The Rise Of Pumpkin Ale
Posted by Tim Bush | Food and Drinks | Posted on June 7th, 2012
When is Oktoberfest? September 18th-October 3rd. When is the first day of fall? September 23rd. When do the first pumpkin beers hit stores in a hurry to end our already short New England summer? July 28th.
I believe everyone has heard me gripe about the beer industry and its rush to change the seasons so I’ll keep it short this time. Everyone knows that ale companies are in a never ending rush to get the subsequent season started. I venture that a well made beer of any style is enjoyable at any time of year.
My real question here is as follows: Is the autumn seasonal brew soon to be pumpkin ale and no longer Oktoberfest? I believe this year we may see as many, if not more, pumpkin brews on the shelving as standard Oktoberfest styles.
I have read that pumpkin ale originated with the Pilgrims and is an especially traditional New England style ale. I believe that in those days the pumpkin was used to bolster fermentables, as malt was less abundant, while today the pumpkin is used basically for flavour and body. Additionally, those historic brews were certainly not laden with spices and other flavorings as they are right now.
As such, I’m forced to declare pumpkin beer a modern invention and yet one more fulfillment of America’s unique and adventurous brewing style. Of course, that statement stems from my pride in American brewing overall and the decidedly American foundation on which this style was built. Having said that, I haven’t quite warmed up to pumpkin beer.
I find that the brews that make use of pumpkin flavoring and a lot of spices as if they were bottling a pie to be most unappealing. The brewers that carefully cut whole pumpkins to add to the mash seem to offer lots more in terms of body and rich flavours. As with any beer, the foundation on which the ale itself is created is critical. A listless ale with some pumpkin pumped in will show its true colours as a sub-par product. A well built ale made to be great by itself will make the most of any additions.
The flavour profile of pumpkin ales hasn’t excited me as much as the concept behind making something original that many folks appear to truly enjoy. The fondness for pumpkin beers is spreading crazily and the increase in selection during the past few years has been superb. It’s getting to the point where pumpkin beers may shortly overshadow my long time favourite seasonal kind of Oktoberfest.
Tim Bush found his way to Colonial Spirits, a Harvard liquor store, in 2002. It was beer that brought Tim to Colonial Spirits and ale that permitted him make a considerable contribution to the store. At this point beer is only a tiny part of what Tim does at the store. Nonetheless, he enjoys ale now more than ever. Check out Colonial Spirits’ beer blog for more of Tim’s thoughts on beer.