Early last month, I was perusing Portland, Maine’s finest beer shop RSVP Liquors when a display of locally crafted Shipyard ales made me do a double take. “It’s too soon!” I exclaimed, causing a nearby cashier to cock her eyebrow. “What’s Pumpkinhead Ale doing out in early August?”
One of Shipyard’s top-selling seasonal beers has long been Pumpkinhead. It’s a crisp wheat ale flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and plenty of the namesake vegetable. Pumpkinhead will always be linked with fall—to celebrate the exchange of swimsuits for sweatshirts. But the beer’s surging popularity has meant that it’s now available from summer to winter. “We usually stop brewing Pumpkinhead around Halloween,” says Shipyard master brewer Alan Pugsley. “This year, we began brewing it a bit earlier and will end after Thanksgiving.”
For purists who pray at the altar of seasonality, this may seem like heresy. I call it a return to form. In colonial America, brewing grains were in short supply. Thus, intrepid beer makers turned to other readily available fermentable substances, such as pumpkin. Over time, as Americans began to cultivate barley, the use of pumpkins in brewing beer faded. But in recent years, brewers have rediscovered the gourd, spurring the birth (or perhaps rebirth) of a singular, thoroughly American fall delight: pumpkin beer.
Stylistically speaking, these beers inhabit a broad flavor spectrum. Some pumpkin brews are pie-sweet, spiced with clove, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon, while others trade sweetness for a bitter streak. Stouts, saisons, even sours—name the style, and you can likely use pumpkin. Here are five to try this fall. Or winter or next summer too.
Curious about which pumpkin beers to try? Check out my full write-up at Food Republic. Drink it up!