Pumpkin is one of the most “American” foods there is. The winter squash is indigenous to the American continent and is a staple of Indigenous American cuisine from coast to coast. To that end, when European colonialist showed up on these shores, they took to using pumpkin to brew their beer — being that barley and other grains for sugar fermentation were unavailable. This tradition lasted well into the 1800s with even George Washington being a big fan of using pumpkin to brew his ale.
Of course, that’s not the whole story. As grain-based foreign agriculture took over, the American continent and people moved into cities and pumpkin fell out of favor. It wasn’t until craft microbrewing started to re-emerge in the 1980s that pumpkin beers saw a comeback. Basically, a small cadre of micro-brewers wanted to bring a traditional and seasonal beer back to their lineups. Cut to 40 years later and pumpkin beers straight up dominate the craft beer market. The Atlantic reported a few years back that breweries like Shipyard up in Maine sell 400,000 cases of their pumpkin beer every fall — far outstripping all their other beer sales, including their year-round line.
That trend holds true to various degrees across the nation. And yet for some reason, pumpkin anything gets a bad wrap in this country. Sure, it can be overly sweet — especially if we’re talking about the latte variety from Starbucks, where literally everything is too sweet — but your anger is with sugar in these cases, not pumpkin.
For the most part, pumpkin beers are brewed with the flesh of the squash. Later, more pumpkin fruit and various spices are added to amp up the brew as it settles into a nice, drinkable beer. This process is no different than, say, Belgian lambics settling with pounds of fresh berry fruit or Berliner Weisse fermenting with pounds of citrus out there. We like fruit in our beer so it tracks that we’d love using pumpkin (a fruit) in our beers too.
With all of that in mind, we thought we’d throw down a list of the best pumpkin beers out there right now. These beers offer a wide spectrum of styles from imperial stouts to Scottish ales to simple ales. It’s really a beer wonderland of seasonal and local ingredients filtered through the lens of, perhaps, the first real American beer. Let’s dive in a get a little tipsy.
THE GREAT PUMPKIN — ELYSIAN BREWING
Elysian’s The Great Pumpkin is the perfect example of how good this style is. The beer is brewed with roasted pumpkin seeds in the mash and then pumpkin fruit is added to the fermenter to really amp up the earthy pumpkin flavor.
Finally, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg are added to round out the flavor profile and add a nice depth to the beer. You’ll get a blast of spice on this one that’s followed by a mellow fruitiness that leans more towards a mossy fall morning when the mist is still close to the ground.