In the 16 years since Starbucks first launched the autumnal marketing juggernaut that is the Pumpkin Spice Latte, pumpkin-flavored beers have become almost as ubiquitous as their caffeinated beverage counterparts. By the time the leaves begin to turn, ales, stouts, and porters that smell like a Yankee Candle Factory are already inescapable on store shelves. People have, to put it mildly, some feelings about this.
Pumpkin beers are inherently polarizing. You’re either tapping them straight from a 1,790-pound gourd at a festival or publicly comparing them to a plague. There is no middle ground. As we all gear up to fight with our relatives about politics at the Thanksgiving table, though, I think most would agree that the last thing this country needs right now is another divisive feud. That’s why some breweries are ditching (or at least supplementing) pumpkin in favor of another harvest-time vegetable.
“If you’re burned out on cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves in your beer, I think picking up a carrot beer would be a great alternative. People at our taproom have a special fondness for the Dead Leaves and Carrots beer we make every year,” says Marika Josephson, head brewer at Scratch Brewing, of her popular Belgian-style saison. “When fall’s in full swing, we gather mostly oak leaves and add them to the boil. They just remind us of that feeling of jumping into a big leaf pile.”
Unlike many pumpkin beers, which often lean heavily on artificial flavorings and musty spices, locally sourced carrots are crucial to the flavor profile of Scratch Brewing’s beers. This year, in addition to the classic, Josephson added a 6.1% ABV Wild Carrot Farmhouse Ale to her draft list.
“We added wild carrots, greens and all, to the boil, then added the cultivated carrots to the oven and roasted them. So there’s almost a spiciness from the wild carrots that complements the Noble hops, as well as a sweetness from the cultivated carrots,” Josephson says. “We’re just really inspired by a lot of the things that grow on our property, whether they’re wild or cultivated. Pretty much everything we grow, we try to incorporate into our beer.”
Though customers initially raised an eyebrow at the concept of carrot beer, it’s not as out there as, say, a celery gose. In fact, compared to some of the cans on the market right now, a few root vegetables in the boil seems positively pedestrian. While we’re unlikely to reach pumpkin beer-level saturation anytime soon, more than a few breweries are putting their own spin on the concept. There’s Boxing Rock Brewing’s 14 Carrot Gold pale ale, Evil Twin’s Glazed Carrot Crockpot sour amber stout, and Ratio Beerworks’ King of Carrot Flowers Belgian saison, just to name a few.
I don’t have any strong adverse feelings about pumpkin beer, but I think other people have already got that on lock, so we wanted to try something different.”
“I don’t have any strong adverse feelings about pumpkin beer, but I think other people have already got that on lock, so we wanted to try something different,” says Lauren Patton, co-founder of Old Bakery Beer Co. in Illinois. “We have what we call a farm-to-glass series that integrates local ingredients into our beers. We were looking at what was available at our local organic farm and we stumbled upon carrots.”
The resulting Carrot Cake Brown Ale, which debuted last month, has been one of the brewery’s most popular limited releases to date. Each batch contains 50 pounds of organic carrots from EarthDance Farms in Missouri, along with a healthy dose of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, and a judicious hit of lactose.
Meanwhile, Short’s Brewing in Michigan has been brewing their own Carrot Cake, an 8% ABV experimental American brown ale with a heady mix of carrot purée, maple syrup, pecans, and spices, since 2011. At the end of this month, they’re gearing up to release their limited seasonal bourbon barrel-aged variation. At around 12% ABV, this boozy number is meant to be savored slowly or, even better, shared.
“It’s definitely decadent. The idea was to recreate a slice of carrot cake soaked in bourbon,” says Emily Torrence, marketing director at Short’s Brewing. “We did it last year around Thanksgiving and it ended up being pretty perfect for the holidays. I know I personally give it to people as a gift. It’s become kind of a tradition with my brother-in-law.”