These days, seasonal beers are — to put it mildly — very popular. Hop heads mark their calendars months in advance for some releases, then wait in lines around the block to get their hands on some. Beyond the obvious monetary benefits, seasonals also offer brewers a chance to experiment and brew outside the box.
The approaching cool weather brings out a slew of seasonal beers that are usually darker, heavier and meant to warm the stomach. But before we put away the shandies and break out the grog, we get a delectable, transitional brew — the pumpkin beer (though in truth, it's released earlier and earlier each year).
"There's more flavor in a pumpkin than in the summer beers, but it's still refreshing," says Jim Gorczyca of O'Fallon Brewery.
Over the last few years, nearly every brewery has taken on the pumpkin and added their own twist — some use real pumpkins, while others add a mixture of spices that conjure up the flavors of pumpkin pie. O'Fallon started brewing its pumpkin beer in 2003, and sales have grown every year since. In fact, this year the beer is "flying off the shelves."
"It's our most popular seasonal beer by far," says Gorczyca.
You'll have to act fast because supplies are dwindling, and winter is fast approaching. That means heavy beers, like stouts and porters, are on their way to replace the gourd-inspired brews. It'll be a whole year before the return of the great pumpkin.
Thankfully, St. Louis has several local varieties worth trying. In no particular order, here is a list of our favorite locally brewed pumpkin beers.
Urban Chestnut Brewing Company
Count Orlok Black Pumpkin Ale
3229 Washington Avenue; 314-222-0143;
This is the first year Urban Chestnut entered the pumpkin beer game, and it did not disappoint. The Count Orlok Black Pumpkin ale belongs to the Revolution Series (its experimental, artisan series), but the name itself harkens back to German mythology: Count Orlok, better known as Nosferatu, is the German version of Count Dracula. Fittingly, the beer is a black wheat ale, but don't let the ominous name or the dark coloring intimidate you. The beer clocks in at 5.4 percent ABV, and it has a lighter quality (some hints of banana) mixed in with the pumpkin flavors. It's scary good. You can find it on tap at the brewery.
Ferguson Brewing Company
418 South Florissant Road, Ferguson; 314-521-2220
Ferguson's popular pumpkin ale is more of a spicy beer with cinnamon and nutmeg dominating the pumpkin flavor — though the squash flavor is definitely present. With a 4.9 percent ABV, this is a lighter beer, more of a session ale that can be enjoyed in larger quantities without feeling full or dizzy — unless you drink six or seven. Grab one at the brewery in Ferguson.
Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling
Imperial Pumpkin Smash Stout
13326 State Route F, Ste. Genevieve; 573-756-9463;
Crown Valley's Imperial Pumpkin Smash stout is the strongest beer on this list, at 10.6 percent ABV — a couple of these bad boys and the leaves won't be the only thing hitting the ground. The imperial-stout style means a thick, rich and creamy beer that's much darker in color and can be a bit overwhelming. That said, the dark chocolate, toffee, and cinnamon flavors are upfront and delicious — just drink slowly and enjoy. Crown Valley is in Ste. Genevieve, which is a bit of a hike, but this beer can be found in several stores and on tap at bars across the region. We found ours at Amsterdam Tavern.
Six Row Brewing Company
3690 Forest Park Avenue; 314-531-5600;
Six Row's pumpkin beer, like many beers, has its origins in a "Why the hell not?" kind of moment. After brewing last year's Oktoberfest, a suggestion arose that pumpkin spice should be added and then thrown into a cask, you know, just to see what would happen. It worked out pretty well. This year, Six Row switched to an Oktoberfest ale, added the spices (no actual pumpkins were used), including cinnamon, ginger and allspice — in fact, it's more of a dry-hop. At 5.5 percent ABV, the final product is a light, crisp beer with a red, copper coloring and easy finish. Last we heard, it was on tap at Market Pub House and Flying Saucer Draught Emporium.
26 West Industrial Drive, O'Fallon; 636-474-2337;
Out west just a little ways, O'Fallon Brewery has been producing quality beers since 2000 and recently announced a much-anticipated expansion. Along with O'Fallon's regular lineup, one of its most popular seasonal beers is the pumpkin ale. Precisely 136 pumpkins went into this popular brew, and with the cinnamon and nutmeg spices thrown in, it's like a liquid slice of pumpkin pie. The ABV is a smooth 5.6 percent, making for a very drinkable, easy beer. Pick it up at the brewery, in stores (in cans for the first time) and at many fine bars.
2100 Locust Street; 314-241-2337;
If you can only drink one pumpkin beer this year, this might be the one. Dark orange in color, sweet and savory with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, Schlafly's pumpkin ale is widely considered one of the best, not just in the city, but in the country — Beer Advocate gives it a 94/100 rating and puts it at No. 3 on its list of top pumpkin beers. Rate My Pumpkins, a blog that does nothing but taste pumpkin beers from all over the country, rated Schlafly 96/100 and has it ranked second overall. From the first sip you taste pumpkin pie. Not just the aroma, but the taste of a real, fresh-out-of-the-oven pumpkin pie. Be warned, this beer packs quite a punch, with the strong 8 percent ABV, but the sweet deliciousness translates to easy, enjoyable drinking. Find this at Schlafly's Tap Room, Bottleworks and locations all over town.