Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Attack of the Pumpkin Beers!

Written by  Ben Darcie
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Contrary to popular belief, Pumpkin Beers have been around the United States for a long time. The inclusion of Pumpkin in beer actually began as a matter of necessity, seeing as quality malt wasn't readily available in the 18th century. Brewers had to find a way to cheaply introduce fermentable sugars to their ales, and turned to two ingredients: pumpkin and brown sugar. Early versions of pumpkin beer are said to be made of 100% pumpkin meat, creating a hazy brown brew that would have been bittered in the style of Gruit.
Pumpkin beer remained a staple of the 18th century, with it's most notable recipe being published in 1771, but began to wane in the 19th century as malt became more readily available. Brewers began passing on the inclusion of pumpkin as it slowly became regarded as “quaint and rustic”. Far before our modern beer climate, drinkers began to see pumpkin beers become a 'seasonal' release, a special brew to be released in the fall.

Even today, pumpkin beers are are generally released in the fall (although we see pumpkin brands being released as early as late July this year) and are available until early winter, when all the dark, bold beers get released.

Brewers today generally have two roads to take in making a pumpkin beer: a pumpkin spiced beer, or a beer with pumpkin in it.pumpkin

Pumpkin spiced beers don't actually contain any pumpkin, but rather feature spices that are very commonly associated with the flavor of pumpkin pie. Cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and all-spice, to name a few. This is a significantly easier way of relaying the flavors the brewer desires, and most people can't even tell that there's not actually any pumpkin in the beer.

Beers made with pumpkin in it are more difficult to make. Raw pumpkin tastes nothing like our common conception of 'pumpkin'. It tastes like most squash, and may exhibit some sweetness. To prepare pumpkin for inclusion in the brewing process, most brewers will roast the pumpkin meat (commonly cubed) in spices and then use that for making the beer. Some brewers will include roasted pumpkin in the mash rather than introducing it to the boil or secondary, providing a slow, gradual extraction of flavor and spice.

How can you tell the difference? Take a look at the bottle, and somewhere on it you will see brewed with spices or brewed with pumpkin.

Last year, Grand Rapids brewers grouped together for the “Beer City Grand Pumpkin” project, where 13 GR Breweries all did their take on a 'pumpkin beer' and released them on the same day.

Today there are more than 400 pumpkin beers available nationwide, and our great beer state of Michigan has quite a few to offer as well.

As the weather starts to get colder and bonfires more frequent, there's nothing better than kicking back with some friends and getting into a good pumpkin beer.

Here's a few pumpkin brews for you to check out this fall, and keep them in mind for the MBG Fall Beer Festival at Eastern Market in Detroit! Many of the breweries will be bringing their fall wares, including delicious pumpkin beers!

  • Arcadia Ales Jaw Jacker
  • Blue Cow Cafe Pumpkin Chunkin Ale
  • BAD Brewery Linus's Pumpkin Rye
  • BAD Brewery Lucy's Pumpkin Spice
  • Blue Tractor Gourd to Death Pumpkin Brown Ale
  • Boatyard Brewing Co. Transom Jack
  • Bravo! Restaraunt Roasted Pumpkin Ale
  • Greenbush Brewing Company Unicorn Killer

  • Griffin Claw Brewing Co. Screamin' Pumpkin Ale
  • Griffin Claw Brewing Co. Bourbon Screamin' Pumpkin Ale
  • Griffin Claw Brewing Co. Pumpkin Spice IPA
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela
  • Kuhnhenn All Hallows Ale
  • Liberty Street Punkin' Pie Ale
  • Motor City Brewing Works Pumpkin Ale
  • New Holland Brewing Co.  Ichabod
  • New Holland Brewing Co. Oak Aged Ichabod (Rum) 

  • North Peak Brewing Co.  Hooligan Hoppy Pumpkin Ale
  • Olde Peninsula Pumpkin Ale
  • Osgood Brewing Co. Shackhuddle Belgo Pumpkin Ale
  • Paw Paw Brewing Co. Twisted Pumpkin
  • Saugatuck Brewing Co. Pumpkin Chai
  • Short's Brewing Co. Funkin Punkin
  • Soo Brewing Co. Pumpkin Drublic
  • Woodward Avenue Brewers WAB Pumpkin Ale

  • Waldorff Brewpub Candy Snatcher Pumpkin Ale
  • Wolverine Brewing Co. Cucurbita Smiles
  • Dogfish Head Punkin' Ale
  • Southern Tier Pumpking
  • Heavy Seas The Great Pumpkin
  • Harpoon UFO Pumpkin
  • Southern Tier Brewing Co. PumKing

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie has been homebrewing since 2006 and is currently the Brewery Representative for Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, MI. He also provides public and private Beer Education and is a Beer Writer for BeerAdvocate, I'm a Beer Hound and three other Michigan publications. He is also the founder of Experience Beer WM and the 9wk Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class (est. 2010).