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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tuesday Tasting: Six Pumpkin Beers

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we taste six different pumpkin beers.

The Fall is a busy time for seasonal brews. Oktoberfest and marzen beers have long been a part of the German brewing tradition. Harvest ales is another beer style that arrives with the changing leaves. Fresh hop or wet hop beers that result from brewing with the freshest hops from the harvest are starting to appear with some regularity from a number of craft brewers. If you are a hop head, these are likely to become your Fall classic. It is important to note that Fall seasonals are being squeezed a bit by early arriving winter warmers and holiday beers, but that just makes for more interesting drinking sessions. A review of Fall seasonals, however, is not complete without a discussion of pumpkin beers that hit just in time to be part of Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations.

Pumpkins were first cultivated in Central America. Spanish and Portuguese explorers carried pumpkin seeds back to Europe. In North America, Native Americans grew pumpkins for food long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Brewers in the colonies are said to have used pumpkins in some beer recipes.

The credit for the first modern commercial use of pumpkins in brewing goes to Bill Owens, who used to run Buffalo Bill's Brewpub in Hayward, Calif. That beer is brewed today at Portland Brewing and pretty widely distributed. Over the years I have tried a number of pumpkin brews, two of my favorites coming from Heartland Brewing in New York City and Post Road Brewing, which is now made at Brooklyn Brewing. The Smuttynose, Shipyard and Blue Moon brands also have quaffable pumpkin seasonals that I've tasted.

Pumpkin is a fairly mellow tasting fruit when it is cooked. Much of what we associate with the flavor of pumpkin pie comes from the wonderful spices that our favorite bakers (Grandmothers, Moms and Wives, for the most part) have used over the years. The range of flavors in the pumpkin beers on the market goes from light to heavily spiced, just like the pies we encounter each Fall.

This past weekend I had the chance to taste six different pumpkin beers. Here is a run down on some real treats for the season:

Saranac Pumpkin Ale: This brew from Utica, N.Y. uses pumpkin, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger and vanilla in a 5.4 percent alcohol by volume ale. Even with all of those ingredients, this is a fairly smooth and mellow beer as pumpkins go.

Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale: This North Carolina ale has plenty of spice throughout. The pumpkin is in the background on this very pleasant brew. Perfect for a crisp Fall evening tailgate party.

Dogfish Head Pumpkin Ale: This 7 percent alcohol by volume ale from Delaware is richly flavored with pumpkin, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and brown sugar. A lavish drink for the holiday table.

Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale: From Anheuser-Busch's seasonal line up, this brew has a hint of pumpkin and a touch of nutmeg in the flavor profile. Perhaps not the most flavorful pumpkin ale you will encounter, but highly drinkable.

Wild Goose Pumpkin Patch Ale: Brewed in Maryland, this is a mellow rendition of a pumpkin ale. You can taste the fruit, along with a hint of cinnamon.

Edenton Brewing Pumpkin Head: An amber brew from North Carolina that weighs in at 5.2 percent alcohol by volume, this is a fruit forward pumpkin beer that has light hints of spice and a creamy finish.


tedo said...

Great selection. I just finished tasting 4 of my own.
The aformentioned Dogfish Head Punkin, Buffalo Bill's, Shipyard's Pumpkin Head, and Blue Moon's PUmpkin ale.
All interesting to say the least.

Rick Lyke said...

You got your hands on some pretty good ones. Pumpkin ales might be one of the earliest original "American" beer styles, but there probably were some folks a few centuries ago in Central America trying to ferment pumpkins.

Wörtwurst said...

I must make a pumpkin beer trek across the country one of the years! I've had 8 or 9 this fall and all were at least very drinkable.