Temperatures around the United States are hovering around the low 90s, but apparently, fall is in the air, because pumpkin spice season is upon us. In a mere 10 days, Starbucks will release its much-loathed and loved pumpkin spice lattes, a fact that inspires a tepid ripple of outrage every August. As is now the custom, they’ll be joined by an avalanche of potpourri-scented products capitalizing on our fetish for autumnal hygge.
“There are very few flavors in the world that are reminiscent of a time and place,” says Jake Rouse, co-founder and CEO at Braxton Brewing Company. “Pumpkin spice does a great job of hitting on ‘Fall is finally here.’”
Rouse is part of the team behind 2020’s most on-brand addition to the lot: Pumpkin Spice Hard Seltzer, a term seemingly plucked from a millennial marketing trend word generator by VIVE, a Cincinnati-based beverage company that describes itself as “a widely-recognized regional velocity power player.” Brewed with “natural flavor concentrates” in lieu of actual gourds, these 100-calorie, 5% ABV spiked sparkling waters had the decency to wait until the start of September to hit store shelves in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.
The hard seltzer customer and the pumpkin spice customer are the same.”
“Over the past few years, pumpkin has always been mocked as this sort of laughable product, but the hard seltzer customer and the pumpkin spice customer are the same,” Rouse says. “You tend to find the people who really love hard seltzer exist between the ages of 21 and 35.”
Although trashing everything that smells like a “melted Yankee candle” has become something of a national pastime, the market research shows that we buy around $511 million of these products every year. Maybe it’s a Pavlovian response, a yearning for sweater weather triggered by the trifecta of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Or maybe it’s because a number of pumpkin-flavored items are fine, actually. As much as craft beer-drinkers love to roll their eyes at the onslaught of pumpkin porters and stouts, if pressed, many will sheepishly own up to stocking a few of the better ones better ones in their fridge. Before it became basic, this perfectly pleasing flavor profile had been around for centuries. And while our current saturation levels may be approaching abhorrent, there’s no reason a well-made pumpkin beverage need be.
So will pumpkin spice hard seltzer be any good? Honestly, who the hell knows. In a year when linear time is becoming ever more abstract, it’s one way to mark the progression of seasons that feel increasingly divorced from our daily reality.