Garrett Oliver remembers the first time he made pumpkin beer. More than 20 years ago, before pureed pumpkin was available in bulk, the Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster opened hundreds of individual cans of the stuff to make the first batch of Post Road Pumpkin Ale. “That’s something you don’t forget,” says Oliver, now amused at the effort he expended.
At the time, Brooklyn had recently acquired the Post Road brand, with plans to brew other beers under the name. The pumpkin beer was the only one that stuck, becoming Brooklyn’s seasonal offering. Post Road Pumpkin Ale follows Oliver’s vision of the style, which is far from a monolith. There are light pumpkin beers swirling with spice; viscous, high-octane brews; stouts; and lagers. Go to any liquor store now or watch an Anheuser-Busch commercial and it may seem like pumpkin beers are monstrosities dreamed up by craft brewers. In reality, they descend from hundreds of recipes from the American colonies.
“They were more or less regular beers, with pumpkin as part of the starch,” says Oliver. “The same tradition and agronomy that makes pumpkin pie something you eat at that time of year holds for those beers. Pumpkins were food, and food was not something you could leave lying around.”
Brooklyn uses nearly five pounds of pumpkin per barrel and only a little nutmeg. “What’s interesting about pumpkins is even before you spice them — if you’ve ever put a pumpkin in an oven — it’s still quite reminiscent of a pumpkin pie,” says Oliver.
Post Road Pumpkin Ale, which is orange, tastes sweet, but not artificial.
Boulevard Brewing Co. makes a different kind of pumpkin beer. Released this year, Funky Pumpkin is the first pumpkin brew from the Kansas City brewery. It’s a sour beer, inoculated with lactobacillus culture, and blended with a brettanomyces-brewed beer barrel-aged for six months.
In other words, it’s different.
“There’s definitely the risk that brewing a sour pumpkin beer will freak some folks out,” says Jeremy Danner of Boulevard. “We were sure to label both the box and bottle with the words ‘spiced sour ale.’ We wanted to make sure beer drinkers knew what they were getting into.”
In contrast to the Brooklyn beer, Funky Pumpkin is heavily spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger — and you can smell it. The beer those spices inhabit, though, is bright and clean. If you like sour beer, you’ll like this one. If not, stick with your pub-drawn pumpkin brew with the cinnamon-and-sugar-coated rim.