Sip & Savor: Pumpkin Beer
Oct 26, 2012 03:58PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
“Trend-wise, seasonal beers are now the best-selling style of beer,” says Greg Heller-LaBelle, owner of beer website Pourcurator.com. “A lot of it has to do with the boom of pumpkin and Christmas beers. Because they incorporate a different flavor that people associate with the season, they tend to view the release as an event and make sure to get a case of whatever pumpkin beer they like the most.”
Therefore, nearly every craft brewer has a seasonal pumpkin beer these days, which start hitting shelves around the end of August or early September. Some of the most popular varieties are sold out by Thanksgiving, Heller-LaBelle says. Local brews include Jacques au Lantern from Evolution Brewery in Salisbury; Punkin Ale from Dogfish Head in Milton, Delaware; The Fear Imperial Ale from Flying Dog in Frederick; and Great Pumpkin Imperial Ale from Heavy Seas’ Mutiny Fleet of beers. Nationally, Blue Moon makes a pumpkin beer under the name Harvest Moon, while Sam Adams sells Harvest Pumpkin Ale.
It might seem like pumpkin ale is that “new” thing that’s only sprung up in the past five or so years. While it’s true that it’s grown explosively in popularity during that time period, pumpkin beer is most certainly not a recent development—it dates all the way back to the days of George Washington. At the time, it likely tasted much different because the pumpkins weren’t used for flavoring as much as it was required to ferment the alcohol—meaning it took the place of malt entirely. This fell out of fashion in the early 19th century when malt availability became common.
Fast-forward to the 1980s, when California’s Buffalo Bill’s Brewery revived the style, using 65 pounds of pumpkin to create a 7 percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV) ale sold in 24-ounce bottles for $3.50 a pop. Perhaps it’s taken a few years, but breweries slowly—and then quickly—began to follow suit. Last year’s Great American Beer Festival in Colorado saw medals for two pumpkin brews (Upslope Brewing Co. in Boulder, Colorado, and BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery in Chandler, Arizona, for gold and silver, respectively) in category five, devoted to fi eld or pumpkin beers. 2011 was the first year that the category specifically named pumpkin as an option, just reiterating the recent rise in popularity.
While some breweries use a simple pumpkin flavoring, many others—particularly the breweries that pride themselves on using handcrafted ingredients—add hand-cut pumpkin meat. Even better are the breweries that roast the pumpkin first for extra depth of flavor. The beer is then typically spiced with the same ingredients you might find in a pumpkin pie—nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, often added with a heavy hand. Some complain this turns the beer into a pie in a glass, preferring a lightly spiced blend instead. But one thing’s for sure—pumpkin beer, spicy or not, is just the right way to cozy up with a pint and enjoy the bounty of the fall season.