On Sunday, the high was 77 degrees. The sun was high in the blue-bird sky; specks in the air were illuminated by sunbeams; people splayed out on the Quad as if they’d been dropped from an airplane; and walking by, I thought to myself, no, it’s autumn, dammit.
I love the sunshine. Really, I do. But now’s not the time. It is October, and it wouldn’t be so without flannel cover-ups and corduroy things, steaming cups of something fragrant, or the pleasant crunch of leaves underfoot. 

I mean it when I say that it wouldn’t be October without those things. And one of these nights—maybe it’s already happened—the temperature will dip into the 30s and I, for one, will find a certain kind of excitement in that. It’s not that I like the cold, but that I like scarves. And I’ll know that it’s almost October, and another thing I love, Halloween, is coming soon.
There’s joy in doing the same thing at the same time every year. The things themselves offer their own bits of happiness—scarves, for instance, or apple cider—but the cycle itself is also the joy. 

There’s the anticipation of re-welcoming things back into your life that never get old. I say re-welcoming because honestly, how many times have we done this by now? 

They stay the same, every year, and that sameness establishes a comfortable security as you get older. I say this all in preparation to ask a simple question: Why else do I love pumpkin beer?
Because pumpkin beer is an emblem of the season, and I love emblems, and seasons. I know that on the autumnal beverage front, the Pumpkin Spice Latte hogs the limelight. 

To this I say, shoo, Pumpkin Spice Latte. Make room for something closer to the source, whose taste isn’t a confectionary, superficial nod to the season, but an actual product of it: pumpkin beer, brewed with actual pumpkins, tasting of both sweet-spiciness and earthiness, deriving its charm and flavor from the actual stuff of fall.

Truth be told, pumpkin ales are not among my all-time favorite beers. But I’m always excited by them because its one of the only styles that feels truly connected to a time of year. Sure, refreshing Hefeweizens dominate the hot summer months and it’s hard not to associate belly-warming barleywines with the wintertime. But pumpkin beers are more than just seasonal favorites. They are a salute to the fall. Even the labels suggest as much: the fierce jack-o-lantern grimacing from the bottle of Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale is more of a salute to fall (which I’m conflating with Halloween here) than the theme-lacking pilsner Dogfish released last December.

Now, it was my initial project to try all the pumpkin beers I could get my hands on and recommend my favorite. Then I found out the liver-quaking scale of that task. With the amount of breweries that put out a fall pumpkin beer, neither my health nor my wallet could afford the effort. 

However, I can point you to a few options, most of which you can find at Hannaford or at Bootleggers in Topsham.

Pumpkin beers usually fall on a spectrum of pie (sweet and spiced) to squash (more vegetable tasting, almost a bitter earthiness). My personal preference is a balance of the two, but definitely skewing toward the pie flavors. For me, it’s the cloves and the allspice and the cinnamon that conjure up the festive connotations of fall, and I want them in my beer.
For this reason, I like the Punkin Ale by Dogfish Head (available in 12 ounce bottles at Bootleggers). Brightly spiced, full-bodied, and dissolving into brown-sugar sweetness and a malt-base like pie crust, this beer manages the pumpkin-to-pie flavor ratio nicely. 
It is much better than another popular pumpkin beer on the market, which is nonetheless another of my favorites: Southern Tier’s Pumking. An “Imperial” Ale because of its super high alcohol content (clocking in at 8.6% percent), Pumking is much less sweet, and the bitter, squashier qualities are carried forward by its booziness. 

The nose on this beer definitely gets five stars out of five: pie crust, vanilla and duh, pumpkin. You get this beer in a big 22 ounce bottle at Bootleggers.
There are so many others to choose from, but I should mention the Bowdoin favorite that is Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead (you can find this on tap at Joshua’s, as well as in your roommates’ fridge, probably). 

I hate to say this, given that Shipyard is the only Maine beer I’ll bring up in this article, but I find Pumpkinhead, despite its yummy sweetness, to be lacking in any solid malt foundation, as well as super watery. I recommend that you partake only as a Bowdoin tradition—which, if my argument has meant anything until now, is as good a reason as any to drink a beer.
Food and drink are and have always been social—beer especially. So enjoy fall, and its boozy, pumpkin offerings. I’d be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that pumpkin beer is not the only autumn staple on the beer market. I also invite you to take part in the other fall rituals celebrated by your local brewers. Oktoberfest beers—nicknamed for German beer festival, but which are actually called “marzen” beers, for the month when these lagers are brewed—are also flooding the shelves. 

I’m not a huge fan, but Peak Organic—a Portland brewery—makes a hoppy Oktoberfest that’s worth trying. Fall is also the hop harvest season, so you can find many breweries paying tribute to fresh hops. For example, Sam Adams has a Hopology Collection (two IPAs and an IPL) that you can get at Bootlegger’s right now, but I’m mostly looking forward to the Sierra Nevada Hoptimum whole- leaf imperial IPA that I’ve got sitting in my fridge.
And I haven’t even mentioned cider. I guess you’ll have to do the homework on that front, readers. Cheers.