Revue Taste-Off: Pumpkin Brews & Oktoberfests

Fall has arrived, which means it’s time for pumpkin beer and Oktoberfests.

In order to get the most of out of the season, we wanted to determine which of these autumnal brews were our favorites. Which, of course, led to a blind taste test. 

First, let’s explain Oktoberfest. The term can describe a few beer styles, all getting their name from the massive German festival. Typically, your Oktoberfest is going to be a marzen, a lager with good body, malty flavor and a clean finish. It should warm you up with a pleasant, toasty taste.

Then there’s pumpkin beers, oft maligned by purists but enjoyed like clockwork by yours truly. Spices like cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg are at the forefront, occasionally with actual pumpkin as well.

Lastly, we thought it might be useful to have an idea of who’s participating in this taste test.

Josh: That’s me! Managing editor. Enjoys beer of all kinds, often.
Emily: Design. Not a beer fan—prefers light wine.
Maggie: Sales. Opts for cocktails, but likes sours.
Rachel: Marketing. Occasionally drinks a fruit beer.
Haleigh: Sales. Beer fan, prefers lagers.
Megan: Accounting. Loves, and sticks to, dark beers.
Sarah: Editorial. Likes “all booze,” but prefers sours.

The fact our team largely is partial to drinks that aren’t beer made for a genuinely interesting, fun tasting. While we don’t like to drag down specific brews here—especially considering that 13 beers in one sitting can affect your palate in a big way, even with pretzel rods to recalibrate—I do have to share some of my favorite comments:

“Tastes like tires.”
“Like freezer-burned ice.”
“Thick, gross, -10/10.”
“Stale coffee and dirt.”

Now, keep in mind, almost every one of these reviews was countered by someone else who enjoyed the beer. In fact, that -10/10 was given a full 10/10 by a different taster. Thanks to these wildly varying scores, we end up with averages that look relatively low—if you’re a regular beer drinker, you might want to add a point or two to each score in your mind.

So, bear all this in mind as we dive in now to the top Oktoberfests and pumpkin beers from our blind taste-off.


Founders Oktoberfest  |  “Bright, crisp, golden.” This is how just about everyone in our group described Founders’ Oktoberfest, our personal favorite of the category. Pouring a beautiful copper, it has a nice body to it and full flavor, yet the aftertaste doesn’t linger long at all. They’ve started selling this in 12-packs and I can see why—you’ll have no problem crushing a dozen of these by season’s end. It’s just what you want in a Marzen, especially one you can drink at home, and it even adheres to the Reinheitsgebot.

Bell’s Octoberfest  |  Described as “PBR-ish” by a few tasters, this brew is smooth, refreshing and light. It’s a bit more “crushable” than Founders, in that there seems to be less body and a lower ABV. In my opinion, there’s a nice subtle touch of herbal hops that rounds the whole thing out—but a couple tasters didn’t love the aftertaste, which dropped the score here a bit. Try it for yourself!

Pigeon Hill Oktoberfest  |  This one drew a surprisingly divided reaction, with some tasters loving the soft pretzel smell, smooth body and light taste, while a couple felt it was too light and “woody.” Overall, I think this one is a safe bet for anyone who prefers lighter beers.

Waypost Festbier  |  This festbier is a strong golden lager that’s unfiltered and naturally carbonated, resulting in something a little different. It’s subtle in every way and light, which we enjoyed on its own, but didn’t quite match our expectations of the style. If you want a beer that’s simple and approachable, give it a go.

Archival Brewing, Therese’s Green
Odd Side Ales, Oddtoberfest
Blackrocks Brewery, Marzen


Odd Side Ales Pumpkin Spice Bean Flicker  |  While I enjoy Bean Flicker, I worried this variation might be a Starbucks style over-spiced sugar bomb, simply due to past experience with latte-inspired brews. Boy was I wrong! This was by far our favorite beer across both categories. The smell is enticing, like a cozy cafe in fall; the body is smooth; and the flavor is perfectly balanced between beer, coffee and pumpkin spice. This beer captures what the season is all about, without overdoing it.

Short’s Brewing Pumpkincrusha  |  With a pleasant brown sugar and maple scent, this pumpkin beer keeps the pumpkin spice flavor subtle. It’s nice and bready, with a slight sweetness and an aftertaste that doesn’t stick around too long. If you want to dip your toes into the pumpkin beer pool, this is the brew to do it.

New Holland Ichabod  |  This local favorite was especially enjoyed by the beer lovers in the group, who found it to be well balanced and perfectly suited to the pumpkin ale style. Others thought it was a bit too subtle on the flavor, but we all agreed it has a nice light body and a “woodsy” aftertaste. For me, this is the annual go-to.

MiddleCoast Brewing, Fall Fest!
Big Lake Brewing, Pumpkin Porter
Founders, Headless Gourdsman