With fall in full swing and Halloween on its way, that can only mean one thing to beer connoisseurs; pumpkin ale. What the seasonal Christmas Ale is to Christmas and the Oktoberfest Ale is to the fall harvest, Halloween has its very own pumpkin ale. Although pumpkin ale has been around for several years and has even been rumored that Thomas Jefferson used pumpkin to make beer way back when, it wasn’t a well-known beer until recently. It received a big boost in 2007 when the Great American Beer Festival gave it its very own subcategory in the fruits-and-veggies beer category.
Although I have heard of pumpkin ale, I have never tried it, and being that I steer clear of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, I’ve always quickly dismissed it. But for some reason it kept calling my name, and today was the day I convoyed across town (hoo-rah), through some of the roughest areas of this military town of Fayetteville while fighting rush hour traffic to arrive at the wine and beer shop. With minutes to spare before closing, I grabbed the first thing that said pumpkin ale on it, purchased it, and drove back home.
I ended up with the Saranac Pumpkin Ale, which is marketed as “Ale brewed with pumpkin, spices, and other natural flavors.” Brewed by The Matt Brewing Company in Utica, New York, it is also New York’s oldest brewery and it is one of their many limited release brews.
This beer poured a very nice brown color with red and orange tints and had a small head that quickly turned to lacing.
The smell jumped right out at me with hints of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, a little bit of vanilla and some toasted malts…and of course, some pumpkin pie aroma. Tasting it really surprised me. I was expecting some very strong pumpkin coming on, but it was very subtle and blended well with the other spices for a complex yet balanced beer. It is very easy to drink and I was surprised to find my mug was just about empty on several occasions.
Depending on the quality of the beer, it can be made through several different processes. The cheaper versions use pumpkin flavoring, while the better brews will use puree or even add hand-cut pumpkin pieces to the mash during the brewing process, along with cinnamon sticks, ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and other spices and flavorings. Most all of the top names have their own pumpkin ale, to include: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Smuttynose Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewing Company and so on. Pumpkin ale is in stores until supplies run out and it can usually be found from August to November.
If you aren’t convinced that pumpkin ale is the greatest thing since the iPhone, consider this: Pumpkin ales all have really sweet pictures of pumpkins and cool names like Pumkinhead Ale, Pumking, Punkin’ Ale, and my personal favorite (and my new instant messenger name) Pumpkinator. How can you say no?