It seems that every article about pumpkin beers has to use the word “divisive” in the first paragraph. One issue that many people have with pumpkin beers isn’t the presence of pumpkin, the fruit has a very mild flavor on its own, but with the spices that come with it. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice, and mace tend to dominate any natural pumpkin flavors, and not everyone wants a beer to taste like a mouthful of those spices.
This love-it-or-hate-it style dates back to the earliest days of British colonization when, out of necessity, squash was used as a fermentable starch over barley. As the latter fermentable became more popular, pumpkin fell by the wayside. Using pumpkin to brew was resurrected with the rise of American craft brewing in the 1980s. Local brewers are keeping that tradition alive, with a few twists.
The pumpkin beers you see earlier in the season, prior to Labor Day, are usually made with canned pumpkin. Beers made with freshly-roasted pumpkin tend to appear later because of the need to grow, vine-ripen, and harvest pumpkins. Unfortunately, this also means that late-season pumpkin beers depend on the weather, and the mid-Atlantic region has had a very wet fall, which means that many pumpkins will rot on the vine.
DC Brau’s collaboration with Epic Brewing, covered earlier, splits the difference, using canned pumpkin along with, at least in its DC-brewed iteration, a small amount of freshly-roasted local pumpkin. Look for its launch on November 3 at Meridian Pint.
Oliver Ales’ Freddy’s Revenge also appeared later in the season, as brewmaster Stephen Jones waited for the local pumpkin harvest. Like all Oliver Ales offerings, it is draft/cask only.
Mad Fox Brewing in Falls Church also uses locally roasted pumpkin, and thus took its time as well. One advantage of being a brewpub is that Bill Madden and company can roast the pumpkin themselves in the brewpub/restaurant’s ovens.
Underrated and overlooked Hyattsville brewpub Franklins hasn’t even put its Pumpkin Pie Stout on tap yet. Last year’s iteration struck a balance between pumpkin and spice, not an easy thing to do. They sell growlers as well. Look for it in the next week or so.
Two local early season releases, Heavy Seas‘ The Great Pumpkin and Flying Dog’s The Fear, do something most pumpkin beers don’t: appease hop heads. If you’d like a bit more booze with your pumpkin beer The Great Pumpkin becomes The Great’er Pumpkin after it is aged in bourbon barrels.
Non-local notables include Shipyard, which uses a wheat base as opposed to the standard predominantly barley base that many pumpkin beers begin as, accentuating the flavors of the spices added, especially cinnamon. Evolution’s Jacque Au Lantern achieves a similar effect by using a Belgian yeast strain. The Bruery’s Autumn Maple features yam instead of pumpkin, but delivers a similar flavor thanks to using the same spices found in many pumpkin beers. A recent entry into the DMV, New Belgium’s Kick is a pumpkin and cranberry beer, which means that you’ll only taste the cranberries. Thanksgiving is a just a few weeks away, and this beer is still available at some area stores. Both Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale and Southern Tier’s Pumking are well-reviewed. The latter is sweeter, a Southern Tier signature, while the former manages to taste like pumpkin instead of spices, an impressive feat. For a long time, Jolly Pumpkin did not brew a pumpkin beer. Now they do (La Parcela), and it’s oaked with a hint of chocolate, an interesting combination. Finally, Avery ages some of its pumpkin beer in rum barrels, hence the name Rumpkin. Churchkey had a rare DC keg of it, but bottles may pop up in DC and VA.
Are there any pumpkin beers you’re enjoying, or do you want to rant about how they all taste like cinnamon and/or rotten fruit? Please use the comments!