If you enjoy the mild spice of summertime Belgian ale, it's an easy seasonal transition to a fall pumpkin beer. Pumpkin beer was an American original, a colonial beverage invented out of necessity by beer-loving pilgrims, who had more access to Native American squash than English barley malt.
When cooked at a low heat, enzymes in the pumpkin flesh convert starch to sugar, which the yeast can later ferment into alcohol. Pumpkin beer recipes improved over the years and the rustic style remained popular from the 17th to the 19th century, when it was swept into the dustbin of beer history by malt-based beers produced by increasingly large industrial breweries.
The craft beer movement of the 1980s revived many forgotten beer styles and Buffalo Bill’s Brewery was the first to bring back pumpkin beer. Every year more artisan breweries include a pumpkin offering in their fall lineup. Most of the beers, including Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin beer, add pumpkin pie spices such as nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and clove.
Here are a few of the best selections from this year’s crop:
Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela (Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales) – This Michigan brewer uses open fermentation, oak barrel aging, and adds pumpkin puree into the mash, into the boil, and into the barrel to give their beer an authentic colonial pedigree. The sourness of the wild fermentation is balanced by light spice and the addition of rich cacao nibs. It’s a wonderfully tart session beer.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Brewery) – Brewery founder Sam Calagione crafted the recipe for this popular seasonal beer while he was still a home brewer. Dogfish Head combines baked pumpkin meat, organic brown sugar, and touches of cinnamon and nutmeg to brew this brown ale. The result is a full-bodied beer, smooth without being either cloying or overly spiced.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin (Shipyard Brewing Company) – Shipyard combines Pale Ale, Wheat and Light Munich Malts with pumpkin, and then spices the brew with Willamette and Hallertau hops and a touch of nutmeg to create this medium-bodied beer. Smashed Pumpkin tips the ABV scales at 9%, so you may not want to finish a bomber of this right before taking the kids out trick-or-treating.
The Bruery Autumn Maple (The Bruery) – Okay, there’s actually no pumpkin in this one, but maple beer is another colonial-style harvest beer that an increasing number of brewers are rediscovering. This version also has yams, molasses and spices, which meld into a full bodied, nuanced and strong (10% ABV) brown ale. Maple beers can be difficult to ferment, but when done right like this one, they have an inherent woodiness that’s similar to barrel aging.