Working in retail, everyone keeps reminding me that Christmas is just around the corner. But before the onslaught of tinsel and Michael Buble, it’s Hallowe’en.
And as the holiday (or excuse for a party) becomes more popular, we’ve been introduced to pumpkin lattes, pumpkin Baileys, and of course, pumpkin beer. The marmite of beers. These beers have the power to make or break friendships. But why?
Well, let’s start off with what a Pumpkin Beer is. It would probably not surprise you if I said that pumpkin beers are made of, or contain, pumpkin. Pumpkin ale has been around in North America for centuries. While early colonials were having a hard time growing crops they brought over, they noticed there was an abundance of these orange gourds. Useful for eating, and very useful for fermenting. In fact as colonials struggled to grow barley, it was the sugar in pumpkins that they first used to ferment ale. However, pumpkin on its own is a fairly bland, flavourless vegetable, so, more often than not, it’s pumpkin spice - nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. that flavours the beers we see today. And this is where it can get divisive.
For every well-brewed pumpkin ale that warms the cockles, there is an overly sweet offering that tastes like carbonated pumpkin pie. And these beers have led to some dismissing the whole style. However “pumpkin beer” is a bit of a misnomer. There is no one style that pumpkin ale adheres to (except maybe the vague Spiced Ale). They can be IPAs (Flying Dog Gourd Standard), stouts (Southern Tier Warlock), sours (Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus), anything really. The beer list at the Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, held every year in Seattle, attests to this. Scores of breweries enter the festival with their own creations, but the organisers themselves, Elysian Brewing, have nearly twenty on offer. This is a whole THING in America.
So the USA certainly has a headstart on the pumpkin beer market, but UK breweries have been giving them a go for a while. This is the year they hit the mainstream though. BrewDog Pumpkin King is available in supermarkets all over the country. And there is a market for them. Customers have been asking us for them for weeks!
So if you hate them, don’t worry, they’re nearly gone, to be replaced by Spiced Christmas Ales... But if you are intrigued, here are some to look out for:
This is one of the UK’s most popular pumpkin ale and it’s really embraced the spice aspect. Strong cinnamon and nutmeg aromas hit you when you first sip, but this is balanced out by a hint of sweet (maple glazed) pumpkin. You get a hint of booze, but not as much as you might expect from a 7.2% beer.
One of the more subtle pumpkin beers. Pours a beautiful copper colour and releases an almost perfume-y aroma. The taste is subtle, as they only add pumpkin and nutmeg, but that makes it more drinkable than some of its more cloying fridgemates.
As the name implies, this beer has a strong hit of coffee with it. Brewed with a shot of Stumptown coffee toddy, pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon. This is a rich, caramel, coffee and vanilla beer. Like how you WANT a pumpkin spiced latte to taste.
Belgian sour brewers are no strangers to adding fruit to their offerings. This beer pours a light orange and has quite a tang on the nose, not a million miles away from scrumpy. The sweetness of the pumpkin and its spices perhaps dull the usual lambic tartness, but overall it’s a very refreshing take on a pumpkin beer.
The twist to this Connecticut pumpkin ale is that it’s aged in rum barrels. This balances the initial sweetness of vanilla with a bit of a savoury rum kick towards the end. For me, this is exactly the kind of warming beer I want to drink as the temperature outside plummets and I contemplate the upcoming Christmas shopping.