Is there really a demand for pumpkin beer? Do squash aficionados start summer letter writing campaigns to make sure their fridges are stocked in November? Do brewmasters have a secret fervor for Charlie Brown cartoon reruns? Do they respond to skewed surveys that weigh the answers of the ardent few, say, denizens of pumpkin farms and Hallowe'en stores? Maybe it's me, but it's hard to imagine a significant clamor for the stuff.
And yet beeradvocate.com rates nearly 400 of them in their critical surveys, everyone from the smallest of craft brewers to Anheuser-Busch and Coors (with Shock Top and Blue Moon brands, respectively).
It certainly can't be for the flavor: Even when it's detectable, pumpkin is the sort of flavor that fairly screams humdrum. Then again I have cousins who won't show up to Thanksgiving dinner if there's not pumpkin pie. Of course, I don't think that lovers of pumpkin pie love 'pumpkinness,' per se, but rather the warm autumnal spices that season it.
So it is with the beers and ales of the season, which taste way more like spice than the lead ingredient, an array that includes cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, cardamom, ginger, and maybe some molasses, maple sugar or vanilla. All of which is fine. But if you're trying to sell me on the flavors of a squash, maybe it's time to come up with another angle.
Meanwhile, a quick perusal of local brewery websites yielded only a tiny handful of producers who make a pumpkin beer or ale. The Taps Fish House and Bootleggers each make a seasonal pumpkin ale; in Escondido, Stone Brewing Company has made a collaborative brew with The Bruery and Elysian called La Citrueille Celeste de Citracado. Elysian, in Seattle, makes a fine "Great Pumpkin" Ale that includes roast pumpkin seeds in the mash, a nice touch. Uinta's Punk'n is more straightforward, as is Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale, one of those brews whose pumpkinness escapes me, but is a pretty nice draft anyway.
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Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.