Chicago brewers use local pumpkins in their pumpkin beers
DryHop Brewers, Spiteful Brewing, Atlas Brewing, Wild Onion and Rock Bottom all have pumpkin beers worth drinking this fall.
Illinois is one of the country’s leaders of pumpkin harvesting and processing, so it’s no wonder we’re obsessed with adding pumpkin to everything at the first sight of fall. The craft beer industry is no exception, and pumpkin beers started showing up on shelves in late August.
While that’s way too early to drink pumpkin beers, once we learned that many Chicagoland breweries were using fresh, locally harvested pumpkins to brew their own pumpkin beers, we tagged along on DryHop's brewing day and tried some others to find out what goes into them and determine which you should drink this fall. If you think you know pumpkin ales or have tried them all, save room for a few new offerings from the local scene.
Spiteful Brewing Jackass O’Lantern Pumpkin Ale (6.6% ABV)
The Spiteful guys have always enjoyed drinking pumpkin beers to kick off the autumn season and seized the chance to brew with ingredients not normally found in their beer. They roasted and caramelized 60 pounds of local sugar pie pumpkins for their batch. It’s very mildly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and the light toasted-malt flavor remains at the forefront, making it quite drinkable. Bombers are available at their current retail locations and there's a limited draft release at Four Moons Tavern, the Green Lady, the Bad Apple and the Monkey’s Paw.
Atlas Brewing Phantasmagourdia Pumpkin Ale (6.8% ABV)
Brothers Ben and John Saller break away from the traditional pumpkin pie spices and add Mexican cinnamon and dark sugar, Indian coriander, and Szechuan peppercorns to 150 pounds of roasted pumpkins, along with Trappist-style yeast. The recipe yields a beer with a sweet, earthy flavor that has a spicy finish from the peppercorn. It’s an unexpected and enjoyable interpretation of the style. There’s a partial batch available at the Atlas brewpub (2747 N Lincoln Ave). The brewery is barrel-aging the remaining beer in Heaven Hill whiskey barrels for 3 months.
DryHop Brewers Starry Night in Sleepy Hollow Pumpkin Stout (5.5% ABV)
Brewer Brant Dubovick’s love of pumpkin ales traces back to his days in New York, when he and his wife loved Southampton Publick House's pumpkin beer so much they served it at their wedding. To honor their 10-year anniversary and love of Halloween, they’re releasing DryHop's take on October 23 at 6pm in the brewpub (3155 N Broadway). The Night of Pumpkin Ales will feature a flight of six pumpkin beers, including their Starry Night in Sleepy Hollow, as well as beers from five other breweries. The rich, malty stout was brewed with Penzey's Pumpkin Pie Spice and 100 pounds of sugar pumpkins, which were grilled and caramelized. The warm cinnamon spice nose draws you into a creamy, roasted body. For those who enjoy darker beer, it’s one of this season’s best pumpkin offerings.
Rock Bottom Chicago Pumpkin Ale (6.8% ABV)
Brewmaster Hayley Shine roasted more than 100 pounds of sugar pie pumpkins and added a blend of freshly grated spices to give their ale a fruity, gourdy aroma. “It’s not a pie, it’s a beer,” Shine reassured us. Indeed, it’s a full bodied, biscuit-y ale with mild spices on the finish—everything you want from a freshly made, drinkable pumpkin ale. Rock Bottom will be hollowing a massive pumpkin out of which it will serve the beer for the launch party on October 24 at 6pm at the brewpub (1 W Grand Ave). The other Chicagoland Rock Bottoms will have their own special pumpkin brews as well.
Wild Onion Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale (5.4% ABV)
While it’s been around since the late 1990s, Barrington-based brewery Wild Onion’s Pumpkin Ale is still one of the best; they were the first brewery to can a pumpkin beer, in 2010. The beer least likely to be classified as “pumpkin pie in a can,” this dry, light-bodied ale has subtle notes of pumpkin, nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. As one of the more sessionable spiced beers, it’s a great choice for tailgating and Halloween parties. It’s also easy to find, available at beer retailers and supermarkets.