Four pumpkin ales to spice up your autumn 

Taste the great pumpkins.

By now you've probably noticed all the seasonal beers hitting shelves, but one particular autumn style that has a special place in the hearts of many is the pumpkin ale. These brews come from all corners of the country and range from the sublime to the truly god-awful.

Falling somewhere on the better end of the spectrum is Punkin Ale from Dogfish Head Brewery. Brewed with pumpkin, organic brown sugar and spices, it's a flavorful beer and very distinctive in its own right — but really, what else would you expect from Dogfish Head? It pours a pumpkin-orange color (go figure) with a head that does not linger long. Punkin's carbonation is significant (it might have overpowered some of the subtleties that would have been present otherwise) and the aroma is a nice balance of spices — mostly nutmeg and cinnamon, with a hint of the actual pumpkin and a touch of brown sugar. The 7-percent ABV is well hidden, and you could easily find yourself several in before noticing the affects. This is a drinkable beer, not too heavily "pumpkin'd" for my taste. It's not "pie-in-a-glass," but more like a spiced brown ale with pumpkin nuances.

Blue Point Brewing's Pumpkin Ale is another great offering from the Long Island brewery. This one pours a crystal clear, light-copper color, almost like a pumpkin spice latte it its aroma, with a lingering and fluffy head. This ale is all about the balance of spices — primarily cinnamon and nutmeg, naturally — and hints of pumpkin. The carbonation feels about right, and the caramel backbone balances the spices nicely. Light and crisp, and at a moderate 6-percent ABV, this is a perfect beer for the back porch in autumn, even in Florida's lingering heat. According to Blue Point, the Pumpkin Ale is brewed with "pumpkins from only the most sincere patches," and it shows. It will be widely available until Thanksgiving.

Moving into the bigger, badder offerings is Southern Tier with their Imperial Pumking, an 8.4-percent heavy hitter. But don't be fooled by the light coloration, as the aroma is different from the others, with more allspice and gingerbread than the usual nutmeg and cinnamon. There's a hint of graham cracker crust as well. The taste follows suit initially, with clove and pumpkin coming through strongly for the first few swallows. While the aroma remains, the flavor seems to disappear a bit after the initial onslaught. The alcohol is well hidden unless you let it warm a bit, but it is deceptively smooth. Definitely one to try, and widely available through December in 22-ounce bottles and on draft.

Finally, we have a local selection from Cigar City Brewing: Good Gourd Imperial Ale. Like the others, Cigar City uses real pumpkins in this one, but goes the extra mile with the addition of Ceylon cinnamon, Jamaican allspice, Zanzibar cloves and nutmeg. This is truly a masterpiece of the style in every way. Good Gourd pours orange in color and you are immediately hit with the aroma of piecrust, roasted pumpkin and pie spices. This beer feels somewhat heavier than the others, and fuller bodied with flavors of caramel and roasted pumpkin throughout. While there are hints of pumpkin pie from start to finish, I never got the feeling that this was a pie-in-a-glass beer, which is a good thing and a testament to the skill with which it was brewed. The alcohol is more pronounced than some of the other beers, and at 8.5-percent ABV, it's a good idea to take it easy.

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