VinePair Podcast: Why is Pumpkin Beer Still a Thing? – VinePair

Perhaps the most well-known fall seasonal beer style among American consumers, pumpkin beer has stood the test of time. Since the mid-1990s, pioneering American craft brewers such as Dogfish Head and Schlafly have released pumpkin ales year after year. So, much to the chagrin of anti-pumpkin-spice aggressors, the polarizing trend is still here but why?

In this episode of the VinePair Podcast, co-hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe taste an early example of pumpkin ale and share their takes on why they think it continues to be a seasonal favorite.

Sciarrino also sits down with VinePairs managing editor and resident beer expert Cat Wolinski to learn a little more about the history and changing consumer base for pumpkin beer. To cap things off, the co-hosts try Elysians Great Pumpkin imperial ale for the Friday tasting.

Tune in to learn more about why pumpkin beer continues to get buzz when fall rolls around each year.

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Adam Teeter: From VinePairs New York City headquarters, Im Adam Teeter.

Joanna Sciarrino: Im Joanna Sciarrino.

Zach Geballe: and Im Zach Geballe.

A: Why are you still here?

Z: Cant get rid of me.

Z: Im like bed bugs, man.

J: I like it. Were all in the same room.

Z: When youre on their side, I dont know what youre wearing.

J: Do you have shoes on or not?

A: Youre in your basement, in your hovel.

Z: In my hovel? Excuse me.

A: Arent you in your little wine cellar?

Z: Yeah. Im in a corner of my house. I dont live in a hovel.

A: But you have a wine cellar in the basement, right?

Z: I do.

A: Thats what I thought. How many bottles?

Z: Like 400. Got to be ready.

J: For what?

Z: Come visit. Youre welcome to.

A: Did you bring any with you?

Z: I had to pay to check bags. Im not going to do that.

A: Im sorry about that. So, I dont know todays topic of the podcast because its been kept from me. Im going to let one of you introduce it.

Z: Oh, thats a lie. Its staring you right in the middle. I figured, its the time of year where its #SpookySeason. Were getting into true fall. It brought to mind a question that I thought we could try to answer as a team here, which is: Why is pumpkin beer still a thing?

A: I dont know. It shouldnt be.

Z: I know thats your opinion, Adam. I respect and appreciate your personal aesthetic stance on this matter.

A: Everyone needs a cause. My cause is being anti-pumpkin beer.

Z: Maybe you can win a Next Wave Award sometime. In any case, it does really surprise me that a beer style thats relatively recent and is and I like pumpkin beers all right undeniably gimmicky. You dont see the same thing with any other seasonal ingredient. Well, fresh hop beer is a thing, but then again, hops are a part of beer always. Maybe thats not the same. You dont see raspberry or lavender beer season in spring.

A: I guess nothings really taken off in the same way. You have summer ales, but its not the same as everybody going for pumpkin.

Z: Theres not an added ingredient in those that everyone is jazzed about. Joanna, coming from the food side, its not like theres a cry in food for pumpkin-flavored everything. Well, maybe there is. Theres pumpkin spice everything.

J: Yeah. I think we have to acknowledge that this coincides with the great rise of pumpkin spice and pumpkin spice lattes, candles, et cetera.

A: Zach, have you been to Trader Joes recently?

Z: No.

A: Theres literally an entire section devoted to pumpkin flavors. Heres our pumpkin soup. Heres our pumpkin pasta sauce. Heres our pumpkin spice yogurt.

J: I think it waned for some amount of years. Now its kind of come back.

A: Theres a lot of people out there I dont know if its as many as summer people who believe fall is the best season.

J: Im one of them.

Z: Yeah.

A: Keith is another. My wife is another. I was born in summer, so you know?

Z: What other season could they be?

A: June gave the world Adam. Drake literally named his company Octobers Very Own because he was born in October. Just call me Drake. I mean, fall is a great season. I would say its a top-two season.

Z: Well, theres only four. I mean, come on.

A: As long as we can all agree that winter is the worst season.

A: The worst.

J: True.

A: People cant convince me that skiing is a thing. Anyways, falls a great season. Summer has a lot of things people get excited about. I mean, I would say, you know, the equivalent of pumpkin beer. I see so many tomato pictures all the time on Instagram. Everyones like tomato season. Everyone does it.

J: Its true.

A: Pumpkin is the tomato of the fall.

Z: That is maybe the most brilliant analogy thats ever made on this podcast. Congratulations, Adam. This comes back to my question, which is why are pumpkins the only thing that were adamant must be added to beer every year?

A: Its Charlie Brown, dude.

Z: I kind of dont mind pumpkin beer, but I hate everything about Halloween.

A: Oh, get out.

Z: And Im the person here with kids.

A: Halloween has become, in the course of the last 40 to 50 years, but especially in the last 20, much more of an adult holiday.

Z: Yes. It was shocking to me when I moved to New York for college because I hadnt done a Halloween thing in years because I was a teenager. All of a sudden, my freshman year, everyone was asking, Are you going to the Halloween parade? Are you going to the Halloween parties? I was like, What? No. Is there candy? Whats going on.

J: Its the best.

Z: I want to ask one more thing about pumpkin beer before this goes even further off the rails. This is why I dont do these recordings in person. Who knows where we are right now.

A: I think its way better.

