Each Wednesday in this column I post my insights about one of the thousands of beers brewed in the great state of Colorado. Feel free to shoot me an email with your suggestions of Colorado beers you’d like me to feature – Lee Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org – or leave your ideas in the comments.
It’s a romantic notion to think of pumpkin beers as having noble roots in colonial America. Pumpkins, and other unorthodox fermentable vegetables, were indeed used by early colonists to brew beer in the absence of easily attainable, affordable, or just plain familiar grains.
The pumpkin beers we all know and love today, though, are a thoroughly modern affair and speak more of an abundance of exotic imported ingredients than of a dire lack of local provisions.
Modern pumpkin beers also say a lot about our equally modern and quite unusual fascination with foods and beverages that taste like other foods and beverages. The aroma and flavors that drinkers crave in pumpkin beers have more to do with that venerable Thanksgiving treat, pumpkin pie, than of a beer designed to utilize the essential sugars pumpkin meat might lend via the fermentation process.
One thing is certain: pumpkin beers are very popular. Every year sees more breweries adding pumpkin beers to their repertoires. Some breweries even offer a suite of pumpkin beers. Elysian Brewing Co. of Washington state is the undisputed king of pumpkin beers. In addition to brewing upwards of 15 different pumpkin beers, they throw an annual pumpkin beer festival that showcases pumpkin beers from across the world.
Colorado is no slouch when it comes to everyone’s favorite pumpkin pie evoking beer style. Chances are one of your local Colorado breweries already brews a spiced pumpkin beer. If you haven’t come across it, it’s probably because it sold out before you got to the store or kicked before you got to the bar.
Two Colorado breweries that showcase the depth and breadth of amber ale based pumpkin beers are Tommyknocker Brewery of Idaho Springs and Crabtree Brewery of Greeley. Both beers are low in bitterness and acquire much of their character from their custom spice additions.
Tommyknocker Pumpkin Harvest Ale is aromatically the more savory of the two beers. It has potent notes of Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and cinnamon. On the palate, the flavors are darker and bittersweet, with familiar flavors of licorice, clove and dark chocolate.
Crabtree Chunkin Pumpkin Ale uses locally sourced pumpkins that are roasted and then added to the boil. It’s the beers spice addition which takes center stage though. Of the two beers, this is the one that most evokes dessert. One whiff and you’ll be able to pick out the likes of clove, molasses, cardamon and wintergreen. The spicy dessert theme continues in the drink with clear notes of vanilla, allspice and candied orange peel.
When pairing pumpkin beers, the obvious choice—pumpkin pie—is one of the best. This is especially true when talking about sweeter pumpkin beers. Sweet potato pie, gingerbread, bean pie, pecan pie, sugar pie, warm rice pudding with raisins, Christmas mince pies and treacle tart all pair brilliantly with the right pumpkin beer. On the savory front, try peppery sausages and game meats.