Pumpkin-Spiced Pumpkin Beer, A Fall Tradition
Sweater weather is upon us! It’s that time of year where cider mills open, leaves start falling, and you see more people drink beers such as Marzens, Ambers, and Ciders. The colder weather brings in another popular craze, pumpkin spice everything, from lattes to cookies and even hummus; Americans can’t get enough pumpkin spice. With that said, the beer industry is no different. According to Neilsen, in 2018, the market for pumpkin spice was valued at $500 million. Besides Starbucks’ pumpkin-spiced lattes, one of the most significant Fall seasonal rollout traditions is the Pumpkin Ale! Hundreds of breweries distribute pumpkin ales every year, and consumers are more than excited when it hits the shelves.
Seasonal craft beer accounts for 25% of beer sales in the United States. Fall seasonals, specifically Pumpkin Ales, are the only beer to match the IPA’s popularity. I wondered, how did pumpkin-flavored beer go from someone’s imagination to our grocery stores? The answer can be traced back to early colonial times; pumpkins are a native plant and were used in the brewing process due to good malt not being as readily available. The meat of the pumpkin provided a way to have fermentable sugars in the beer. The first commercially distributed pumpkin beer was brewed by Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, California. The idea to brew the beer was the brainchild of photographer and brewer, Bill Owens.
The rumor was, Owens was inspired to brew a pumpkin beer after learning that the 1st United States President George Washington brewed beer with squash. Owens grew his pumpkin, baked it in the pizza oven at the Buffalo Bill brewpub, and mixed the pumpkin’s meat into the beer’s wort. The first attempt wasn’t bad but had one major flaw; it tasted like an average beer instead of pumpkin. Confronted with the new problem of getting the pumpkin beer to taste like pumpkin, Owens then decided to add pumpkin pie spices into the beer mix. The issue of flavoring was solved, which dawned the beginning of the pumpkin-spiced beer craze we experience today!
In American history, pumpkin beer has been a tradition for centuries; one of the first American folk songs written in 1643 was about pumpkin beer.
“Instead of pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies;
We have pumpkin in morning and pumpkin at noon;
If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone.
Hey down, down, hey down Derry down.
If barley be wanting to make into malt
We must be contented and think it no-fault.
For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips.”
Because of the commercial success of pumpkin spice compared to the time of year that pumpkins are grown, the core elements of pumpkin-spiced flavor are “cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves.” The key to pumpkin beer is the spice, not in actual pumpkins; that first sip needs to taste like fall. If the beer doesn’t make you want to put on a flannel and want to see the leaves turn color, you’re not doing it right.
However, some brewers still use actual pumpkin in their beer. To get a fresh pumpkin, a brewer would have to start sourcing pumpkins by mid- to late August to have new pumpkin beer by the beginning of October. The dedication to the pumpkin beer’s authenticity is essential; if you’re going to make a pumpkin beer, you should make it with actual pumpkin.
According to Beer Advocate, the top 5 rated pumpkin beers of 2020 are:
- Pumpkinator by Saint Arnold Brewing Company
- Good Gourd by Cigar City Brewing
- Pumpkin Ale by The Schalfey Taproom
- Picture If You Will by Bottle Logic Brewing
- Pumpkin Ale by Whole Hog Beer
I am new to pumpkin beer; the pumpkin-spiced craze was something I never really wanted to try until working on this article. After researching this topic, I decided to give the Pumpkinhead Ale by Shipyard Brewing a try. The Pumpkinhead Ale is a wheat ale with pumpkin spiced aroma that wasn’t too overpowering. With a 4.5% AVB and 18 IBU, it’s not overly boozy and not too bitter; a great beer to celebrate fall. I’ve never bought into the pumpkin spice craze; however, after trying the Pumpkinhead Ale, it made me want to expand my pallet and sample more pumpkin-spiced beers. I never knew that pumpkins and alcohol could work so well together! So, welcome to the season of flannel and sweaters, head to your local beer store, and celebrate the colder weather with a great pumpkin spiced beer; it’s a tradition!
If you are craving all things Pumpkin, check out our Pumpkin Beer Stew recipe!