We did this over Halloween but it has taken us a little while to pull the review together. Here our roundup of 2011′s best pumpkin beers, our PumpkinFest!

Growing up in Scotland people didn’t carve pumpkin’s, they carved turnips (or as we called them Begie’s, pounced bay-gay). It wasn’t that we were poor, this was what everyone did but it did create some interesting challenges. Cutting a turnip is hard enough, carving one as a child is even more difficult. It is a week long process that involved allowing the turnip to soften a little and then dad hollowing it out with his electric drill. After this you could carve only the most basic of shapes.

Needless to say, as a result, we love carving pumpkins. Its so much easier. You can do so much more. So as we settled in for this year’s pumpkin carving, what better to accompany it than six of the finest pumpkin ales. And so began the Hobbyists Great Pumpkin-Off (in no particular order).

Round 1: Phillips Crooked Tooth Pumpkin Ale

The first selection is from Vancouver Islands Phillips Brewing. Our design experts deemed this beer the most pleasing. The label is colourful, it has a great pumpkin caracature on the front. It is pretty bright and colourful. Beyond the aesthetics, the beer is quite a spicy, with strong nutmeg and cinnamon flavours. It was quite nice and proved to be quite different from some of the beers to follow. Unfortunately, this overpowered a lot of the pumpkin and the beer seems to lack a bit of body (a little watery). You needed a really open tulip glass to even get a hint of pumpkin (but in the right glass it was definitely there). The effect was so pronounced, that people tasting in different glasses had wildly different experiences.

Red Racer Pumpkin Ale

The second offering, from Surrey’s Central City Brewing through their Red Racer line was one of two universal favourites (and none of us could decide which was better). More so than some of the others, this one is definitely a beer with a strong malt body supported by the subtle pumpkin flavours. Balances spices make for easy drinking and, as a result, his was only beer we could see ourselves happily sitting down and drinking multiples of. Unlike most of the others, this bees is available throughout the fall and is also included in the Red Racer Winter Mix pack.

McAuslin St Ambroise Pumpkin Ale

Third up for tasting if an offering from Montreal’s Brasserie McAuslan Brewery. We all enjoyed this one but it fell short of tipping the front runners. Nice spice flavours (the usual cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves that are in pumpkin pie) but any taste of actual pumpkin is a bit muted. Darker than most of the others in colour tending towards a deep copper brown rather than the golden orange of the rest (well, other than Howe Sound Pumkineater, but it’s a bit different). Nice and dry on the tongue and not too sweet, this is another easy drinker. If you are unsure about pumpkin beer and want somewhere safe to start this might well be the place!

Granville Island Pumpkin Ale

By this point the pumpkin carving is getting a little competitive, some Hobbyists are beginning to chirp each others efforts so we offered up something from the home town Granville Island Brewing. We have made it no secret that we think GIB Brewmaster Vern Lambourne has been doing great things with the brewery on the island and his Pumpkin Ale was no exception, proving to be the Hobbyists other universal favourite. The similar pumpkin spices are there but with a more natural pumpkin flavour to the beer and some nicely balanced malts give make it seem a little like a wheat ale. Again, this one was not particularly heavy or sweet making for quite easy drinking.

Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale

Up fifth we had the Night Owl Pumpkin Ale from Seattle’s Elysian Brewing. This beer was a little bit different than most of its predecessors. It was dark, strong smelling and malty. The was definitely some molasses lingering in the taste but the pumpkin flavours were a bit more muted. It should be noted that the beer had spent about three weeks being cellared (due to availability, it flies off the shelves fast) so that may have caused some mellowing, especially when Elysian notes that there are seven and a half pounds of pumpkin per barrel. We have never brewed a pumpkin ale ourselves but that seems like a lot!

Howe Sound Pumpkin Eater Imperial Pumpkin Ale

The last and definitely the strongest of theĀ  six we tested was the Pumpkineater from Howe Sound. We picked it up early and it also spent a couple of weeks in the cellar but it definitely wasn’t noticeable (a bit stronger than the Elysian some probably better for the purpose). Being the only ‘Imperial’ ale in the group, the Pumpkineater is the darkest of all our other offerings. Its malty and spicy and strong and a bit sweeter, which wasn’t pleasing to everyone’s palate. That said, it was a different take and that made it stand out from the crowd. Of all the beers samples, this was probably the one the Hobbyists spent the most time talking about.

After this, the evening descended into the Hobbyists enjoying another glass of our favourites and continuing to trash talk each others child-like attempts at pumpkin carving.

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