My hatred for pumpkin flavored everything is long and storied. Don’t get me wrong: I love pumpkin pie. I do have a human soul, after all. It’s the “everything else” that I can’t stand. Offer me a pumpkin-spiced latte and I’m likely to pontificate my distaste like Winston Churchill on a boozy, oratorial bender. Pour me a pumpkin beer, and I’ll chuck it at the horizon, hoping it leaves our orbit, travels millions of light years through space, is found by aliens, and justifiably starts an intergalactic war. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the taste of pumpkin, or the spices that ride with it. What really upsets me is the over-saturation of pumpkin-flavored/scented products from September to early December every year that smell or taste exactly the same.
But, I’m not mad ... not anymore.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to travel to Denver with the Steamworks Brewing Co. crew for the Great American Beer Festival. Having been in the craft beer industry for over a decade at that point, I was stoked to attend the largest brewfest in the country. I was also aware that pumpkin beers were popular, and it was early October. I had planned on being vigilant in my avoidance of these nasty concoctions, lest I be swindled into swallowing poison by Man-Bun Brewing, or some such brewery.
On the second day of the festival, I was the proper mix of hung over and almost drunk – a magical fringe state that makes me vulnerable to surprises, pranks, etc. Someone handed me a glass with a coppery, spicy elixir in it. “You have to try this,” they said with an air of mischief. Wanting my hangover to subside as quickly as possible, I knocked the four ounces down without a second thought.
What happened to my taste buds could best be illustrated by appropriately ripping off Jack, The Pumpkin King:
What’s this? What’s this?
There’s pumpkin everywhere
I don’t quite seem to care
I can’t believe my mouth
I must be dreaming
Wake up, Sean, this isn’t fair!
What ... IS ... THIIIS!?
What was this magical brew? Why did the pumpkin flavors not force me into a self-righteous tirade, a vomiting spell, or some comical combination of both? I asked my friend, “What was that?” “Rumpkin, “ he said, “from Avery Brewing in Boulder.”
This was the pumpkin ale to end all pumpkin ales. It was evenly spiced, not too sweet, and had been aged in fine, fresh rum barrels to give it a satisfying oak and molasses flavor. It also came in at a liver-bashing 16 percent alcohol by volume, but wasn’t as astringent as most beers of that octane. It completely defied all of my prejudices against the style.
This led to me seeking out more pumpkin ales that stood above the rest. Punkin Ale from Dogfish Head was a delicious brown ale with hints of coffee, chocolate, and brown sugar. Epic Brewing’s Imperial Pumpkin Porter had a unique pecan and cocoa flavor, with just a touch of marshmallow on the finish. Just like any style, pumpkin beers are not all gems. In fact, they’re mostly below average. But, that doesn’t mean they should all be tossed aside and ridiculed with blanket hatred. I suggest looking for the words “imperial” or “barrel aged” to make sure you are tasting only the finest pumpkin ales. That should ensure that you are tasting something unique, strong, and delightful. If I, the staunchest pumpkin cynic, could be swayed, so could you.
My war against the pumpkin beer has reached an armistice. I am left to walk to the Earth unsure of so many more steadfast convictions. What’s next? Will I suddenly love “The Big Bang Theory”? Will Justin Bieber’s voice start to sound less like someone hitting a tree with a bag of cats? We shall see.
Sean Moriarty is a local digital marketer by day, and an avid beer and film nerd by night.