Pumpkin Beer Week: Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale

Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale labelThe Pumpkin Ale from Buffalo Bill’s Brewery has an interesting history. First brewed back in 1986, it may well be the oldest (and first) commercially available pumpkin beer on the market today. The beer got its start when Bill Owens (Buffalo Bill’s founder) read that George Washington had brewed with pumpkin—so he gave it a shot.

Until 1997, their Pumpkin Ale was only available local to the brewery (in Hayward, California). In that year, the beer began being contract brewed by Portland Brewing (using Buffalo Bill’s recipe)—an arrangement that manages the large-scale brewing and distribution challenges that a smaller brewery can’t.

As a result, Buffalo Bill’s is the most visibly available pumpkin beer, at least where I am in Central Oregon. Every year all the major grocery stores carry it and there are pallets of the brew at places like World Market.

At the brewpub itself, though, the beer is still brewed on-premise. Pumpkins are carved and roasted and added to the mash, and spices are added at the end of the process, in the serving tank.

I first wrote a review of the beer back in 2005.

Appearance: Very clear, copper colored with orange highlights. Fizzy head that fell quickly.

Smell: Spices—cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg—over a malty sweet backbone. A bit vegetable-y (green).

Taste: Light and malty—the pumpkin infuses the lighter body here with a semi-sweet pie quality. Spice tang—a little peppery amidst the holiday spicing character. A touch of molasses, burnt sugar.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied—thin and even a bit watery. Spices give it a kick in the aftertaste.

Overall: Nice flavors, but much lighter than I would expect (or want) in a pumpkin beer; I wonder if it goes through a filtering process that removes much of the body that pumpkins contribute. I also wonder if the version brewed and served at the actual brewpub is markedly different? All in all, it’s a passable "gateway" beer to newbies, but it’s too light and thin for my taste.

On BeerAdvocate, it scores 76 out 100, with only 56% of reviewers giving it a thumbs up. On RateBeer, it scores 2.94 out of 5 and is in their 39th percentile.