WASHINGTON, November 19, 2012 — If all that seems to be on the beer shelves this Halloween and Thanksgiving season are Christmas and other winter-themed beers, you can be pardoned for being confused.
Pumpkin beers? They’re so September, right?
Oktoberfests? Well, a beer by any other name would make little sense if not released in July or August.
Such has become the way of the beer world, where much of the niche seasonal beer market has begun resembling other seasonal and holiday-driven retail markets.
But fear not. If you have designs on serving a pumpkin beer with your Thanksgiving Dinner menu, you can still pick up any of a couple of handfuls of pumpkin beers that go much better with the mid-autumn turkey dinner, particularly the dessert course, than they do with late-summer yard work.
Picking a pumpkin beer for the holiday festivities is not very difficult. A general rule of thumb is that very few will exhibit characteristics of the typically bland fruit. It is more often the hallmark spices of a pumpkin pie (for example, ginger, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon) that brewers add to create their distinctive pumpkin beers.
It then comes down to the amount of spice used, how much real pumpkin to use, and the level of hop flavor and bitterness that results in the unique finished product. The most popular pumpkin beers will usually exhibit a deft balance of the three: noticeable, but not overwhelming pumpkin pie spices; real pumpkin to create a solid feeling beer in the mouth; and a low level of hops to create, at most, a slight bitterness but not to the point of overshadowing the pumpkin pie theme.
Following is a brief review of a half dozen beers with at least regional, if not national, distribution that you may consider for your Thanksgiving Dinner table.
Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale (Brooklyn, NY) — A dash of nutmeg and some earthy, but modest, bittering from the addition of Willamette hops creates a nicely balanced beer that can work with the holiday dinner from the appetizers to the main turkey course and on through dessert. 5 percent Alcohol by Volume (ABV). Available in most East Coast markets.
Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale (Hayward, CA) — Referred to as “America’s Original Pumpkin Ale”, this beer from one of Northern California’s original microbreweries of the early 1980s will satisfy those looking for a pumpkin beer that does not have a heavy mouthfeel and downplays the spices. There is a slightly noticeable pumpkin meat flavor and a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg and is most like a “regular beer” with a chance of winning over the dinner guests that may be skeptical about the idea of a pumpkin beer. 5.2 percent ABV. Available in select markets on the west coast and east of the Mississippi.
Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (Seattle, WA) — As the brewery boasts the use of 150 pounds of fresh pumpkin meat in each batch, the Night Owl presents itself with the most substantial mouthfeel of this bunch. Nutmeg and ginger are the obvious flavors that come to the forefront of this beer while the use of Horizon hops adds a noticeable and pleasant hop aroma, without adding bitterness to contend with the other spice flavors. 5.9 percent ABV. Available primarily in Northeast and Pacific Northwest markets.
Ithaca Country Pumpkin (Ithaca, NY) — This beer from one of the finest breweries of New York’s Finger Lakes region displays all of the expected flavors in a pumpkin beer including ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. A pleasant beer, if not necessarily a standout in this bunch. 6.3 percent ABV. Can be found in select Northeast markets.
Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale (Newport, OR) — There are fresh hop beers. Consider this beer from the Pacific Northwest a fresh roast beer; the pumpkins are picked fresh, immediately roasted, and then incorporated into the brewing process. Rogue also uses the term GYO (Grow Your Own) on the label to further play into the popular movement of sourcing food and beverage ingredients as close to home as possible. The beer oozes pumpkin pie spices, but in a balanced way that should find this beer near the top of many pumpkin beer lists. 5.6 percent ABV. Available in many markets across the country.
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (Portsmouth, NH) — For this beer guy’s palate, the last on this alphabetical list was the best beginning with a pleasant aroma, partly due to the use of cascade hops. Cinnamon and nutmeg are the two most obvious spice additions. A well-balanced beer with every component from mouthfeel to bittering to pumpkin pie spices just where they need to be to have guests asking for a second and third glass. 5.8 percent ABV. Available in many East Coast markets.
One last beer deserves mention, though it was unable to attend this tasting review. If you are fortunate to have held on to, or can still find, Southern Tier’s Pumking (Lakewood, NY), you may very likely have the perfect dessert beer in a glass. To be fair, though, the beer creates conversation and some division between beer drinkers based upon their preferences.
The brewery refers to it as an “imperial pumpkin ale” and the imperial is noticeable from the beginning look and smell. The beer is best described as thick and boasting quite loudly and obviously every flavor expected in a pumpkin beer. The beer weighs in at 8.6 percent ABV, so it may also be the perfect beer as the nightcap after the dinner guests have left and the craziness of the holiday subsides. It certainly is worth splitting a bottle between two or three friends and can be found in a majority of states.
Of course, if you cannot find yourself settling on, or having the taste for, a pumpkin beer, there are plenty of Christmas- and winter-themed beers out there already for the choosing. No worries, they go great with the tree buying and light hanging that always seems to begin within mere days of making leftover turkey soup.
Cheers to enjoying your Thanksgiving in great taste.
Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington Times.
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