In Defense of Pumpkin Beers

The often maligned pumpkin beers have invaded store shelves. But some craft beer drinkers actually appreciate their arrival.

There’s no middle ground when it comes to pumpkin beers. They’re the Dallas Cowboys of craft beer—you either love them or your hate them. I think a lot of this comes from pumpkin overload. A ton of different pumpkin brews start hitting the shelves ridiculously early in August. Add in the fact that pumpkin spice invades everything from lattes to Cheerios and you can see how gourd fatigue can set in.

I’m not ashamed to say that I like a well-made pumpkin beer in the fall. My first taste of a “unique” craft beer was when I tried Lakefront Pumpkin Lager for the first time close to two decades ago. It seemed crazy to me at the time, a beer expertly flavored with pumpkin and spice. (I had no idea that a few years down the road I’d be trying beers made with grapefruit, hot peppers, squid ink, etc.) Pumpkin beers taste like fall, and a few Wisconsin brewers do a pretty good job making them. Here are four standouts:

Lakefront Brewery Pumpkin Lager

The previously mentioned brew is balanced and easy drinking. And because it’s a lager it avoids the overpowering sweetness that some other pumpkin beer styles have. It’s just 5.8% ABV, which puts it on the low end of the pumpkin beer spectrum.

Bottle of Lakefront Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Courtesy of Lakefront Brewery
Lakefront Brewery Brandy Barrel-Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale

This has claimed a few medals at beer competitions for Lakefront and high praise from Draft Magazine. There’s a reason behind all that acclaim. It’s a big and boozy (13.4% ABV) warming fall sipper with a nice array of pumpkin and spice flavor that never gets cloying. Note: From my experience, it’s even better when aged a year and some of the heat has faded away.

Tyranena Brewing Painted Ladies Ale

This amber ale balances malt sweetness with pumpkin flavor. A hint of bitterness works well and ensures that the ladies aren’t too sweet. If you like ambers, this is the pumpkin beer for you.

Stevens Point Brewery Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale

Nutmeg and cinnamon are both prevalent with Whole Hog, but in a good way. The nice balance of the beer has earned it a slew of beer fest medals, including gold medals at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival and 2013 and 2016 World Beer Championships.

If these pumpkin brews aren’t to your liking, feel free to usher in fall with an Oktoberfest or two. Or, you can just wait until the onslaught of holiday beers. They should be showing up on shelves any day now.



Dan Murphy has been reviewing bars for Milwaukee Magazine for roughly 15 years. He’s been doing his own independent research in them for close to 25.