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Weyerbacher Brewing Co., 8.0 ABV): Swig this sweet, dessert-like ale at retro Varga Bar (10th and Spruce sts.) for a serious pumpkin and cinnamon treat. The sweetness is a bit syrupy and tastes more of bananas foster than pumpkin pie, so it’s great with something savory. Pair with their crazy delicious Kobe burger topped with aged cheddar, caramelized shallots, applewood smoked bacon, organic greens and heirloom tomatoes. That salty/sweet combination never fails.
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (Smuttynose Brewing Company, 5.0 ABV): Do you have a childhood soft spot for grilled cheese and tomato soup on a brisk fall day? OK, well this is way better. Substitute the Campbell’s soup for the ultra-hoppy Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale—which tastes like a more traditional IPA with just a hint of spice—and order the outstanding aged cheddar and swiss grilled cheese with sliced apples and bacon at Good Dog (15th and Locust sts.)
Southampton Pumpkin Ale (Southampton Publick House, 6.0 ABV): This holiday inspired amber ale is lighter on the spice but still big on taste. If you’ve got a hankering for sweets but prefer to skip the seasonal fruitcake, stop by Devil’s Den (11th and Ellsworth sts.) and order a pint of Southampton with a slice of their devilishly delicious ginger cheesecake topped with cranberry marmalade. Or if you prefer something hearty, order their roasted lamb with pea puree, onion soubise and sweet clove sauce to bring out those pumpkin pie spices.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Brewery, 7.0 ABV): Dress your pumpkin up and stop by one of Tria’s two locations (18th and Sansom or 12th and Spruce) to try this ever-popular full and spicy ale brewed with real baked pumpkins and traditional punkin’ pie ingredients like allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar. For an equally flavor-packed and artful snack, try the warm poached black mission figs with gorgonzola and prosciutto di Parma or get an added taste of the holidays with the smoked duck salad with strawberries, pistachios, grana padano, spinach and citrus-mint vinaigrette.
Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale (Brooklyn Brewery, 5.0 ABV): Swing by the Irish Pol (45 S. Third St.) to taste this warm malty beer heavy on the spices like nutmeg and hot with cinnamon plus a caramel “pie crust” aftertaste. Pair this spicy ale with the sweet ’n’ savory goodness of the $5 pulled-pork sandwich for a treat that’s heavy on your taste buds but light on your wallet.
More pumpkin ales of note:
Drinking at Monk's—for the Children!
BYO Vinyl at Prohibition Taproom
A Good-Time South Philly Bar