Pumpkin beers are about as divergent as, say, french fries, or whiskeys. Their pumpkin flavor ranges from barely detectable to running-you-over-with-a-dumptruck, and while they're usually ales, they can be lagers too. New Holland's Ichabod Ale, for example, has a subtle, undistracting sweetness, while Elysian Pumpkin Ale -- which I tried recently in Seattle -- literally tastes like watered down canned pumpkin. (I had like one sip.)
Here's how two locally available pumpkin brews -- an ale and a lager -- stand up. If pumpkin beer's your thing, act fast though. Just cause the pumpkin-centric Thanksgiving holiday is yet to come, some places have already stopped selling pumpkin beers.
It's actually fairly difficult -- if not impossible -- to detect any pumpkin flavor in Blue Moon's Harvest Pumpkin Ale, and that's not necessarily a bad thing (see aforementioned detail on Elysian Pumpkin Ale). It's very light, easy to drink, and frankly just tastes basically like Cheap Beer X, Y, or Z -- only it unfortunately isn't all that cheap. It might be best suited to those of you who don't necessarily dig flavored beers but nonetheless want to appear original in your beer choice and/or festive and seasonally appropriate.
Lakefront's take on pumpkin beer -- a lively, flavorful lager -- tastes like cloves, and therefore sort of makes you feel vaguely cool, like you did when you used to occasionally smoke cloves, before the raunchy aftertaste set in. Its flavor is more of pumpkin pie spice or chai than pumpkin itself. It's well-rounded, full, and assertive, but not over-the-top. Probably best for drinking on its own.
The Winner: Seems like if you're going to go for a seasonal, flavored beer, you might as well taste it, no? Lakefront's not afraid to throw some zing in there, but also knows how to exercise some restraint, so Lakefront's Pumpkin Lager wins out.
While some liquor stores are no longer selling pumpkin beers (like Surdyk's and South Lyndale Liquors) you can still snag some -- including our contenders -- at local stores. Blue Moon is still available at McDonald's Liquors and Lakefront is still for sale at Hennepin-Lake Liquors.
France 44, Zipp's, and Hum's have several different ones as well.