5 Things You Didn’t Know About Pumpkin Beer

By Noah Kaufman |

© Jon Oliver / Salt Lake Brewing Co.

Few brews are as polarizing as pumpkin beer. Some insist that it is the quintessential fall drink, others dismiss it as nothing more than an artificially flavored part the omnipresent pumpkin fad.  But now that we’re into September it’s time for those who enjoy it to begin drinking bottles of the jack-o-lantern emblazoned beer. But even if you’re part of the anti-pumpkin beer crowd, you could still learn a thing or two about it. Here, five things you might not know:

1. It’s much older than the insane pumpkin trend of the last couple years.
In America pumpkin beer dates back to the time of the pilgrims.  Without easy access to today’s typical brewing ingredients like barley, colonists turned to the orange gourd as a source of fermentable sugars in their beers. Some notable brewers include the likes of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

2. They Aren’t all smooth drinking beers
Most people expect a pumpkin ale to come in at an easy-to-handle 5-6 percent ABV. But, as with many styles in the last several years, pumpkin beer has seen its share of experimentation.  That includes Avery’s extra potent, barrel-aged Rumpkin ale, made with local Colorado pumpkins, which comes in 16.7 percent. 

3. It was once a popular cocktail ingredient
You may never have heard of Charles McLean Andrews’ Colonial Folkways. But the 1919 chronicle of early American life contains a recipe for a “Flip”—a drink made from “rum, pumpkin beer and brown sugar into which a red hot poker had been plunged.” So careful if you get one from a bartender.
Modern flips have changed quite a bit, including raw egg for a rich, frothy drink.

4. It came back in the 80s
In a lot of ways, pumpkin beer was far ahead of the “pumpkin everything” fad. After being mostly non-existent for the better part of a century, Bill Owens of Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, California, created a recipe based on one of from George Washington. He even went so far as to grow his own pumpkins to use in the first batch.

5. Pumpkin itself is not enough to actually flavor beer
One thing Owens discovered was that all the pumpkin flavor he hoped to get from his gourds vanished when the pumpkin starches converted to sugar and then fermented. So he added some pumpkin pie spice, which shows up in many pumpkin beers to this day. While pumpkin spice has been divisive in everything from pumpkin beer to pumpkin lattes, Owens said in an interview that, “I was very proud of my secret ingredient, which came out of a can at a grocery store.”   

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