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Happy Friday again, beer lovers!

As we talked about last week, in the US one of the classic fall specialty brews is pumpkin beer. Our Pilgrim forefathers succeeded in growing squash before they could grow barley, and they were happy to ferment whatever they could to save them from having to drink water.

The commercial versions have been arriving over the last few weeks. I haven't been shy about mentioning that I'm not a fan, but I decided to spend a few bucks in the cause of journalism. Here are my tasting notes on some varieties I can find nearby, and also some recommendations from previous FNBB comments.

But if you ask me, besides pie this is the best use for pumpkins:

In other orange news, the small Bay Area town of Half Moon Bay has a Pumpkin Festival every October and a contest for the largest pumpkin. This year's champion weighed in at 1775 lbs!

So, what is pumpkin beer supposed to taste like? There isn't a clear definition. In a homebrew competition it would fall under the Spice/Herb/Vegetable categories, which emphasize overall balance of flavors rather than any specific characteristic. Most drinkers and brewers would probably say that the idea is a "pumpkin pie" sort of flavor, defined more by the distinctive spices than by any recognizable pumpkin flavor.

The best "pumpkin" beer I've drunk was at the homebrew club and was actually butternut squash. The rich, sweet flavor of the roasted squash came through clearly, with just the right amount of spice to enhance but not dominate.

Very recently the nearest supermarket started selling craft beer single bottles. I wouldn't have done this if I'd had to buy a sixpack of all these things. Here are my reviews of some pumpkin beers, best to worst:

Shipyard "Pumpkinhead" Ale - labeled as "malt beverage with natural flavor added". This is a very light-bodied, very pale ale. The spices are the main attraction here, but with a light hand. It reminded me of ginger ale more than beer; ginger and cinnamon are the major flavors, used with more subtlety than is common in either pumpkin pie or pumpkin beer. The light body and moderate spicing makes this a very "quaffable" brew.

Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin ale. Buffalo Bill's, in Hayward CA in the East Bay, is one of California's very oldest brew pubs. They have a nice pub and good food, but I don't like any of their beers very much. The pumpkin they made a few years ago was really pretty nasty; this one is better though still not great. Very light body, a flavor that at first just seems weird but that you eventually recognize as pumpkin, mild spices.

Samuel Adams "Harvest Pumpkin Ale" - labeled as "ale brewed with pumpkin and spices". Of the ones I tasted this is the closest to the "pumpkin pie" definition. It's a medium-bodied amber ale with a good deal of sweetness and a lot of spices. The label claims 17 lbs pumpkin per barrel, which is a significant percentage of the mash, but I'm not sure I taste it. Nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves dominate the aroma and flavor; too much spice IMO. I finished one bottle and didn't want more.

The Weekly Pint mentioned these:

  • The Great Pumpkin Ale, Cambridge Brewing Co.(Boston, MA)
  • Punkin, Dogfish Head(Milton, DE)
  • Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Cigar City Brewing Co (Tampa, FL)

Several FNBB readers have mentioned pumpkin beers over the last few weeks, including:

  • Ichabod Pumpkin ale (New Holland brewery)
  • Post Road Pumpkin Ale (Brooklyn Brewery)
  • Pumpking (Southern Tier brewery) was mentioned several times and highly praised

A couple people mentioned purchasing Blue Moon pumpkin, without ever returning to tell us how it tastes.

I haven't gone shopping yet. I think I'll be buying IPA, not more pumpkin. What are you drinking?

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