Top Pick Of The Week

October 19, 2004

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Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale:
The Great Pumpkin...
In A Glass

This is beer with history. Pumpkin ale was brewed by George Washington. When not a soldier and statesman, the father of our country was a plantation owner whose family and large workforce grew, bred, and brewed most of what they ate.

Fast forward 200+ years to the father of American micro-brewery, Bill Owens. Reading in a brewing book how Washington used the squash in his mash, Owens thought it was an idea in need of resurrection. The result, Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale, an amber-style ale, has become the best-known product of Buffalo Bill’s Brewery. Even those who don’t like traditional beer and ale may warm to this tasty harvest treat. People who flock to the brewery, a pioneer in the American microbrew movement outside of San Francisco, can get it on tap; but you can get it in a bottle at your local retailer, or online from the bottler.
Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale
Inspired by George Washington—and he’d be pleased.

Although the ale is brewed with fresh roasted pumpkins and flavored with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg, don’t expect pumpkin pie in a bottle. There’s no obvious pumpkin taste analogous to the pronounced flavors of fruit beers. This ale taps the height of finesse. If you weren’t looking at the pumpkin patch label, you might not be able to articulate exactly what you were tasting. Like some great art, you can't say why—you just know that it speaks to you.

If you drink Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale on the warm side, you’ll find ginger and nutmeg on the nose, with all of the spices harmoniously layered on the palate. Drink it cold and the temperature suppresses much of the initial spiciness, giving you rich, full body with long, subtle clove and nutmeg notes on the finish.

Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale
This brew makes any occasion festive. Here’s to pumpkin drinks!

Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale should elicit a “wow” from microbrew aficionados. To those foodies who profess not to like beer: Try a sip—it just may convert you. The pumpkin and spices provide a roundness that suppress the bitter hop flavors and maltiness that non-beer lovers resist. 

It’s easy to imagine George and his guests leaning back with a stein of this spiced refreshment. It has that good old-fashioned quality that gives one thanks that it was re-discovered by Bill Owens, perfected, and sent to your grocer for you to enjoy each October and November.

Serve it on festive occasions or everyday, drink it with friends or by yourself. But don’t dawdle: buy up your stock, or you’ll be waiting until next fall when the new batch arrives. Even though it’s the Brewery’s best-known beer, it’s purely seasonal and only 60,000 cases are made.

P.S. Since Bill Owens revived pumpkin ale in 1985, more than 90 pumpkin beers, ales, and porters have followed. Brewers from Coors to local brewpubs produce them. We can’t vouch for most of the 90—we’ve only had a few. But maybe next year, we’ll have the Great Pumpkin Ale, Beer and Stout Tasting.  Stay tuned.

— Karen Hochman
Updated August 2007


  • 12-Ounce Bottle

Purchase online at

Your local retail store manager should be able to order the beer for you. Distributors are listed on the website.


You can visit the place where it all began, Buffalo Bill’s Brewery Restaurant and Brewpub in Hayward, California, 20 minutes southeast of San Francisco. They have their own batch of Pumpkin Ale on tap each fall.

Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change.

    Worth tracking down.

Beer Lovers’ Books

The Big Book of Beer The Beer Drinker Bible Choosing Beer
The Big Book O' Beer: Everything you wanted to know about the greatest beverage on earth. Click here for more information. The Beer Drinkers Bible: Entertaining, informative, and interesting, this Bible will resolve a lot of debates. Click here for more information. Evaluating Beer: Develop your tasting and evaluating skills, from defining off-flavors to analyzing award winning brews. Click here for more information.

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