I waited to publish this article until the date I think appropriate for the release of pumpkin beer.
Growing up in the northern mid-Atlantic Appalachia soup that is Pittsburgh, fall has always been a big deal for us. As soon as the Steelers report to Latrobe for training camp, Pittsburgh’er’s begin whipping out hoodies & skullys (affectionate name for tassel caps) and exchanging sandals for Ugg’s. Our cuisine changes as well. Out with the light, fruity, charcoaled flavors of summer being replaced with the hearty, robust, toasty, flavors of autumn. The practices of drinking aren’t exempt, we put away our light drinking beers and tiki drinks in exchange for “the brown liquor”. Pilsners give way to stouts, porters, and Bavarian seasonal beers, a few heavy Belgians are at the table as well. Which brings us to the bell of the ball or the evil step-sister, depending on your preference, Pumpkin Beer.
When done right, a good Pumpkin/Yam beer can be a marvelous endeavor. You have the sweeter types that remind you of the best slice of pie or yams with your thanksgiving dinner, or the more savory ones that remind you of a delicious squash stew. The traditions are aplenty, cinnamon sugared rims and what not. The riffing is insane, pumpkin stouts are among one of my faves, not just the ales. God help me though because the last couple of years we’ve had an over saturation of these things and not all of them good.
If you are a fan, you know who the flag bearer of the style is. Southern Tier took the world by storm when they released their “Pumpking” an imperial ale clocking in at a respectable 8.6% with a delicious mouth feel, and body that rightfully took its place among the top-tier beverages in the game. Pairing it with a family of pumpkin flavored styles, the aforementioned pumpkin stout Warlock, the rum barrel aged Rumking, and the Pumpking conditioned on cold-brew coffee.
But this ain’t an article to sing the praises of the beer as much as I praise it when done well! Supply and demand are the great enemies of quality, Pumpking arrived in magnums in early September and you were lucky to get a taste come Halloween. We called our favorite haunts, traversing the city hoping to score it however we could’ve, a bottle, a case (and it wasn’t cheap) and if that wasn’t available to us, just a pour of it would suffice. Every other brewery took notice and began to create their pumpkin frankenstine’s, some of them incredible (here’s looking at you Whole Hog) some of them too awful to choke down. But soon, like the Halloween decorations in department stores, pumpkin beers started hitting shelves as early as August, even though you could still come across last season's efforts. Even the vaunted Pumpking buckled to demands and was now being sold in smaller quantities and to everyone’s opinions, I trust, said it wasn’t the same tasty beer we chased around town.
The competition in the marketplace became brutal, not just were there more options, but I swear I started seeing these beers pop up in late July. Asking people, who love money more than culture and creativity, to respect the boundaries of palates, is like asking an alpaca to breathe water. And before you knew it, we’re all being drowned in pumpkin beer, but without the pumpkin season.
Now I won’t sit here and be one of those beer Bros who dictates who should drink what, & when, where and why they’re drinking it. But I have a soft spot for the magic the changing of the seasons brings. I love the coziness of the world around me come fall, and despise the rushing to the next theatre, missing the art playing out before you in real time. I believe god to exist in the gray areas, in the simplicity of enjoying a pour of a good beer in a cable knit sweater.
Y’all know I’m a seasonal drinker. I wax poetic about it every chance I get, and won’t pass up the opportunity to influence those in my realm. Having said all that, I'm finally getting less cantankerous about the drinking habits of my familiars and the greater drinking public at large. So enjoy your warm pumpkin beer in August I’ll respect my traditions and go sit at a bar and have my delicious gourd flavored beverage when I need a skully and I won’t forget my sugar rimmed glass cheers. But for real, though, stop selling and drinking it in the summer…cheers?