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BREWHOLDER: Pumpkin beer is here, but it’s probably not what you expect

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COLUMN WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH 
For Digital First Media

Now that the calendar has turned to October, pumpkins dominate the landscape — from pumpkins for sale, to pumpkin decorations, to “pumpkin spice” flavor in every kind of food — they are everywhere! Similarly, between August and November each year, brewers incorporate pumpkin into every style of beer. Those who have never tried a pumpkin beer could imagine a lager that tastes like a sickeningly sweet and overly spiced pumpkin pie. But on the contrary, the spectrum of pumpkin beer is as wide as the category “beer” itself and should not be ignored.
Because pumpkin can be added to any style of beer, the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines — 2015 edition, established a category for pumpkin beers called “Autumn Seasonal Beer.” The category is described as “beers that suggest cool weather and the autumn harvest season, and may include pumpkin or other squashes, and the associated spices.” In order for a pumpkin beer to obtain a high rating in the category, the Guidelines explain, “Overall balance is the key to presenting a well-made Autumn Seasonal beer. The special ingredients should complement the base beer and not overwhelm it.”

 Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, brewed since 1994, has set the standard for the quintessential pumpkin ale. Photo by Matt Brasch

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, brewed since 1994, has set the standard for the quintessential pumpkin ale. Photo by Matt Brasch

A perfect balance of spice with the underlying ale is why Delaware-based brewery Dogfish Head’s “Punkin Ale” was cited by the Guidelines as a textbook example of the style. Dogfish Head describes “Punkin Ale” as a 7 percent ABV “full-bodied brown ale with smooth hints of pumpkin and brown sugar. We brew our Punkin Ale with pumpkin meat, brown sugar and spices,” according to information at www.dogfish.com. Dogfish Head has been brewing “Punkin Ale” since 1994.
In recent years however, craft brewers have experimented with pumpkin, pushing it into every style of beer and exaggerating the pumpkin — and the associated spices — to develop their own takes on pumpkin beer.
Some brewers have pumped up the alcohol content in their brews, like Southern Tier Brewing, whose “Pumking” Imperial Pumpkin Ale comes in at 8.7 percent ABV, and local favorite Weyerbacher Brewing’s 8.0 percent ABV “Imperial Pumpkin Ale.” Others have enhanced the sweet, pumpkin pie essence by adding maple sugar and vanilla, which can be found in Lancaster Brewing Co.’s “Baked Pumpkin Ale,” described on Lancaster’s website (www.lancasterbrewing.com) as “Bold in flavor with a deep amber color, our big Baked Pumpkin Ale is sure to remind you of Grandma’s pumpkin pie.” While other brewers, like New Belgium Brewing, have added additional ingredients like cranberry juice (another traditional fall fruit) to make an almost sour pumpkin ale of their “Pumpkick.”
In addition to variations on the pumpkin ale, brewers have been adding pumpkin to other styles of beer as well. The stout style pairs nicely with pumpkin in the late autumn as the weather becomes cooler. Iron Hill Brewery currently has “Pumpkin Coffee Stout” on tap, and Elysian Brewing’s “Dark O’ The Moon” pumpkin stout is mouth-wateringly described on its website (www.elysianbrewing.com) as “A little smokiness on the nose with malty bittersweet chocolate and a little coffee with subtle earthy pumpkin and spices for an overall nice and creamy mouth.” The porter style similarly can embrace pumpkin — Evil Genius Beer Co. released a pumpkin porter brewed with cocoa and spices called “Trick or Treat,” which combines fond autumn memories of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie and Halloween chocolate candy.
One style that is also surprisingly receptive to pumpkin is the saison. “Sam Adams Pumpkin Batch” is a new release from the Boston Beer Company in 2015; the combination of the slight spice from the saison yeast and the traditional pumpkin pie spice make a light, easy drinking Belgian-style pumpkin beer. Hershey-based Troegs Brewing Co.’s “Master of Pumpkins” relies on saison yeast to enhance the massive amount of roasted pumpkins in the brew. Belgian breweries have also gotten into pumpkin beer — Brouwerij Timmermans, known for their fruit lambic beers, offer a lightly sour pumpkin ale called “Pumpkin Lambicus” each fall. In fact, the pumpkin craze has become so big that pumpkins can even be found in macro beers such as MillerCoors’s Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale and Anheuser Busch’s Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat.
So if you’ve never tried a pumpkin beer, try looking for one that is made in your style of choice — whether it’s a wheat beer, an ale, a stout, or a sour. With such a large variety to choose from, you might be surprised at what you find — and you might even decide that you like pumpkin beer!

 The spectrum of pumpkin beer is as wide as the category "beer" itself and should not be ignored. Photo by Matt Brasch

The spectrum of pumpkin beer is as wide as the category “beer” itself and should not be ignored.
Photo by Matt Brasch

Columnist Matt Brasch is a Souderton Area High School graduate and a beer enthusiast. For more, check his blog at http://thebrewholder.com.

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