Jack-o-Brews

By Andrew Sheridan

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Beer has a lot in common with vegetables. It comes in many forms, is often considered an acquired taste and represents an essential part of any complete diet.

Also like a good produce, beer is best enjoyed in season. Choosing the proper variety for the time of year is crucial to making sure that your product is fresh and fitting for the temperature outside. This month, it just so happens that the produce season and the beer season are in perfect harmony. This is October and it’s pumpkin time.

The use of pumpkin for brewing dates back to colonial times when the time-honored flavors and grains used in European brewing were nowhere to be found. The idea has been picked up by craft brewing companies in recent years, and the lack of concrete tradition has resulted in lots of variety between different brewers.

Pumpkin beer is a fun style, more playful and inventive than most other seasonal beers. Brewers often employ festive autumn spices, and the frequent use of real pumpkin makes the beer sweeter than standard fall seasonals and “Oktoberfest” varieties.

Shipyard Pumpkinhead
Shipyard is one of the most popular pumpkins on the market, and for good reason. With a full round flavor and medium body it is by all means a well-crafted beer. More important than the technical aspects, however, are the spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg and a bold gourd punch immediately bring to mind a pumpkin pie and make this one of the best examples of the style.

Shipyard also has another pumpkin beer, the micro-brewed Smashed Pumpkin. Part of their “signature series,” the Smashed Pumpkin weighs in with a big alcohol punch and an even bigger price tag. The best way to imagine this beer is to think about champagne. The first thing to hit the senses is an aroma reminiscent of bubbly, and the body is similarly sweet and thick. The Smashed Pumpkin’s spices are similar to those in the Pumpkinhead, but come across as more delicate. This beer is quite good when enjoyed in a glass, but whether or not it is worth the high cost is up for debate.

Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale
This full-bodied ale hits the tongue with a quick bite of spice which quickly fades to a mellow finish. A combination of brown sugar, allspice and cinnamon make this a smooth, nutty beer that may surprise fans of Dogfish’s intensely hoppy IPAs.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
Not all pumpkin beers deliver as much flavor as these examples make it seem. Some brewers simply hop on the seasonal bandwagon without thinking it through. For a perfect example, take Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale. This rustic-looking beer comes through with a flat note of hops, negligible pumpkin flavor, and not much else to back it up. With so many good beers around, why settle?

Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale
Made by the Anheuser-Busch, Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale is the only beer on the list that is not produced by a small-time brewer. That is not to say that it should be overlooked, however, as Jack’s is a solid and refreshing fall beer. As its name suggest, this ale does not taste like pumpkin – it tastes like pumpkin spice. With a decent amount of flavor and light body, it goes down easy and leaves room for more.

Post Road Pumpkin
Those who are on the fence about gourd might want to check out Post Road Pumpkin. It has more beer flavor than many other pumpkin-styles, with classic malt sweetness and only a hint of pumpkin. While it may not be the best representative of the style, Post Road is a good beer with plenty of aroma and a big spicy finish, and is worth checking out.

Pumpking
While some of these beers may bring to mind the flavors of pumpkin pie, there is one brew on the market that tastes like it’s fresh out of the oven. Pumpking by the Southern Tier brewery is, as its name suggests, the grand master of pumpkin beers. Rich, creamy and incredibly flavorful, this beer so closely resembles good pumpkin pie that it’s almost a dessert by itself. At the price of seven dollars for a 22-ounce bottle, this might not be the drink to give away at your Halloween party –but for anyone with the cash and the inclination, Pumpking is certainly not to be missed.

So grab some candy, carve a jack-o-lantern, and crack open a cold bottle of Halloween goodness. The pumpkins are fresh, and your new favorite beer just might be in season.

Bottoms up.

Andrew Sheridan can be reached at [email protected]