Ed. Note: What follows is a rant by friend & sponsor of the blog Brent Osborn. As always if you’ve got something you want to say then shoot me an email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com and I’ll check it out. Personally, I abhor pumpkin beers, plus many other writers have already trodden this path. But, since Brent felt like ranting I was happy to post it!
Fall’s just around the corner.
Fall is a wonderful season: leaves changing color, football games, Reese’s pumpkins, hoodies, fires, and all that good stuff. Yet it’s also a time I dread for one very specific reason: the pumpkin-spice apocalypse. The list of pumpkin-spiced things has grown from run-of-the-mill lattes to include Oreos, gum, and even english muffins. But the worst culprit—the bane of my existence this time of year—is the pumpkin beer. And in case you didn’t notice the endcaps are full of pumpkin beers.
@fancypantsbeer blew up my twitter a couple of years ago when he tweeted:
Pumpkin beer is the modern day equivalent of the mullet. Everybody that brewed one will be ashamed of it in a decade.
— John Bryan (@fancypantsbeer) September 3, 2013
Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t disagree with him.
According to Chicago-based market research firm IRI, year-over-year “craft seasonal beer” sales through the week ending August 11 increased 14.8% to $325.4 million, second only to “craft IPA beer” in dollar sales. That breaks down to 9.85 million cases at an average price of $33.05 per case. Overall, the 29 categories of craft beer tracked by IRI generated $1.8 billion in sales through the week ending August 11.
IRI’s numbers only track item sales with a bar code, so they don’t include the brewery and taproom sales and don’t tell the full story. Another way to look at this growth is the number of entries for that style in the Great American Beer Festival. In 2006, the number of pumpkin beers in the festival was 7; by last year that figure had grown to 63.
In Cincinnati alone we have MadTree’s The Great Pumpcan, Mt. Carmel Pumpkin, Rivertown Pumpkin, and Ei8ht Ball Sell Out and those are just off the top of my head. With all the new breweries opening up, I am sure we will see more this year.
When it comes to spices, the idea of “less is more” should lead the way. The only way to stand out in a market so saturated that these “fall” beers have to be released in late July to get shelf time, is for a brewer to load the beer with spices. If you have ever tasted cinnamon you’ll first notice it’s bitter as hell. So when you load a beer with a truck full of cinnamon, clove, anise, nutmeg and allspice you get an unpalatable bitter bomb and the only fix is to load the beer with sugar. So now you have dessert, so we may disagree on the whole beer/not beer thing, but who really wants to drink beer for dessert? Or for that matter drink dessert?
Pumpkin spice used to be reserved for that great autumnal staple: pumpkin pie. Having these spices once or twice a year made them a traditional celebration. Like watching the Army-Navy game and pretending to get along with your in-laws. This cheapening of these flavors distinctly associated with one of my favorite holidays. Combine that with the sugar-laden offerings we have, consumption of excessively sweet foods contributes directly to a muted palate. You can begin to see why I loathe Pumpkin beer season.
What to Drink Instead of Pumpkin Beers?
Now I do pride myself on being a problem solver, not just a dissenter or whiner, although those that know me know I do the latter really well. I offer up some fall beers, most of which will be readily available at your favorite grocery store, all of which will be available at Cappy’s, Brentwood Spirits, or Middletown Fine Wine & Spirits. Listed in no particular order, except what comes out of my head at this time:
Sierra Nevada Tumblr – Tumbler is our take on the classic brown ale – full of roasted malt flavor but delicate on the palate and perfect for crisp fall days. Layered with notes of chocolate and toasted bread and a hint of smoke, Tumbler is the ultimate autumn beer, so grab a seat and watch as the leaves come tumbling down.
Fat Head’s Hop Stalker – Deep in the Yakima Valley, our hop-obsessed Head Brewmaster went commando in search of his prized nuggets. His mission: capture the freshest hop flowers he could sneak up on. Then he wet-hopped this bad-ass brew for a deliciously dank IPA. Out of the wild emerged The Hop Stalker. Piney? Yes. Resiny? Yes. Citrusy? Yes. Dangerous? Absolutely! One of, if not the best, fresh hopped beers out there.
Deschutes Chasin Freshies – Like fresh powder, it’s a seize-the-moment thing. This year we’ve chased down the famed Mosaic hop from the amazing John I Haas growers. At harvest, we rush the hops from the vine to our kettles to ensure we capture the purest, juiciest essence of the hop flower in every beer. Enjoy the bright, bold aroma and flavor that comes but once a year.
Oktoberfest beers are the other great beer staple of fall, so instead of another pumpkin beer try these Oktoberfests:
Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest – The original. Our Oktoberfest Amber Märzen is the amber-colored version of the traditional Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen. The Original has firmly established itself at the Munich Oktoberfest and meanwhile wins out against the traditional Märzen. The Original boasts a golden amber color, typical malt aromas, defined by the various malting barley from the Bavarian countryside, complemented by a pleasantly light hoppy note — a taste sensation for every beer connoisseur. So popular, they actually brew this year round!
Ayinger Oktoberfest – If you can’t get Hacker-Pschorr, get Ayinger. Bavarians have been celebrating the harvest with beer festivals since before the 1400s. Märzen is brewed in March to be ready for the September and October beer festivals. This is a Rich, golden color. Slightly sweet, malty nose. Medium to big body and alcohol. Soft dryness from long maturation.
Great Lakes Oktoberfest – Prost! Our take on this classic German style is a celebration of maltiness— packed with rustic, autumnal flavors to put a little more oomph into your oom-pah-pah. Über smooth with vibrant malt flavors and a festive flourish of noble hops (lederhosen not included).
If You Absolutely Must Have a Pumpkin Beer
New Holland Ichabod – Ichabod combines malted barley and real pumpkin with cinnamon and nutmeg in a delicious and inviting brew. Try this. The spices are a subtle addition to the malt bill and do not try to stand out on their own.
Cigar City Good Gourd – You will have to trade for this beer, or have a REALLY good friend in Florida. If you do acquire it, you will not regret it. My untappd comment on this is “If you are going to brew a spiced pumpkin beer, having drank Good Gourd should be a requirement”
You could always homebrew a pumpkin beer like Brent does! 🙂