Even George Washington was a fan of
pumpkin beer. He brewed his own, of course.
Photo courtesy CraftBeer.com.
Thanks to Julia Herz of CraftBeer.com for today’s tip: Pick up some pumpkin beer or ale. In fact, have a pumpkin beer tasting for Halloween (with or without costumes), and bring it instead of wine to your Thanksgiving dinner hosts.
This seasonal brew is so well liked that in the month of October, it rivals the popularity of India Pale Ale (IPA), the top-selling craft beer style in the U.S.
The body is richer, thanks to the addition of actual pumpkin into the vat; and brewers typically add hints of pumpkin pie spices. The flavors can vary widely depending on whether the brewer uses fresh, frozen or canned pumpkin (or a related squash).
But pumpkin beer is no recent craft beer invention. It’s been made since the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock Colony discovered pumpkins (indigenous to the Americas) and added them to their brews.
Why did they brew with pumpkin?
There were plenty of them. Since good malt was not readily accessible in the early days of the colonization of America, fermentable sugars had to come from elsewhere. In those early pumpkin beers, the flesh of the pumpkin took the place of malt. (Later, with dependable supplies of malt, both were used.)
Pumpkin beer remained a staple throughout the 18th century, but its popularity began to wane by the early 19th century as quality malts became accessible everywhere.
Fast forward 200-plus years to the Bay Area in the 1980s. The father of American micro-brewing, Bill Owens, read in a brewing book that George Washington added pumpkin to his mash. Owens thought it was an idea in need of resurrection. The result, Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale, is an amber-style ale based on Washington’s recipe (and a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week).
Although most pumpkin ale and beer are brewed with pumpkin and flavored with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg, don’t expect pumpkin pie in a bottle. With most products, there’s no obvious pumpkin taste analogous to the pronounced flavors of fruit beers.
This season, retailers will sell some 400 pumpkin beers from craft brewers. You can put together a nice selection for a tasting party. Or, pick up a selection for your own personal enjoyment. Just a sampling of what you might find:
Bring a six-pack or two to your Halloween or Thanksgiving host(s). Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill’s Brewery.
- Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter | Starr Hill Brewery | Crozet, Virginia
- Flat Jack Pumpkin Ale | Flat 12 Bierwerks | Indianapolis, Indiana
- Gourd Shorts (pumpkin ale) | Florida Beer Co. | Cape Canaveral, Florida
- Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale | Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company | Lexington, Kentucky
- Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale | Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. | Half Moon Bay, California
- Oak Jacked (imperial pumpkin ale) | Uinta Brewing Co. | Salt Lake City, Utah
- Potosi Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale | Potosi Brewing Co. | Potosi, Wisconsin
- Pumking | Southern Tier Brewing Co. | Lakewood, New York
- Post Road Pumpkin Ale | Brooklyn Brewery | Brooklyn, New York
- Pumpkin Ale | Blackstone Brewing Co. | Nashville, Tennessee
- Pumpkin Ale | Buffalo Bill’s Brewery | Hayward, California
- Pumpkin Ale | Rivertown Brewing Co. | Lockland, Ohio
- Pumpkinfest | Terrapin Beer Co. | Athens, Georgia
- Punkin Ale | Dogfish Brewery | Milton, Delaware
- Roadsmary’s Baby (rum-aged pumpkin ale) | Two Roads Brewing Co. | Stratford, Connecticut
- Rum Punk (Rum barrel-aged pumpkin beer) | Joseph James Brewing Co., Inc | Henderson, Nevada
- Samhain Pumpkin Porter | DESTIHL Brewery | Bloomington, Illinois
- Samuel Adams Fat Jack (double pumpkin ale) | Samuel Adams | Boston, Massachusetts
- Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale | Smuttynose Brewing Co. | Hampton, New Hampshire
- Wick for Brains Pumpkin Ale | Nebraska Brewing Co. | La Vista, Nevada
- Witch’s Hair Pumpkin Ale | Twisted Manzanita Ales & Spirits | East County San Diego, California
KNOW YOUR BEER TYPES
Check out the different types of beer in our Beer Glossary.