Seasonal Beers

When I say seasonal, of course I’m talking about pumpkin.

Its the equivalent of being PC about politics and other not-so-nice social situations. Everyone is civil about “seasonal” but in reality we all know you are just excited for everything pumpkin flavored and scented to be back on the shelves.

And instead of a PSL, I’m going to be basic with my beer.

Its the more adult and hipster way to be basic.

Pumpkin beers are very popular starting in September, so just like Starbucks, craft breweries around the country are releasing seasonal pumpkin ales in all varieties and we all wait for them just as we wait for the cold weather and scarves to reemerge.

Since craft beer has grown in popularity, the good thing about that growth this the variety of new beers to try with the new trend.

This year is especially popular for pumpkin beers in the craft world- its all brand new to the beer folk.

Pumpkin is the “it” ingredient this fall just as grapefruit was this summer.

With the wanted and coveted change of the season I jump all-in for the change in craft beer line-up.

I slowly went up and down the beer aisle in the grocery stores looking at the new brews in from all over Oregon. I picked up the Pumpkin Patch Ale from Rogue Brewing and the Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter from Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, Oregon, and the Night Owl Pumpkin Ale from Elysian Brewing in Seattle, WA.

The Imperial Porter from Oakshire was a great beer. For a chocolate beer.

The Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Porter from Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, Oregon
The Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Porter from Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, Oregon

I was excited to try this beer because it is from one of my favorite local breweries and it was a new beer to try. The bottle claimed it was an “ale brewed with pumpkin, cocoa and spices.” The first sip was a little confusing flavor-wise because all I experienced was a big malt flavor and mouth feel. As the bottle decreased in beer volume the flavor increased in the chocolate category but none in the pumpkin. Pumpkin, in my opinion, is a difficult flavor to work with because it can either be overdone and turned artificial (as in some flavored coffee, cake, ice cream and any other dessert out there) or it can be non-existent as in this beer.

This imperial porter is not a bad beer at all, it just did not deliver on the pumpkin it promised to deliver. The big mouth feel comes from that imperial porter name that will kick you right in the ABV and smooth after taste.

On the other end of the pumpkin beer spectrum is the Pumpkin Patch Ale from Rogue Brewing. Again the, first sip of this beer was a little confusing because there was not a lot of flavor developed in the beginning of the beer. But this ale redeemed itself as it continued on down the bottle.

Rogue Brewing's Pumpkin Patch Ale, a hefty bottle filled with liquid fall
Rogue Brewing’s Pumpkin Patch Ale, a hefty bottle filled with liquid fall

This ale was made with Rogue-grown pumpkin, vanilla and spices. This beer tasted like liquid pumpkin pie and I am using that metaphor in a positive light. Never would I have thought that drinking a pumpkin flavored anything would be as delightful. This ale was not grandiose and over-the-top like other pumpkin providers and instead this ale was drinkable and wasn’t intense on the malt which gives the big mouth feel. Since this as a ale in its integrity the beer was easy to drink and didn’t leave a gap in sips, as like the Oakshire porter.

What I really enjoyed about the Rogue beer is that the style of beer was paired well with the flavor of pumpkin. An ale does better at translating the desired fall taste than a dark and heavy beer like a porter.

Rogue’s Pumpkin Patch Ale captured the pumpkin taste and with the added vanilla in the brewing process created a liquid companion to the Autumn months. My favorite part of drinking this beer was the light vanilla after-taste. I honestly do compare this beer to one of the most iconic desserts, pumpkin pie, because the body of this beer is light like the pumpkin taste and delivers a delicate after-taste of vanilla like the topping on our favorite pies.

Elysian’s Night Owl Pumpkin Ale was in the same field as the Rogue beer, having an ale beer base, brewing with pumpkins and adding iconic fall spices that bring the warmth of the change of the seasons into that bottle.

I knew from the first sip of this brew that it would have recurrences in my fridge this fall.

The Night Owl Pumpkin Ale from Elysian Brewing in Seattle, WA
The Night Owl Pumpkin Ale from Elysian Brewing in Seattle, WA

It was an easy-to-drink beer with a simplistic flavor profile that hits in all the feels. This ale was brewed with seven pounds of pumpkin per barrel, roasted and raw pumpkin seeds, and spiced in conditioning with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and allspice.

Those spices are the glory of this beer. The magical combination of those spices we all know and love (or at least tolerate in fall) always hits home for us with flashback and anticipation of holidays and warmth. In this case you get a delicious and cold beer with that same nostalgia and flavor.

At times when drinking this beer you mostly get the taste of the spices instead of beer or pumpkin, which is enjoyable in this beer because the spices are not overpowering like they can be. Just like the Rogue pumpkin ale, this Elysian had the right base and consistency to really sell that pumpkin flavor to us as we drink with the added bonus of fall spices.

The tricky part of wanting to create a pumpkin seasonal beer is knowing what type of beer will meld with the flavor profile and structure of pumpkin. A lighter beer style, like an ale, will do better with capturing the flavors of lighter ingredients; as a darker ale does better at allowing bigger and deeper flavors the chance to shine on the palate- think coffee and chocolate: would you ever see them in an IPA, pale ale or amber?

There are so many varieties of pumpkin beer out this year, which can be seen as redundant because there is only so much a brewer can do to make their recipe different from someone else. While this can be true, trying different types of a similar variety of beer can be a very fun adventure to embark on resulting in new favorite beers or interesting conversation bits for when you’re at the bar next.

Take some time this season to enjoy the flannel and drink plenty of pumpkin beer.


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