You haven’t quite forgotten about them, have you?
Through so many happy months of core-warming winter porters, cleanly carbonated spring ales and lazy summer saisons they’ve been nagging at the back of your mind. And now it’s their turn. Pumpkin beers are back, and every time they return we have to ask ourselves why we only really revel in their magnificence for one season out of the four.
Nothing kicks off pumpkin beer season like Elysian Brewing’s Great Pumpkin Beer Fest, which happened October 4, 5 and 6 deep in south Seattle. Tickets sold out faster than many people could snatch them up, and the sheer numbers of pumpkin beer fanatics pressing onto the premises as the doors opened last Friday gave the ninth annual wonderland of pumpkin pilsners, barleywines, ciders and sours a near-tribal essence. The 70-plus beer line-up was carefully curated. The drums-and-dancing parade that broke out mid-fest was spontaneous, and it led directly to the festival’s gigantic ceremonial beer-filled pumpkin, tapped to wild cries and frantic concert-fan attempts to get at the elixir within before the pumpkeg ran dry.
They needn’t have worried—the festival had enough standouts to fill a whole patch, with individual categories to note.
The Sessionable Pumpkin: Pfeiffer’s Pumpkin Rye—Reuben’s Brews comes out with an effortlessly delicious marriage of grain and gourd. (5.4% ABV)
The Misguided Experiment that Worked: Plumpkin—Plums? Pumpkins? In Elysian’s squash-fruit brew, it’s all the above. And against all odds, it’s pretty tasty. (6.3% ABV)
The Liquid Curiosity: The Great Gherkin Cucumber Pumpkin Ale. With 20-plus beers on the GPBF 2013 roster, Elysian had room to get weird. Pickle and pumpkin flavors make for something…completely different. (5.5% ABV)
The Spiced Success: Pumpkineater, by Howe Sound—Barley and hops meet cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and star anise…oh yes, and pumpkin. Makes for a great outdoor or anytime beer. (8% ABV)
The Party Starter: Habañero Pumpkin Porter—With a hefty malt body and just enough kick, the offering from microcreamery-brewery Bluebird is a go-to contribution for fall potlucks and parties alike. (5.8% ABV)
The Heavy Hitter: Pumpkin Smash Sour Ale—75-pound pumpkin, 16 months in rum barrels, sky-scraping alcohol…Cascade Brewing Barrel House goes hard. (12.5% ABV)
The Fireside Sipper: Pump’kin B-bomb by Fremont—Dark, robust early winter ale gulps in all the nuanced flavor of pumpkin, spice and Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. First it washes sumptuously over your taste buds, then it heats you from the inside out. 9.5%.
King Pumpkin: He Said—Seattle’s pumpkin beer tzar Dick Cantwell (Elysian) extends a hand to San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery. What started as the idea for one collaboration became two of the same name, a first-rate pumpkin Baltic Porter and a show-stopping pumpkin Tripel with tarragon and galangal.