Tonight is the last Super Moon of the year, and here I sit - in the pumpkin patch with dirt spattered on my jeans. For years, I have been one of Linus van Pelt’s sympathetic souls, awaiting the rise of the Great Pumpkin. Halloween night is still two months away, but I’ll waste no time preparing for the mystery arising over the misty horizon.
The fact remains that Linus missed a key element during his night watch – that is, the role pumpkin beer plays in our ability to see this illusory phenomenon. A full tasting of flavors, from lightly touched gourds to pumpkin-pie sizzlers and bourbon-drenched twizzlers could add just the right amount of hallucinogenic effects to our moon-struck eyes.
Obviously, brewers in the harvest regions where pumpkin fields abound understand the importance of these autumn celebrations. By the end of August, they are already filling tap lines in our pubs and lining shelves with our favorite orange-hued ales.
Pumpkin beers may not be loved by everyone, but for those of us who have a passion for them, they are the 7th wonder of the world. Artisanal brewers understand the pumpkin mellowness that fills the mouth. They painstakingly sculpt their formulae to highlight the best qualities of a jack-o-lantern in escape mode. Some pumpkin is sliced and oven-roasted, others are grilled. In a few breweries, the pulp is scraped, then cooked and seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. In rare bottlings, the final masterpiece may even enjoy a sleepy respite in a bourbon barrel, or a brandy barrel, or a rum barrel - before it comes of age.
My own personal list of favorites is long and winding, from the mellow to the elite. Harpoon UFO Pumpkin, an Un-Filtered Offering from Boston, MA, is a fine way to start off the season at a mild 5.9% ABV. Pumking from Southern Tier in Lakewood, NY strolls in with pureed pumpkin, softened with Magnum and Sterling hops, at a wee higher ABV of 8.6%.
Dogfish Head in Milton DE stirs up local pumpkin meat and organic brown sugar to lay it on thick with Punkin Ale at 7% ABV, adding some spiciness to the season. But Cigar City Brewing of Tampa, FL brings on the spices in a big way, with Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Imported cinnamon from Ceylon, allspice from Jamaica, and cloves and nutmeg from Zanzibar paint the tongue with a slightly crisp, dry feel at 8.5% alcohol.
Shipyard Brewing of Portland, ME uses pumpkin to showcase one of their prestigious Pugsley’s Signature Series beers, Smashed Pumpkin, named after Shipyard’s Master Brewer Alan Pugsley. Focused around a rich malt base, pumpkin and nutmeg, the rich flavors are further enhanced with Willamette and Hallertau hops.
Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver uses hundreds of pounds of pumpkin, locally sourced from New York State to blend into the mash of Post Road Pumpkin Ale, finishing at a sessionable 5% ABV. But Weyerbacher of Easton PA hits with more oomph, laying spiced and malty on the tastebuds at a keen 8% ABV.
Then brewing gets even more intense with treats that reach outside the box. Fermentation Without Representation from Epic Brewing of Salt Lake City, UT creates a chocolate porter, blended with over 200 pounds of pumpkin per batch. They add Madagascar vanilla beans and five spices to finish with flavors of squash, dark chocolate, vanilla and coffee.
If you like the results that barrel aging applies to pumpkin ales, Heavy Seas of Baltimore, MD may be your “cup of Ale” with the Greater Pumpkin in Bourbon Barrels at a quick-witted 10% ABV. Avery Brewing of Boulder, CO comes into the season with Pumpkin, from the barrel-aged series. Using locally grown pumpkin, they blend nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger together before aging in fine rum barrels, resulting in a pumpkin beer of 18.53% ABV – enough to rip your tongue off without you even noticing.
Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin Ale from Uinta of Salt Lake City, UT adds freshness to the season at 10.31% ABV in the crooked line series, aged in oak barrels.
Not to be missed is 25th Anniversary Imperial Pumpkin Ale from Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, WI at 8% ABV. Bock beer is spiced and blended with pumpkin before resting in Korbel brandy barrels. The results are a spicy and dry quencher for the end of the season.