When you think of autumn traditions, what comes to mind? Maybe costume parties, raking leaves, or (American) football? Maybe you enjoy a glass of strong apple cider? Why not try a few pumpkin beers, too? I’m not even a big beer drinker, but I’ve really enjoyed most of the pumpkin ales that I’ve tried over the past few weeks. These have been around for years and years, I’m sure, and as usual I’m probably one of the last to come around to “discovering” them, but I’ve got to say that they’ve done more to expand my palate than any other new food or drink that I’ve had an opportunity to sample in 2010.

Unfortunately, by the time you read this, most of these limited-time, seasonal brews will probably be very difficult to find. Heck, by the middle of September, it was already impossible to obtain some of the most desirable pumpkin beers, a lesson we’ll just have to heed for next year. Just a few impressions from our trips to Binny’s and beyond:

Hoppin Frog Frog’s Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale
My personal favorite, a spicy and rich brew full of flavor and aroma. Pours on the darker side, probably tastes more like pumpkin pie than any other beer I’ve tried, but not sickly sweet or overwhelming. Comes in a large bottle and on its own will probably satisfy anyone who’s drinking for pleasure and not just to “get drunk.” I really couldn’t drink anything else after I finished this (its 8.4% abv easily tops any other pumpkin brew we were able to find), not can I imagine wanting to down any other beers beforehand either. But to each their own. This one’s a real treat that’s meant to be savored on its own.

Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale
Pours a light amber color, mild pumpkin taste, a smooth and light pumpkin brew. This one never really stood out for me but is still a pleasant experience to drink. Into late October, this was the only pumpkin beer still available in our area, but rest assured that its relative non-scarcity doesn’t mean that it’s a sub-par beer. We bought the last case we could find and hope it lasts us until Christmas. Definitely worth trying out.

Wild Onion Pumpkin Ale
Ever since I’ve been old enough to drink, I’ve held a misguided disdain for canned beers and done my best to avoid them altogether (Guinness being the sole exception). So when I first saw Wild Onion’s Pumpkin Ale at the store, I quickly turned up my nose at the display of six packs and rolled my eyes at its whimsical can design. Didn’t they know I was now a sophisticated beer drinker? Alas, my snobbish ways nearly made me miss out on a great beer. If you love pumpkin flavor, you won’t be disappointed by Wild Onion, which pours a deep, dark brown and brings a spicy and rich pumpkin pie taste. Quite a find.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
We bought a pack of this back in mid-September and drank through it rather quickly, though I held onto the last bottle and kept it in my fridge for about a month. Going back to it after trying all the other brands listed here, I was surprised at how bold and spicy it tasted. Next to Hoppin Frog, no other beer brought the flavors of brown sugar and spices like Dogfish Head. A surprisingly thick pour with a creamy texture and strong taste, Punkin Ale goes down smooth and will leave you looking forward to your next bottle.

Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale
Harvest Moon is surely the most widely brewed and distributed pumpkin beer that we tried, but that’s no reason to write it off. It’s a little on the bland side, with a light pumpkin taste that’ll probably disappoint hardcore seasonal beer fans, but like the original Blue Moon, I found it to be an above-average, enjoyable beer. As much as I hate using the word, it’s very drinkable. And as it only appears to be sold in packs of 12, that’s more important than it sounds.

Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Pours a pleasant dark amber. With a mild vegetable taste and a hard-to-detect aroma (at least in the batch we had), Post Road is a reliable, although somewhat unexciting, pumpkin beer. There’s nothing wrong with it, but when the narrow window for pumpkin beers opens once again next September, we’ll probably seek out and revisit at least a half dozen brands before coming back to this one. Seems to have its fans online, so I definitely do want to give it another shot in the future.

Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela No. 1 Pumpkin Ale
The most expensive pumpkin ale that I tried this year. Also, my least favorite, by far. Very mild pumpkin flavor that’s strongly overcome by a sparkly Champagne taste/feel that leaves everything feeling watered down and sour. Comes in a large bottle that I couldn’t finish. What I’m trying to say is, this probably isn’t your father’s beer, even if he was a hip dude into microbrews. Not recommended, but there are probably plenty of beer aficionados out there who genuinely like this sort of thing and could tell me why I’m wrong about it.