Don’t Hate the Pumpkin, Hate the Game

September 26, 2017

By Joshua Bernstein, September 26, 2017

For many people, fall’s pumpkin beers are the spice of life, sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg and everything nice.

For others, pumpkin beers are public enemy No. 1, overly-spiced gourd beers creeping onto shelves too early in July.

Truly, nothing says summer like sitting beachside, slathering hindquarters with sunscreen, sipping something that tastes like a lightly boozy pumpkin-spice latté.

Lately, brewers have started carving a new face for pumpkin beer, though. They've been embracing seasonality and plucking fresh vegetables from the patch.

Luke Holgate, head brewer at Asheville, North Carolina’s Hi-Wire Brewing, has brewed no shortage of pumpkin beers over the years, and he wanted Hi-Wire’s fall seasonal to stand out from the overly fragrant field. “I was staunchly against the pumpkin pie–spiced pumpkin beers,” he says “Half of them didn’t even have pumpkin in them and were just trying to mimic the flavor.”

Last year, Hi-Wire's specialty brewer John Parks visited Asheville’s Rayburn Farm and plucked delicata pumpkins, pit-roasted in the field, as well as blue ginger and cinnamon basil for a spicy punch. Parks pitched the beer into barrels alongside the house mixed culture of souring bacteria and wild yeast, letting the blend mature for the better part of a year before bottling.

The pumpkin brand is pretty damaged by this point, but it’s not beyond repair.”

Hi-Wire released Sour Pumpkin Ale in early September, an honest-to-gosh pumpkin beer perfectly timed to the calendar. “Sours are a good route to go,” Holgate says. “Make them a year before, basically, and then come time when a pumpkin beer is relevant, you have something to go that’s locally harvested.”

The concept is catching on with some of America’s masters of mixed fermentation such as Almanac Beer Company, Jester King, and Allagash, which fashions the spontaneously fermented Ghoulschip with Maine pumpkins and their raw seeds. Elsewhere, breweries including Boulevard, Hermit Thrush, and Rivertown have also released soured pumpkin beers.

I hesitate to call this a permanent tilt on the pumpkin-beer axis, akin to how IPAs have gone hazy and tropical. The pumpkin brand is pretty damaged by this point, but it’s not beyond repair. Brewers are currently recalibrating recipes and demand. After all, fall and pumpkins are pretty inseparable at this point, much like dressing kids in the Disney costume du jour.

Still, I foresee pumpkin beers going back to the land, not just the spice cabinet.

From funky and sour to sweet and boozy, here are five of our favorite pumpkins beers agog with real gourd.

Too many pumpkin ales are sweeter than Saturday-morning kids’ cereal, sugary waves crashing into Spice Island.”

Almanac Beer Company Pumpkin Pie de Brettaville
The Bay Area brewery takes the fall seasonal on a wild, farm-fresh ride. Heirloom pumpkins are roasted and caramelized, then added to a Brettanomyces–fermented farmhouse beer, spiked with the likes of vanilla beans and cinnamon, and long aged in oak. The blended finished product tastes not unlike a tart pumpkin pie.

Hi-Wire Brewing Sour Pumpkin Ale
The Asheville brewed sourced all the vegetables and herbs for this fall ale from a single local farm, including blue ginger, cinnamon basil. and delicata pumpkins, later roasted. Laced with Lactobacillus bacteria and wild yeast and aged for 10 months, the ale’s moderate tartness is complemented by a zesty current it ginger and cinnamon. It’s herbaceous and intriguing.  

Cape Ann Brewing Co. Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout
Too many pumpkin ales are sweeter than Saturday-morning kids’ cereal, sugary waves crashing into Spice Island. The Massachusetts mainstay takes gourds to the dark side, blending a robust stout with plenty of pumpkin flesh and the merest sprinkling of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Less is more when it comes to pumpkin beers.  

Jester King Brewery Autumnal Dichotomous
Last fall, the Austin-area farmhouse grilled a mess of fresh pumpkin – seeds and flesh included – and added it to the mash alongside foraged horehound, wood sorrel, and fig leaves. Jester King dosed the beer with its blend of yeast and bacteria, then aged it for nearly a year. Autumnal Dichotomous is a complex stew of char and herbal bitterness, its funkiness worthy of a ’70 cover band.

Avery Brewing Rumpkin
If you’re the kind of person who treats Halloween as an excuse to eat Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for breakfast, let me introduce you to Avery’s Rumpkin. The pumpkin-packed fall seasonal is supercharged to 17.5% alcohol by volume and aged in just-dumped rum barrels. The effect: not unlike a molasses-drizzled pumpkin candy, a decadent treat for adults on October 31.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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