I’ve never had a pumpkin beer in my life. And I always (politely) decline offers of pumpkin spice lattes. Or pumpkin spice anything, for that matter.
But when Shane Monteiro—the brew expert behind New York City’s Carmine Street Beers in the West Village—tells me that I really ought to try something…I do. Because such is the power of trust. And Monteiro, who has an impeccable palate, certainly knows his beers.
Just think about it this way: The man manages a rotating roster of more than 500 beers, many of which are limited-releases, seasonal, and highly allocated. Beyond that his inventory is not restricted to U.S. brews—Carmine Street Beers’ offerings are from all over the world. Truly exciting stuff, if you ask me.
So am I about to take my first sip of pumpkin beer? You bet I am. After all, Monteiro’s selections are on the higher end of the spectrum.
Below are five of his recommendations. Note that these won’t be easy to find. But if you happen to be in Manhattan, stop by Carmine Street Beers and Monteiro will happily walk you through them.
“Avery’s Rumpkin is easily one of the best pumpkin beers I’ve had in recent memory, and a clear dominator on this list,” Monteiro says. “The aroma opens up to hints of the extensive rum barrel aging, huge alcohol presence, and some sweetness. The taste starts very hot, with the alcohol vapors taking charge, quickly moving to a rum-filled body. The vanilla and barrel combine with the pumpkin spices in the beer, opening up layers of cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel. The yeast, taken from Westmalle, adds an amplified Belgian candi sugar to the already sweet rum base. Readers beware: don’t take the 12-ounce bottle lightly. It will catch up to you quickly with an ABV level that high.”
“You may be familiar with the widely available Roadsmary’s Baby—Two Roads’ take on a light, sessionable pumpkin ale aged in rum barrels with vanilla beans,” Monteiro points out. “However, the much rarer Roadsmary’s Other Baby is coming to NYC draft lines in extremely limited quantities this year. The two are essentially the same beer, except that Other Baby is aged in the same barrels for longer. The flavor picks up more oak character than the original, which comes out as a slight funk at the beginning of the beer, along with a surprisingly medium body and heavy carbonation. This beer really shines in the finish, leaving the palate with layered waves of vanilla, rum-soaked wood, and tastefully done pumpkin spicing.”
“Almanac has always had a knack for brewing some of the finest sour liquids around, and their Sour Pumpkin is certainly in that category,” Monteiro says. “Aged in bourbon and wine barrels, this dark pouring beer oozes a deep wine tannin character, which adds bitter notes to a well-developed and heavy-bodied sour. Unfortunately (or not for some), the pumpkin spice that should have balanced the brew are heavily muted, being totally taken by the sour and wine barrel, but the remaining portion of the beer is tart, rich, and warm from the bourbon heat.”
“Cascade is well-known in American craft beer circles as some of the most expensive and well developed sours—truly making it a high end product,” Monteiro explains. “Their pumpkin ale undergoes some of the most rigorous aging processes available to brewers. First, batches of a Belgian Quad are aged in bourbon and brandy barrels for up to 22 months with pumpkin and spices and then they left to sour. Finally, the two separate barrels are blended together, creating this masterpiece of a brew. The taste begins very sour on the first sip, but moves pretty quickly into pumpkin spice territory. The finish clearly showcases the barrels, moving from the spices to a warm vanilla oak from the bourbon, and finally finishing on a secondary dose of spice, this time from the brandy barrels.”
“Good Gourd is one of the finest examples of an imperial pumpkin beer available and derives a lot of its well deserved praise from the fact that it does it all without any barrel aging,” Monteiro says. “The rich, caramel malt base is driven forward by additions of cinnamon, Jamaican allspice, Zanzibar cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla. The resulting brew is intense, boozy, and rich with a fantastic warm vanilla background.”