You know Fall is here when Halloween decorations appear and pumpkin ales adorn the aisles of your local bottle shop or grocery store. For those living outside the US, pumpkin ales are beers that include mashed up or pureed pumpkin in the mash and are spiced with pumpkin pie spices, such as ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and/or allspice. These beers are typically mild and malty with a slightly thick mouthfeel.
Pumpkin ales usually range from 4.0-7.0% ABV, though some are known to go much higher. Don’t think that pumpkin beers are just heavily seasoned brown ales; you can find pumpkin pale ales, wheat beers, porters and stouts.
Dating back to at least 1771, during the early colonial era, settlers had little access to traditional brewing ingredients like barley. Forced to use what was available, colonists resorted to using corn, apples, pears, and of course pumpkins. Slowly, over time, pumpkin as a regular beer ingredient disappeared and completely vanished by the early 1900s.
During the early days of craft brewing in the 1980s, small breweries started making pumpkin beers as a stunt to get noticed on a store shelf. Today’s pumpkin beers are a far cry from the pumpkin ales of yore, which usually contain artificial pumpkin and spice flavors. While originally brewed with pumpkin, pumpkin ales these days are often trying to reproduce a pumpkin pie flavor, rather than real pumpkin.
However, we might be seeing a decline in pumpkin usage again, as many breweries cut production in 2016 due to a sharp decrease in demand. Several breweries are shortening their sales window or decreasing the production in order to save this controversial seasonal ale.
Love them or hate them, one thing is for sure, pumpkin ales boldly announce the fall season at least for now.