A lot of beer styles have great stories, but Pumpkin Ale's story is one of my favorites.
A True American Beer
Back in the colonial days of America, pumpkins were everywhere. It wasn't uncommon to find fields of wild pumpkins, and for that reason, they weren't exactly a hot commodity (because they were everywhere!).
If a year's harvest was poor and brewers didn't have access to the amount of grains they needed to brew beer, they would turn to the excess pumpkins laying around as substitute. Pumpkins provide plenty of sugar, and that is all that brewers needed to create beer. Therefore pumpkins were used as a "last resort" in brewing--no one purposely used them in brewing unless it was absolutely necessary.
Fast forward to the 1980s and Bill Owens of Buffalo BIll's Brewery--Bill read that George Pumpkin used to brew beer with pumpkins, so he decided to resurrect the style. However, simply adding pumpkin to the beer didn't impart much flavor, so BIll added traditional spices you'd find in pumpkin pie to give the beer a little more oomph. Other breweries followed with their own interpretations and before we knew it, pumpkin ale is a style again!
Pumpkin Ale Profile
There is no specified flavor profile for pumpkin ale, but many brewers will commonly include pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice to add "autumn" character to their beer. I've tried ones that are straight up "PUMPKIN!" like Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale, and others that are a bit sweeter and dessert-like, like New Holland Brewing's Ichabod Ale (one of my personal favorites this past year!).
I feel like it has been a recent trend for beer geeks to poo-poo on Pumpkin Ale, but I happen to enjoy them for what they are--a historical beer style resurrected into something completely new. Although most pumpkin ales are released as early as August, I'll hold on to them through September and October and drink to get into the fall spirit.
Do you like Pumpkin ale or despise it? I want to know!