The fallen leaves, cooler temperatures, and a dusting of snow atop Pikes Peak all indicate that autumn has reached the Rockies and is now in full swing. Along with these welcome changes come the new fall seasonal ales from breweries across the country. Continuing in the same vein as last week’s article, “Oktoberfest’s traditions, myths, and current brews,” I’ll be highlighting the distinctly American pumpkin ale.
This style of beer can be traced back to the colonial days when brewers sought ways to extend their supplies of imported malts with locally available ingredients. Nowadays, these brews typically boast spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and allspice, intended to remind us of a favorite fall treat – pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin ales are almost always sweet, malty beers with subtle hop profiles that vary in the intensity of pumpkin flavoring. The pumpkin can be added at almost any stage of the brewing process in accordance with the prevalence of flavor the brewer desires. These beers also have a medium alcohol content, typically ranging between five and eight percent.
There is such a vast selection of these brews, it would be impossible for any one man to try them all and still be able to write a coherent article after the fact. After much deliberation, I decided I could only taste two for this column – what a tough life it is.
I’ll begin with my personal favorite, the Upslope Pumpkin Ale. This beer has been so popular that Weber had to limit their sales to a single four-pack per person. Its popularity is no surprise considering Upslope won the 2011 Great American Beer Festival gold medal.
From the can, this beer pours a beautiful deep red color with a crystal clear body. Putting a nose to it immediately reveals those unmistakable fall spices and, of course, some pumpkin. This is a lightly carbonated beer with a dense head that dissipates quickly, again, revealing the deep red body.
The most prominent flavors begin with nutmeg and clove, warming slowly into a sweet yet subtle pumpkin finish. This beer has all the elements of a perfect Autumn evening – mom’s warm pumpkin pie with the right proportions of clove and nutmeg, (like what you find in a good spiced cider) to wash it down. It’s practically the adult-only version of Willy Wonka’s Three-Course Dinner chewing gum! Not to mention that 7.7 percent alcohol-by-volume means it gets better with every sip. Overall, this is a wonderful beer that I would gladly drink year-round. If you can find it – buy it.
The second ale I tasted was no slouch either – Night Owl Pumpkin Ale by the Elysian Brewing Company. This beer poured a lighter, hazier, roasted pumpkin color (go figure). It sports a much loftier, cloud-like head, which dissipates more slowly than the Upslope version. The smell is rich, and the pumpkin and cinnamon notes practically jump out of the glass. The taste is as bold as the aroma with the pumpkin coming in hard and fast up front. This initial burst of fall flavoring mellows into a much drier, roasted flavor that lingers pleasantly at the back of the tongue.
In contrast to its Upslope cousin, this beer is drier and much more bold. She wears her pumpkin flavor like a badge of honor. The Night Owl is a tribute to the 150 pounds of pumpkin added to every batch. Either fresh pumpkin or pumpkin seeds are present in every stage of the brewing process – mash, boil, and fermentation.
Each beer represents a different end of the pumpkin ale spectrum. Warm, subtle, and sweet characterize the Upslope incarnation, while Elysian prefers a fresh and bold flavoring. Next time you head down to the local liquor store be sure to give these brews a try – Elysian, Upslope, or one of the dozen others in between. Take pride in the uniquely American pumpkin ale.