I appreciate pumpkin beers the same way I appreciate candy corn.
When I see them appearing on store shelves I get the warm-and-fuzzies for impending autumn, but when it comes to consumption, I’m down for maybe two. Bristol’s Venetucci Pumpkin Ale, which comes in 22-ounce bottles, is the perfect size.
Then I remember why I don’t buy pumpkin beer six-packs.
Whether you’re a pumpkin lover, hater or lightweight, like me, if you’re a craft beer fan — or a fan of the season and its signature tastes and smells — you probably have an opinion about the style, which began appearing on shelves, along with trick-or-treat gear, in midsummer.
Finding a “traditional” pumpkin ale at your local craft taproom this Halloween might be tougher than it was in autumns past, though.
The style’s popularity peaked about five years ago, a point when some brewers were packing their menus with seasonal recipes created to meet perceived demand. Nano 108’s Keith Altemose was one of them.
“One year we did a hoppy pumpkin, a pale ale, we did a spicy, double-spice blend … then we did an imperial version and a barrel-aged. We did a whole bunch,” he said.
Turned out it was too much of a gourd thing.
“It was just too much pumpkin for people. One of those beers lasted three to four months, and that’s not typical for our brewery,” said Altemose, who founded the brewery in 2013 but recently stepped away from day-to-day operations.
This fall, there’s only one pumpkin-esque brew in the works at Nano. Head brewer Zach Weller’s Squish Squash Autumn Ale is made with butternut squash steamed with honey glaze and boosted with the addition of molasses, maple, and spices.
“Smells and tastes like fall,” said Weller of the 6.2% ABV brew, which he expects to tap on Halloween. Also in the works is a version of the Autumn Ale, aged in a Cockpit Bourbon Whiskey with extra maple, due in December.
“Smells like spiked apple cider. It’s going to be delicious,” Weller said.
Pumpkin beers derive their dominant flavors not from their namesake fruit but their spices. In Nano’s case, those include a standard blend of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar to lend “pumpkin-pie-like components” to the squash and the base beer, an amber ale, Altemose said.
“It has that pumpkin pie spice, but it’s still balanced. There’s still good beer under there,” he said. “Some of the pumpkin beers that you try, there’s so much spice it’s overwhelming. It’s like, where’s the beer?“
It’s not so much drinkers’ reviews as their actions that let Nano know they got it right.
“We always do a taster and ask, ‘Is that something you like or not?’ Altemose said. “If they say, ‘That wasn’t what I thought it was going to be,’ and ‘I’ll have one,’ then if they come back and say, ‘I’ll have another,’ that’s what we’re looking for. Not just a fad, you know.”