Ahh, Autumn. You can tell it’s here when several things appear at once. Russet-coloured leaves. Advent calendars in M&S. The latest viewing-figure crisis for X-Factor. Yet, just as the latter always fails to finish off the bloated, pus-riddled Cowell cash cow, another Autumnal Arrival also returns, year after year, unfailingly. I am talking, of course, about pumpkin beers.
Now, like any right-thinking person, I find pumpkin beers an affront to basic human decency. If the devil used shower gel, it would taste like a pumpkin beer. Here in the UK it’s not too fundamental a seasonal switch on the shelves of your local bottle shop – a few breweries make them (including, ahem, the one that I work for), but if you want to avoid pumpkin beers you really shouldn’t have too much difficulty. It’s not like we live on the other side of the Atlantic or anything.
Over there, it’s a different proposition. I’ve been lucky enough to be in America at this time of year, and from one glance in the
shops stores you’d think the globe was making one desperate attempt to appease a race of intergalactic gourds hell-bent on our destruction. Pumpkin displays, pumpkin candy – the excrescent pumpkin spiced latte (a beverage that has it’s own official Twitter account) – and, of course, pumpkin beers. And a lot of them (click here for a top-47 rundown from last year).
Now this is probably because the magic squash helps bridge the gap between summer ales and winter seasonals in brewery production rotas – but it’s also evidently because beer drinkers in the US just enjoy tasting them when given the opportunity. And good for them. I mean, they are wrong, but that’s their prerogative. Beers like Dogfish Head Punkin and Flying Dog The Fear give people something a little different to look for as opposed to the other beers that begin to appear at this time of year, such as porters and stouts.
Anyway, since walking too close to a temporary display in Waitrose, I’ve been wondering just what it is about pumpkins I don’t like, when used in brewing. And after not tasting any of them as a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not actually the pumpkin at all. It’s the undercurrent, the vehicle that the pumpkin gets in to ride roughshod all over your palate. That is the component of pumpkin beers that I really, truthfully, find objectionable. I’m talking – of course – about the spices.
Nutmeg and cinnamon – they sound like the school rabbits, but actually are far, far worse than that. When added to seasonal beers, they convert the pumpkin – which let’s be honest, doesn’t taste of a whole lot, into something much more sinister. And then there’s the balance. Brewing with spices is a tough proposition – where do you add them? How long do you leave the spice-filled tea bag in the underback/CT? Where did you put that CostCo loyalty card?
If someone could recommend me a pumpkin beer that had little to no cinnamon, nutmeg, clove or whatever inside, I would be more than tempted to give it a go and determine whether my theory is correct. Until then though, I’ll stay on this side of the bottle shop shelf, squinting at the new arrivals before backing slowly away. Autumn should be about foamy brown ales, or the return of porter – or even Mild for goodness sake, brew them now rather than in May – but pumpkin beer?
It might not be the fault of the pumpkin, but I’ll continue to pass, thanks…