Thank the Pilgrims for Pumpkin Beer

Agree or disagree: Pumpkin beer is as American as apple pie. Have your answer? Actually, it’s even more American than apple pie and we can thank our imbibing early colonial ancestors for introducing it. In fact, pumpkin beer was probably on the tables for that first Thanksgiving in the early 1600s. What?

Yep. Like basketball, hot dogs and tipping, pumpkin beer originated in America. Sadly, unlike many other things rooted in this country, pumpkin beer is long gone as an American staple. Mention to someone that, because it’s the fall season, it’s time to roll out the pumpkin beer, and you will no doubt be met with the same enthusiasm as suggesting a colonoscopy or root canal. Pumpkin beer is as polarizing as the New England Patriots or sushi.

Granted, the reason the colonists brewed beer with pumpkin meat was a shortage of typical brewing grains. Our forebears directed those grains toward feeding themselves and their livestock. Some enterprising pilgrim, however, discovered a pumpkin laying about somewhere and naturally thought, beer! Bless his (or her) heart. I say “discovered” because there were no pumpkins in the Old World. Apparently Leif Erikson and old Chris Columbus failed to drag any home with them after their visits. Pumpkins, like corn, were uniquely American.

Now, why might sophisticated, modern-day you concern yourself with pumpkin beer? Well, because it can be pretty darn good. There, I said it. I confess that I’m no fan of pumpkin-fragrance candles nor pumpkin pudding. I’m sure I could think of another half-dozen or more pumpkin-influenced things of which I’m not fond, but I do like a pumpkin beer this time of year.

Think of pumpkin beer as eggnog without the eggs or the nog. Typically surfacing only around the winter holidays, eggnog doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other than dilute rum or whichever other liquor one might have a bottle of lurking in the back of the beverage cabinet. At least that’s the role of eggnog in my family. Likewise, pumpkin beer is a winter potable that somehow just seems to fit the season. Just like anything else, it’s not for everyone, but it’s festive and, well, American. Pony up for a six pack (or four pack for Pumking), and for $13 or so you can offer guests something unique. Likewise, its a thinking-out-of-the-box host gift when invited to someone’s home during the fall and winter months.

In the spirit of the season, thinking out of the box, and drinking a beer, I’ve selected two widely distributed pumpkin beers for your consideration. We have reviewed both on BEER2WHISKEY. If you have a store near you with a wide craft-beer section (Total Wine, Specs or some other big-box adult-beverage store) you can probably find one or both of these terrific ideal-for-the-season beers.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale is a product of Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. Released each year around September 1, it has been a seasonal staple of this brewery since its opening in 1995. According to the brewery’s Website, the mash consists of pumpkin meat, brown sugar and assorted spices.

In tasting it, we found this well balanced ale to be more about the beer than the pie. It’s not aggressively pumpkin in flavor. It does have hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice dancing around the subtle pumpkin flavor.

Dogfish Head does a masterful job of disguising the beer’s 7 percent alcohol content. I don’t think a beer’s IBU (International Bitterness Units) carries much weight unless that beer is an IPA, but I’ll mention this beer’s IBU is 28. That’s high for a beer with virtually no bitterness on the tongue or the finish, but here the residual sugar offsets the IBU count.

Southern Tier Imperial Pumking is described as “pumpkin pie in a glass” by Southern Tier Brewing Company of Lakewood, New York. This is no idle boast. A seasonal brew, Imperial Pumking is a robust 8.6 percent alcohol with an IBU of 30. Like Punkin Ale, this beer doesn’t reflect the bitterness level of a 30-IBU IPA.

When we reviewed Imperial Pumking, we found it to be full of pumpkin-pie flavors, including its bready gram-crust backbone. There are plenty of those spices associated with pumpkin pie, too: nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. Sweet and pumpkin forward, it’s a wonderful fall and winter brew.

So, now that you are familiar with a couple of ideal-for-the-season pumpkin beers, go forth, live a little and spread the joy. Cheers!

Russ is a long-time bourbon and craft-beer drinker who also produces the BEER2WHISKEY channel on YouTube.

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