Ever had a sweet and spicy slice of pumpkin pie? Sure you have. Ever had a pumpkin beer?

Often released as a fall seasonal, pumpkin ales are quite varied. Some brewers opt to add hand-cut pumpkins and drop them in the mash, while others use puree or pumpkin flavoring; both methods are time-consuming and tend to drive brewmasters insane. Usually, these beers are also spiced with the type of spices associated with pumpkin pie: ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Pumpkin ales are typically mild, with little to no bitterness, a malty backbone and often some spice taking the lead. Many contain a starchy, slightly thickish mouthfeel, too. In our opinion, the best versions are those that employ real pumpkin—roasted pumpkin, especially, can add tremendous depth of character.

Hence, our top pumpkin ale pick is Cambridge Brewing Company’s Great Pumpkin Ale! What makes it so great? Brewmaster Will Meyers and his crew chop up 150 pounds of fresh, organic sugar pumpkins plucked from Massachusetts farms for each batch. The chopped pumpkin is then added to the mash, and a mixture of traditional autumn spices is added into the brewing process to round things out. Of course, in order to truly understand its appeal, you have to taste it.

The Taste

Ordered by the pint, the orange-colored beer shimmers with deep red and brown hues, and is topped with a healthy lace. The nose offers a very soft, mixed bag of spices and faint notes of pumpkin meat beneath some maltiness. The aroma is delicate at first, opening up as the beer warms.

Carbonation is tight on the palate, a bit sharp. More soft and powdery spices emerge, reminiscent of the holidays. The pumpkin is subtle, with hints of starch. There’s just enough malty sweetness as not to overwhelm the spicing or pumpkin, with an interesting bit of burnt sugar around the edges and, at times, suggestions of oranges. No real bitterness to speak of, but there’s a thin sourness that awakens the palate. Some huskiness as the beer warms, with a dry finish and faint spice linger. Overall, the beer is quite dry.

Final Thoughts

Unlike many other examples that can be cloying, over-spiced and just generally over the top, CBC’s version is indeed “great” due to its artful balance and overall subtlety of pumpkin and spice. Great Pumpkin Ale is available now at the brewpub [1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge. 617.494.1994. cambrew.com] or at select bars for a limited time only.