Photos By Nicholas Karlin, Words By Brandon Wetherbee
Mid-November is the best time of year for seasonal beer drinkers. We’re in peak pumpkin, holiday and winter beer season. Because most seasonal beers are limited runs, you probably don’t have any favorites. So we tried all the readily available beers to figure out what you might enjoy the most.
Kaylee Dugan, Jonny Grave, Jose Lopez-Sanchez, Jenn Tisdale and Brandon Weight sampled 22 pumpkin, holiday and winter beers. They didn’t know what they were presented. They were also given the option of skipping rounds because it’s illegal to force people to drink. They rated each beer from 1 to 5 and took notes. Below is the majority of their legible notes.
All of the beers are available in D.C. liquor stores. We had more success finding a diverse array of seasonal beers at Harris Teeter. Trader Joe’s selection is fine, Giant’s is bad and local liquor stores are somewhere in the middle.
Our overall findings are at the end of this post. It’s time to drink.
A. Leinenkugel’s Harvest Patch Shandy
Jonny: Cherry lager, fruity, sweet, saccharine finish. Lots of nutmeg.
Brandon: Light. Very light. Floral nose, but the beer falls flat. Pumpkin puree, like a teaspoon mixed with a bottle of Stella. Too sweet for me.
Jenn: Cheap, like a college party. It has a citrus flavor taste, awkward after taste. Bubble gum?
Kaylee: Smells gooood. Wheaty and citrusy. Tastes like orange bread. My knees are hot. I like this. It’s drinkable. Jenn is right, it’s like a fratty Christmas.
B. Blue Point Winter Ale
Kaylee: This smells like raisins and I hate it even though I like raisins. I wish it was boozier. Like a Scottish ale. I’d rather be eating Raisinets.
Jenn: Tangy and sweet. Tastes almost like a chocolate lager at the end of a chocolate factory.
Jonny: Approachable brown ale. Slightly chocolaty.
Brandon: Dark. Darker than light. Grape soda nose. Too bitter. Someone must have mixed a 2 liter of Welches, Newcastle and Angostura.
C. Saranac Pumpkin Ale
Jenn: Medieval. Smells like what they’d use to treat everything in the 1800s. Very bland, unfinished, just here.
Kaylee: Smells like lightly scented rubbing alcohol. It tastes like cleaner too. I keep drinking it and I don’t know why.
Brandon: Not light, not dark. Tastes like capital B beer. No, lowercase. With no vowels. br.
Jonny: Taste of rose scented flavor cleaner. At best unappealing.
D. Goose Island Festivity Ale
Jenn: Lightly sweet, like Splenda. Tastes like liquid Twizzler.
Jonny: Dried fruit, sour, then bitter, then gone.
Kaylee: Also smells like raisins but in a more appealing way. I don’t hate it but I never want to have a bottle of it.
Brandon: Dark. Molasses nose. Impressed. Hoping it’s a Christmas beer, because I’d drink the fuck out of this with some leftover roast beef and eggs. Apparently everyone else in this group hates it. They’re wrong.
E. Flying Dog The Fear
Brandon: DARKER. MOLASSES-ER NOSE. A less bitter version of D (Goose Island Festivity Ale).
Jenn: Thick, thick adjacent. Tart but not Smarties tart.
Kaylee: Still smells sweet. This, I think, I like. Still has the sweet flavor but it’s not so overbearing.
Jonny: Like a chocolate lager. Light body, but heavy flavor.
F. Magic Hat Winter Mingle
Brandon: Tastes like Dimetapp.
Jenn: Woodsy odor. I am also in front of a campfire.
The most stout yet. Stoic. Like a woman.
Jonny: Thick, mouthy, chewy, feels like a nice stout.
Kaylee: Grainy in a good way. Bitter and kind of lovely. This is the first one I’ve finished.
G. Sam Adams 20 Pounds of Pumpkin
Jonny: Tastes like a Shiner or Sam Adams. Basic, slightly citrusy. Good with a burger?
Jenn: Smells a lot like a late night trip to 7-11. Feels like a soda, strong Coca-Cola aftertaste.
Kaylee: This has a minimal sweet smell. I DIG IT. This one seems a little more balanced. I would have this again.
Brandon: Amber. No nose by this point because I’m hugging a fire pit and smoking. Solid, unadulterated beer.
H. New Belgium Accumulation
Jonny: Hoppy. Favorite so far.
Jenn: Citrus hits you right in the face hole. Very hoppy, Hop-A-Long Cassidy.
