Recently, whilst waltzing through the booze section of my local grocery store, I stumbled upon a display of pumpkin beer, each brand attempting to prove itself edgy yet acceptable by slapping its bottles with a label featuring a jack-o’-lantern surrounded by a pile of hops or barley.
The display stoked my ire for two reasons, the first being that these “seasonal” brews made their initial appearance during the final days of August. (For those unfamiliar with the subtleties of the Julian calendar, August is not even the month before the month that has Halloween in it.) The second, and more important, reason that this display boiled my blood is because pumpkin beer is super gross.
I say this as an aficionado of both pumpkin and beer. I love pumpkin. I love pumpkin soup. I love pumpkin ice cream. I currently have five pounds of homemade pumpkin puree in my deep freezer, as my insatiable hunger for pumpkin pie refuses to be constrained by the winter squash’s unwillingness to be available during late March.
Likewise, I love beer. I love its mouthfeel and aroma, its malleable yet reliable nature. I love beer not in the way of a maniacal craft brewer who cackles over a barley and coriander ale recipe with the perverse curiosity of a mad scientist preparing to attach a human’s head to an orangutan’s body, but in the way of a simple man who values historic flavor over zany experimentation.
So as one who sees the inherent value in both pumpkin and beer, I can confidently say that they don’t belong together. Individually, they are glorious. Together, their respective flavors pair as well as a chocolate and mustard milkshake. “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” Benjamin Franklin once said. From the moment I took my first sip of that mutant concoction, I became certain that pumpkin beer is proof that we hate God and are daring him to condemn us.
But some with reprobate palates still labor under the delusion that pumpkin beer is worthy of consumption. “You just haven’t had the good kind,” a handful of people would tell me every time my annual pumpkin beer anger blossomed. So this year, I began to doubt myself. “Could I be wrong? Might I actually have a change of heart if I were to follow their advice and down a growler of Pump Rock IPA from IronPuke Hops Company or whatever their local microbrewery is called?”
To find the answer, I stopped by my local liquor store, procured four different brands of pumpkin beer, opened my mind along with the bottles, and sampled them all. Despite their manifold differences, they had one thing in common: they all made me really mad at myself for considering the opinions of those idiots who defend pumpkin beer, because they were all absolutely disgusting. Here are my reviews.
1. Pumpkick (New Belgium)
I’ve long been a fan of that classic New Belgium smoothness, so if anyone could have cured me of my pumpkin beer hatred, I hoped it would be the hippie brewers from Fort Collins, Colorado. Unfortunately, it appears that Pumpkick was an attempt to answer the question, “What would it taste like if a jack-o’-lantern got drunk on Fat Tire and threw up in your mouth?”
If the rancid aftertaste weren’t bad enough, New Belgium revealed the depths of their impenitent hearts by slapping these words on the Pumpkick label: “What’s that bite of tartness doing in a pumpkin beer? Adding the unexpected kick of cranberry juice to brighten this traditionally spiced ale.” The more important question, New Belgium, would have been “what the heck is pumpkin doing in your beer?”
Treating its unacceptable presence as a given and focusing on the unanticipated hints of Ocean Spray is like catching a stiletto-wearing burglar in your house and hearing him say, “I know what you’re thinking. These aren’t the kind of shoes you’d expect with a home invasion.” Get your pumpkin out of my beer first, buddy, and then we’ll talk about your questionable choice of flair.
2. Jack-O Traveler Pumpkin Shandy (The Traveler Beer Co.)
Of all the beers I sampled, this one had the strongest pumpkin overtones. It also had the smoky aftertaste and yeasty aroma of a classic wheat ale. How would I best describe the combination of flavors? Imagine Cliff Clavin sweating into a tub of Bath and Bodyworks’ “Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin” body scrub. Then imagine drinking it. Before I moved on to the next brand, I had to cleanse my palate with some sorbet and blowtorch.
3. Imperial Ale Pumpking (Southern Tier Brewing Company)
In a few years, after the makers of Imperial Ale Pumpking have been executed for their crimes, Aaron Sorkin will write a riveting screenplay detailing the most dramatic moments of the trial, chief of which will be the following exchange.
D.A.: And after the brewmaster told you to pump that batch so full of hops that people could chew them, that was when he ordered you to take out the pumpkin spice, wasn’t it?
JONES: I told you, I don’t remember!
JUDGE: Mr. Jones, do I need to remind you of the penalty for perjury?
JONES: Alright, fine! Yes, that’s what he ordered! He told us to pour it all in, pounds and pounds of it. He kept screaming like a madman, saying that he was going to change brewing forever by making ale that tasted like Thanksgiving in hell!
D.A.: And did you add the pumpkin spice?
JONES looks out the window. A single tear falls down his cheek.
D.A.: Did you add the pumpkin spice, Mr. Jones?
JONES: Yes! Yes, I did!
JUDGE: Bailiff, get this man out of my sight.
The BAILIFF slaps MR. JONES in handcuffs and begins dragging him out of the courtroom.
JONES: It’s not my fault! I was only following orders! Blue Moon was doing it too!
4. Harvest Pumpkin Ale (Blue Moon)
Pumpkin-flavored soap juice.
Here’s the moral of the story: The next time someone asks you to slaughter common sense by believing that some brands of pumpkin beer might actually be good, dismiss them like you would a lunatic who tells you that Episode III is the best Star Wars film.
Don’t doubt the clear testimony of every reasonable pallet. Like kielbasa and raspberry popsicles, like a Bob Dylan/Eddie Van Halen super group, pumpkin and beer are two fantastic things that will never work together. Enjoy each one for its own merits, and never doubt your holy hatred of their unholy union.