Z: Its true. Its more fun. Listeners, I hope you agree. Whats also weird to me about the pumpkin beer season is that not only has it remained a thing. Its ebbed and flowed a little bit, but it remains a category. It seems like breweries are content to put out the exact same beer every year, even relatively small to medium-sized craft breweries. That strikes me as also odd. Even breweries that do creative, innovative things much of the rest of the year, when it comes to pumpkin beer season, they just decide, Lets dust off that recipe and make our batch. Maybe it goes back to the pumpkin spice lattes. People want the exact same thing. It is almost like people just want their signifier of the season. They want to drink a 6-pack of whatever.

A: They want to drink the leaves.

Z: I guess so. I just wanted to talk about how strange the continued trend is. Its not a fad. I think its just here, and its its own weird segment of beer that exists ephemerally, even more than summer or winter ales.

A: Its the drink of fall. Its the thing that everyone feels like they have to have at least once to say that its fall.

Z: Yeah, I think thats right.

A: Whats also weird about pumpkin beer is that, to make most pumpkin beers and be in market when its appropriate or earlier, you actually arent using this falls pumpkins.

Z: Not pumpkin at all, sometimes.

J: Sometimes squash.

A: Sometimes its spice. But if you are using it, youre using squash or pumpkin puree from last season. Its this really weird thing.

Z: Part of thats the season creep that happens with everything. Pumpkin beers available in August now. You definitely did not harvest pumpkins for that.

A: OK. Can we try this dumb shit, because its sitting in front of me. Its making me really upset.

J: The last thing I wanted to say is that I think a lot of beer people drink Oktoberfest.

A: Yes, they do.

J: But now that craft beer is so accessible to so many more people, that there are other people who are drinking pumpkin beer.

A: Why dont you go talk to a craft beer person? I dont want to have this conversation anymore.

Z: Were going to make Cat talk to us about it.

J: Today on the podcast, I am joined by Cat Wolinski, VinePairs managing editor and resident beer expert. Cat, welcome to the show.

Cat Wolinski: Thank you, Joanna.

J: Im excited to have you here because were talking about pumpkin beer. Pumpkin ale, I suppose, is the better way to say it. I wanted to chat with you about it because I think were all very curious to know if pumpkin ale is still relevant. What do you think?

C: Relevant is an interesting word. Pumpkin beer is still definitely around.

J: Its still a thing?

C: Yeah, but I think who its a thing for has changed over the years.

J: Yes, thats a good point. Why dont we talk first about how, when pumpkin beer became a thing, how it gained popularity initially, then what happened, and who is it popular with now?

C: I think it started out as a brewpub, fun, seasonal thing. Some of the older classic craft breweries made them for the fall. It wasnt such a contested subject then. It was just a fall flavor. That was the harvest. Its theoretically made with pumpkin, which is associated with the season, with Halloween, and things like that.

J: Was this back in the early 2010s?

C: It was longer ago. I think Elysian has been making pumpkin ale since the late 90s.

J: Whoa. OK. Its older than I thought.

C: When I say brewpub, this is also the days of yore. Its early craft beer. When I was coming up as a beer drinker and writer, it was still something fun, something you saw at beer festivals, or something that your friend who thinks theyre really into beer but only like sweet beers would seek out. One that was big around here in New York was Southern Tier Pumpking. That was legitimately considered a good beer by drinkers and beer people, too. It would be served with a brown sugar rim, and it was a special occasion.

J: Wow. Interesting. Back in 2012, I was working at Bon Apptit at the time, and we did a pumpkin beer tasting to publish on the site. Thats when I feel like it was really coming into more mainstream popularity.

C: Wow. Weird that thats almost 10 years ago. Yeah, I think it still exists in the way that I just described it. Its still a fun, seasonal thing for a lot of people in the way that a pumpkin spice latte is a fun seasonal thing for people. The pumpkin latte is not necessarily something an everyday coffee drinker drinks or wants, though. Even since 2012, theres been this big anti-pumpkin beer movement. It was like this thing that everyone had to bandwagon hate. Who wants to put baking spices in a beer? Its not even real pumpkin sometimes!

J: Why do you think that happened? Why did it fall out of favor with the craft beer drinking community?

C: Speaking first from personal experience, I think pumpkin beer can be an entry point to another dimension of beer flavor. In the same way that a lot of people remember their first craft beer or the first beers that made them think, Woah, I didnt know beer could taste like that, I think that feeling existed with pumpkin beer.

I think its also something that you grow out of as you get more into beer. If youre someone who really continues to seek out different flavors, you might learn that you love a Belgian Ale. You can find those warm caramel notes in Chimay or Belgian Strong Ale. You might find other, baked-good-associated flavors, like banana and clove in a wheat beer. It became looked down on to be forcing flavor into the beer, like with pumpkin; then its not real beer anymore.

J: Its not the most sophisticated flavor palate.

C: Yes. But its also not supposed to be sophisticated. Its literally supposed to taste like pumpkin pie. I think myself and a lot of my comrades think, Who cares if you like pumpkin beer? I dont personally drink it. Im tasting one today to remind myself how they taste. I think theyre fine. If you want something thats sweet and spiced, go for it. At least youre drinking beer, in my opinion. I think its pointless to hate on pumpkin beer. Sorry, Adam. I know hes the biggest pumpkin beer hater. Whats the point, man?

J: Drink what you like.

C: Yeah.

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VinePair Podcast: Why is Pumpkin Beer Still a Thing? - VinePair

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