The Mighty Pumpkin & North American Craft Beer

by Tyler Turek

Autumn is just around the corner. Farmers, latte enthusiasts, and craft brewers have been prepping for months. Yes, ’tis the season to harvest North America’s beloved orange squash — the pumpkin — to return to our pie plates and beer bottles.

Pumpkin beer recipes date back to the 1700s. American colonists including several Founding Fathers used the melon as the basis for their homebrews. Yeast feasted on sugars derived from the pumpkin’s flesh. Malts were not added until decades later. Few early brewers added spices such cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg before the 1990s. Now these flavouring agents are used frequently and sometimes recklessly.

Beginning about a generation ago, American brewers began to revive the colonial recipe, often with a sweet and spicy twist. Today, pumpkin ales come in all forms. Pale ale and brown ale styles are most popular, but porters, stouts and saisons have also been shaped by the autumnal symbol. Because pumpkin is used as an adjunct, or brewing additive, it can be used in countless recipes. Whatever you’re drinking, pay close attention to body, mouthfeel and aroma. Pumpkins have rich starches and proteins that can beef up any brew.

My favourite brews are medium-bodied with noticeable pumpkin flavour but without heavy spice or sweetness. Regardless of style, the beer should still be well-balanced. Personally I don’t want to confuse my pumpkin ale with a pie or latte. But there is no wrong preference when it comes to beer.

While craft brewers produce more pumpkin ale than ever before, we may see fewer creations this year. Poor weather has resulted in pumpkin shortages in North America. As with the growing demand for hops, brewers will need to make due with less this season. So grab your favourite pumpkin beer once it’s on the shelves — or it could disappear before you get your tricks and treats.

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