Pumpkin Ales are a Distinctly American Brew

Written by Kara Yorio for northjersey.com

America: Baseball, apple pie and pumpkin ale.

It’s time for the seasonal brew that is a distinctly American style, a domestic craft beer that, for some, says fall as much as colorful foliage or hay rides and corn mazes.

“It just ties into the whole harvest, fall, Oktoberfest time of the year,” says Hugh Cohen, general manager of The Office in Ridgewood, which has three pumpkin flavors on tap. “It’s a great flavor profile for a beer. A lot of people who normally wouldn’t drink beer will taste this.”
What’s on tap?

Area bars are serving pumpkin ales alongside Oktoberfest beers. Here is what some have on tap (note: beers on tap can change day-to-day so call ahead if looking for something specific):

THE OFFICE BEAR BAR AND GRILL

What: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, Dogfish Head, Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale
Where: 32-34 Chestnut St., Ridgewood, 201-652-1070

THE COPPER MINE PUB

What: Wolavers Pumpkin Ale, Southhampton Pumpkin Ale, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Weyerbacher Bourbon Barrel aged Imperial Pumpkin
Where: 323 Ridge Road, North Arlington, 201-428-1223

ANDY’S CORNER BAR

What: Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Where: 257 Queen Anne Road, Bogota, 201-342-9887

THE SHEPHERD & THE KNUCKLEHEAD PUB

What: Southern Tier Pumking Imperial
Where: 529 Belmont Ave., Haledon, 973-942-8666

— Kara Yorio

Here are some of the pumpkin ales available at local retailers:

Shipyard Pumpkinhead

From: Portland, Maine
Available: Through October

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale

From: Golden, Colo.
Available: Through November

Wolaver’s Organic Pumpkin Ale

From: Middlebury, Vt.
Available: Through October

Buffalo Bill’s Brewery Imperial Pumpkin Ale

From: Hayward, Calif.
Available: Through October

Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale

From: Boston
Available: Through October

The limited availability is a key to its popularity as well, according to Cohen.

Bars around North Jersey have already tapped barrels of the seasonal brew, with most establishments offering multiple choices of the pumpkin ale. They will be available until around Thanksgiving at most places and then they’ll be gone for another year.

And now, a little pumpkin ale history: According to “Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World’s Craft Brewing Revolution” (Sterling Epicure, Nov. 1), Colonial brewers turned to pumpkin when there wasn’t enough malted barley to go around. As Americans learned to cultivate barley — which had previously only been imported — the use of pumpkins as a fermentable ingredient stopped.

But much to the delight of beer lovers, the pumpkin has returned.

“In recent years, brewers have rediscovered the gourd, spurring the birth (or perhaps rebirth) of a singular, thoroughly American fall delight: pumpkin beer,” writes author Joshua M. Bernstein. “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.”

For those brewing – and enjoying – pumpkin ales, it’s not just about the use of pumpkin but the pumpkin preparation (is it roasted first, puréed, are they using an extract?) and the spices used with it.

Mike Kivowitz, president and owner of newjerseycraftbeer.com, says he finds a lot of the pumpkin ales to have similar flavors. He likes the ones that do something different.

“There’s some unusual stuff that people are doing with ginger and stuff like that that really brings out the flavor of the pumpkin,” says Kivowitz. “Those I love. I love the unusual. A lot of them are pretty standard, they just put cinnamon and nutmeg and they’re interesting, but I like the ones that have a really unique flavor.”

Kivowitz lists Dogfish Head Punkin Ale and Southern Tier Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale as two of his favorites.

“And they’re on completely different spectrums,” he adds.

In his book, Bernstein credits Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, Calif., as one of the first to craft a pumpkin ale and their labels indeed stake claim as “America’s Original Pumpkin Ale.”

They may have been the first, but now they can get lost in a long list of others. A trip to the average liquor store offers up more than a half dozen pumpkin-flavored beer choices and local bars have even more on tap. Finding a favorite is another fun fall activity.