Brandon: Smells like Duraflame. Way more robust for a light beer than I would have expected.
Kaylee: Light in color. Good bitter smell and I’m so excited. I’m going to get a headache from all the sweets. I like this a lot.
I. Goose Island Winter Ale
Kaylee: This is good and wintery. It’s yeasty and sweet in the right proportions. Fuck. I love this beer.
Jenn: I was hit with an almost metallic odor, dirty. Kind of a factory flavor, off the surveyor belt, standard.
Brandon: Slowly realizing my taste buds are beyond repair. 20+ years of Pop-Tarts will do that. Nonetheless, it’s pretty damn good. Robust and smooth.
Jonny: Thick, warm, gentle flavor, high ABV?
J. Devil’s Backbone Pumpkin Hunter
Jose: Barley and pumpkin flavor, kind of sweet but not syrupy at all. This makes me surprisingly happy when I drink it. It has nice hints of malt and roasted nuts, and I would actually have this with some frequency over the next few months.
Jonny: Holy fuckballs that’s pumpkin-y. I feel like I’ve had this before.
Kaylee: It’s a pretty color. It’s a lil spicy. This is fun and fall-esque. Like drinking a glass of leaves.
Brandon: Piss color. Day old pumpkin taste. Thumbs down emoji.
Jenn: Classic beer smell.
K. Sam Adams Winter Lager
Kaylee: I think we’ve reached the point where I like all beer and am happy forever. It’s sweet and whatever.
Jenn: More watered down than expected.
Jonny: Is this a pumpkin beer? Meh.
Brandon: First beer to come with a head. I’m already impressed. Also, delicious. No holding flavor but no assaulting sweetness.
Jose: Tastes like a mix between a holiday beer and Milwaukee’s Best. Lots of corn-fed goodness in the back of the mouth. Might just be Beast and food coloring.
L. Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Jose: I don’t have any feelings about this beer. It’s as if a focus group created it. I guess those are feelings; my bad.
Kaylee: This is very drinkable, light and fine. My head feels like it’s going to explode.
Brandon: No more nose, all fire pit.
Jenn: Smells like literally anything. Easy to drink which means hard hangover.
Jonny: Either I’m drinking in circles or this beer is aggressively average.
M. Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Jonny: Oh, nice, pumpkin flavored barley water. Too sweet.
Brandon: Bright but bitter. Sunscreen notes but in a good way?
Jenn: Smells like a cake. Tastes like a tropical island.
Kaylee: Crisp and clear. With a little sweetness? Feels like a summer beer.
Jose: Very nice. Front of mouth has notes of bourbon, and then ends tasting like toasted coconut – imagine Malibu-infused pumpkin beer. Would be good in small doses, and should probably be served in a goblet.
N. Victory Winters Cheers mate
Jose: Peachy? Not sure this is the right time of the year for this beer. I thought of Shia LeBoeuf in Holes – the book is better than the movie, by the way.
Brandon: Permanent sadness and coal in your stocking.
Jonny: Light, crisp, good for a crab boil.
Jenn: Tastes a bit like hairspray, not the movie.
Kaylee: This is wheaty. I’m eating pineapple. I love pineapple.
O. Shiner Holiday Cheer
Jose: Raspberry and soda, and a nice change of pace from the others. I don’t care for overly sweet things, but this is really nice. Unless it’s a Schlafly beer – fuck those guys.
Jenn: Jolly Rancher. Very fruity. Nature’s candy in a cup. John Candy.
Brandon: Even with my terrible sinuses, there’s too much fruit on the nose. But it’s still delicious.
Jonny: Candy apple front. Raspberry, strawberry taste. Would be great with something spicy.
Kaylee: This tastes like fruit. More summer than fall or winter.
P. New Belgium Pumpkick
Jose: Wow – apple pie in a cup. Cloves, apples, Uggs, infinity scarves, Amanda.
Jonny: That’s a Thanksgiving beer. Pumpkin Pie.
Brandon: I did a photoshoot for a bakery last week. I shot pumpkin pie.
Jenn: Cinnamon, spicy, like a Yankee Candle.
Kaylee: Cinnamon and apples and it’s fucking good. This is fall as fuck.
Q. Troegs Mad Elf
Jonny: Fruity road tar! Tastes like the bottom of a gumball machine.
Brandon: STOP POURING ME DIMETAPP, BRANDON. I’M NOT SICK.
