It's the middle of summer, which can only mean one thing for the beer aisle: it's suddenly full of pumpkin ales. You can blame seasonal creep for putting a spiced, malty beverage on shelves, but understand that no brewer wants to be the last to market and left with unsold cases of the seasonal come December. Regardless that it'll be humid and uncomfortably hot while the first batches are fresh, we want to know: Will you be partaking in pumpkin beer this year?
While the spiced beer has built a strong annual tradition, it flies in the face of the prevailing craft beer trends — namely bitter, hoppy brews. Pumpkin ales are practically on the other end of the flavor spectrum, as they offer rich, sweet barley flavors of caramel and toffee, along with savory nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and ginger spices. (Pumpkin, if it's even used, adds a minimal flavor.)
To be fair, some folks brew outside the box. Boulevard has a pumpkin-spiced brettanomyces sour. Elysian makes a coffee pumpkin ale (among its four annual gourd-based brews). And Avery ages its 17 percent ABV Pump[KY]n in bourbon barrels for six months. These inventive ales are among our favorites, but you still have to embrace pie spices, and they make up a slim minority of what you'll find on tap and in a bottle.
So what's your palate asking for — will you be enjoying pumpkin brews, or are you done with the spiced, malty beers?
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