There may be no another style of beer more anticipated every year than the coming of the Great Pumpkin Ale, Charlie Brown. Why? I’m not sure… maybe it’s because Halloween is fun… or maybe it’s because pumpkins can be bad ass… or maybe it’s just because people are looking forward to the more flavorful beers that Fall brings – and the Pumpkin Ale is just that.
Recipes citing pumpkins in beer date back to colonial days, when brewers sought to extend their supply of costly imported malt with locally grown ingredients, such as squash and pumpkin. Pumpkin meat itself has a very mild taste, so the beers tend to incorporate spices like allspice, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon— to remind us of pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin beers are generally malt-forward, and vary in pumpkin intensity— some are brewed with hand-cut pumpkins, others with pumpkin puree or flavoring. The pumpkin may be raw or roasted. A few of the more “imperial” varieties of pumpkin ale (Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Southern Tier Pumking, River Horse Hipp-o-Lantern) are quite reminiscent of pumpkin pie, with varying degrees of allspice, nutmeg, ground ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. So because there are no strict guidelines with this style, brewers have produced a wide variety of flavors, alcohol levels, and mouthfeel/textures.
Below is the Gateway Beers profile of a Pumpkin Ale’s typical characteristics (on a 1-5 bar scale):
Here’s a short description of the Pumpkin Ale style from the Brewers Association:
“Pumpkin beers are any beers using pumpkins (Cucurbito pepo) as an adjunct in either mash, kettle, primary or secondary fermentation, providing obvious (ranging from subtle to intense), yet harmonious, qualities. Pumpkin qualities should not be overpowered by hop character. These may or may not be spiced or flavored with other things. A statement by the brewer explaining the nature of the beer is essential for fair assessment in competitions. If this beer is a classic style with pumpkin, the brewer should also specify the classic style.”
Try to pair up your Pumpkin Ales with hearty fall flavors – foods that could balance those pumpkin pie spices, without overshadowing them. The perfect match might just be with Thanksgiving dinner – turkey & sweet potatoes … side that up with some zucchini bread, and you’ll have a winner. Also consider pork chops with wild rice, or even grilled bratwurst with sauerkraut. For dessert, go with apple crisp and ice cream (very complementary!), or a slice of cheesecake.
Serving & Glassware
The Pumpkin Ale is best served at 45-50 degrees, and it’s good-to-go in either a Pint glass for the lower alcohol varieties, or via Tulip or Snifter if you’re having an imperial version of the style.
What to Buy:
There are about 20 varieties of Pumpkin Ales that you can find here in Southeastern PA, with the following three varieties being both well-rated, and pretty readily available across your better bottle shops and distributors in the area:
– Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale, 7% ABV (Milton, DE)
– Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, 8% ABV (Easton, PA)
– Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, 6% ABV (Portsmouth, NH)
For additional options, check out our Pumpkin Ale page of our Beer Selector, or just connect with us on FACEBOOK for daily recommendations this week … and leave a Reply below to let us know what you think about the style!