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East Bay Pumpkin Beers

The boozy taste of fall gets an upgrade—and a festival.


Roger Gurbani

Much like the other herald of fall (the pumpkin spice latte, naturally), pumpkin beers signal the shift in season the second their spiced bottles hit shelves. Love ’em or hate ’em, you have Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward to thank for the polarizing brew’s prevalence. Back in 1985, Buffalo Bill’s founder Bill Owens riffed on a squash beer recipe from George Washington and started adding pumpkin into the brew kettle, and the ubiquitous Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale was born.

Fast-forward three decades, and East Bay options for gourd-heavy grog abound—and brewers are producing pumpkin beers that even brew snobs can appreciate. For the first time since it started making pumpkin beer, Buffalo Bill’s has tweaked its original recipe to dial back on the spices and also started bottling its Black Pumpkin Oatmeal Stout, which gains a layered complexity from toasty malts.

Over at 21st Amendment Brewery, which opened a San Leandro location in June, the brewers put out a pair of pumpkin-tinged beers—a Belgian-style ale and a porter—that appeal to those turned off by pumpkin beer’s typical sweetness. Neighboring Drake’s Brewing Company also dabbles in the seasonal staple, making brews for Berkeley’s Jupiter from pumpkins roasted on-site at its San Leandro brewery and taproom. Sip the beers at the original Drake’s location, the brewery’s new downtown Oakland restaurant, or Jupiter.  

And thanks to Jupiter, serious pumpkin beer diehards don’t even have to pick their poison. After a successful inaugural event last year, the brewpub hopes to bring back its Bay Area Pumpkin Beer Fest in October (weather permitting), when you can try multiple samples of the spiced suds from Bay Area breweries. buffalobillsbrewery.com, 21st-amendment.com, drinkdrakes.com, jupiterbeer.com.


Three To Try

Orbiting Gourd
Made from grill-roasted pumpkins and touches of spice, this draft beer also includes a dash of malts for biscuitlike notes.

He Said Baltic-Style Porter/Belgian-Style Tripel
21st Amendment Brewery
Sold together in four-packs, these canned beers steer clear of over spicing and instead gain pleasantly earthy undertones from the addition of pumpkin.

Black Pumpkin Oatmeal Stout
Buffalo Bill’s Brewery
Pick up a 22-ounce bottle of this limited-release stout, which mixes pumpkin, spices, and chocolaty notes for a more complex taste and creamier finish than the brewery’s original pumpkin ale.

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