(OR DON’T EAT A HALLOWEEN OREO BEFORE A BEER)
Jose: Old English malt liquor and shoe polish. Nope.
Kaylee: This looks beautiful. Gummy bears. Dollar Store candy but liquified. I love it and I hate it.
Jenn: Too sweet.
R. Shipyard Pumpkinhead
Jose: This is what I think of when someone says a fall beer, and it fits every stereotype. I think this is a Shipyahhhd? Has to be. It’s so firmly in the middle of a road I don’t really care for.
Jonny: So *that’s* what Santa Claus’ asshole tastes like.
Kaylee: Spice is on the nose. Has a weird and also nice aftertaste. Dessert beer. Bring on the cheese plate.
Brandon: KEEP POURING THIS BEER BRANDON.
(OR, EAT CRAB CHIPS WITH BEER)
S. Sierra Nevada Celebration
Jenn: Hippy. Dirt, Joe Dirt.
Jonny: It’s a beer beer! Hoppy, full bodied, altogether rather pleasant.
Brandon: Actual beer. Hoppy, bitter. Thank you.
Kaylee: Bitter head. Hoppy and fine. I like this.
Jose: Real beer! Finally some hops! I like this a lot.
T. Red Hook Out of your Gourd Pumpkin Porter
Jose: Jager beer. Weird and minty, and tastes like liquorice. DO NOT LIKE.
Brandon: Stout that falls flat. Not interested.
Kaylee: I am drunk so everything is fine. Fuck yeah beer.
Jenn: Licorice. Very thick. You can grab it.
Jonny: Hello, coffee. Earthy, deep, dark, high carbonation, still creamy, licorice finish.
U. Harpoon Winter Warmer
Jose: Oh I really enjoyed this one! Less intense version of R (Shipyard Pumpkinhead), and I like this roasted malt flavor, nice solid caramel color and really easy to drink.
Kaylee: Pumpkin as fuck? Maybe? The pineapple may have tricked me.
Brandon: Sweet. Dude. What? Yes. Need more crab chips.
Jonny: Something interested but safe enough to bring to your girlfriend’s parent’s house.
V. Fordham Brewing Spiced Harvest Ale
Jonny: See, that’s what a fall beer should taste like. Slight spice/sweetness, but an even beer.
Jose: This was obviously made with a lot of love, and with consideration for what is easy to drink in larger quantities – it’s not so overwhelming that it becomes a “one and done” beer, which I appreciate. It has hints and elements of a fall beer without ever becoming a self-parody.
Jenn: Chopping wood, chopping broccoli. Camping!
Brandon: All the spices, all the goodness. Oh, the beer, not the crab chips? B+
Kaylee: Spicy and pumpkin-esque. Very drinkable. Goes good with marshmallows.
I love pizza.
W. Corsair Old Punk
Jose: I wouldn’t have known this whiskey had pumpkin in it unless you told me. It’s actually pretty good! More of a novelty than anything I guess? Probably super harsh hangovers from this though. 4/5
Jonny: I actually like this one. A lot. I am also drunk. 4
Brandon: High proof alcohol masks pumpkin flavor.
Kaylee: FUCK whiskey.
I love whiskey.
[In large bubble letters] HELP.
If you’re an atheist beer drinker, you’re in luck. The winter seasonal beers rated higher across the board than the pumpkin and Christmas beers. If you’re not sure which category to buy, it’s hard to go wrong with winter beer.
The top beer in the pumpkin category is Flying Dog’s
The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale.
The lowest overall beer is the Saranac Pumpkin Ale.
The New Belgium Accumulation was a crowd pleaser. It easily ranked higher than any other beer and, good for everyone, is readily available. Coming in tied for second and third was the Goose Island Winter Ale and Magic Hat Winter Mingle. Don’t confuse the Goose Island Winter Ale with the Goose Island Festivity Ale. We did not enjoy the Goose Island Festivity Ale.
The Christmas beer didn’t fare too well. Shiner Holiday Cheer ranked highest but four winter beers ranked higher. Once again, good for us, Shiner Holiday Cheer is also easy to find.
On a related note, we really liked the whiskey! Really! And it wasn’t because we were all drinking. It ranked really high and tasted the same the next day. It seems like the pumpkin thing is just a gimmick. We couldn’t even taste the pumpkin.
Stick with winter over pumpkin and Christmas. Flying Dog makes great beer. Pumpkin whiskey is worth a taste. Grilled pineapple is good. If you sit near a fire pit you’re going to smell like a fire pit.