Barley Mowat 

Timing of Pumpkin Ales

with 11 comments

I’ve often toyed with answering user questions via letters, but there have always been a few roadblocks to my taking this idea seriously. These roadblocks are comprised of, but not limited to:

  • Not having any readers who are either engaged or literate enough to ask questions
  • I already get enough spam and hate mail
  • Further raising the chance of coming home to find a bag of faeces crammed through my letter slot with “answer this, asshat” scrawled on it in block letters
  • I kinda don’t wanna

Although, honestly, I would kill to answer questions like this weekly.

However, all that changed this week when this showed up in my inbox:

Dear Chuck,

<Salutations, excessive praise, and platitudes omitted for brevity>

A few of us were having a discussion on this down at St. Augustine’s, and wanted your take on it. This year it seems like the pumpkin beers are coming out much earlier than in past years. I always understood that the timing of pumpkin ales (and other beers) coincided with the end of the pumpkin harvest, when pumpkin was ripe, plentiful, and cheap. Do you think brewers are using some sort of artificial flavouring, an extract, or canned pumpkin? Or am I wrong that the pumpkin beers seem early this year?

Also, you are very handsome and generally awesome*.

Ryan M, Burnaby
* Edited for clarity**.
**Okay, fine, that last line wasn’t in the original.

Well, being easily distracted by beer-related queries, I took my eyes off of the road in front of my gasoline-laden tanker truck for a brief moment to tap out a reply, school zone be damned:


Dear Ryan,

You’re not wrong. There’ve been a few articles in the media about it, eg this one; pumpkin beers are definitely early this year. Heck, Howe Sound and Parallel 49 both have theirs out already. HS’s was out in August, fer Chris’ sake.

The trick here is that pumpkin ales are one of the key predictable seasonal beers, and often the only craft beer that some folk drink. As a result, craft beer sales are higher in the fall compared to the rest of the year. Pumpkin beer is, quite simply, massively profitable and a great gateway product to expose your brand to new consumers.

Brewers–especially the big craft ones–want to capture that temporarily expanded market. Being the only pumpkin beer on the shelf just makes it that much easier to sell more. Thus a calendar game of chicken was born: when is too early to release you fall beer lineup? Apparently not August.


What? You thought this happened because brewers just really like pumpkin beer? Oh you silly, naïve git.

Regarding ingredients, if you had visions of freshly harvested pumpkins being hollowed out by a slaving brewmaster, then dumped in the beer, I’m afraid you’re about to be disappointed. There are virtually no breweries that make beer with fresh pumpkins, even in BC. Now, they’re generally not stooping to extracts or artificial flavours, but they’re also not buying out local Farmer Joe, even though a cask-conditioned ale in a giant, hollow pumpkin would be about 300 kinds of awesome. (Side Note: Graham from Parallel 49 indicates he’s going to try this. Somehow, I knew he would.)

Nope, it’s all canned pumpkin and/or pumpkin pureé. Virtually every flavoured beer uses canned fruits and vegetables. Those cherry berliner weisses? Canned cherries. Many-fruited-ales? Pureé. Blackberry? You see where I’m going with this. Canned goods are easier to work with, easier to order, and let you produce your flavoured beer whenever you want, not just when the ingredients are in season. Plus, you can absolutely get high quality canned ingredients so why not?


While pulled over to power-wash what appeared to be partially liquefied kindergarteners off my truck’s grill, it occurred to me that I had effectively just written an article. Not wanting to let an opportunity to turn random internet correspondence into a lazily slapped together blog post, I decided to go for it.

You know what? It didn’t turn out half awful, so if you have any other beer related questions, feel free to contact me. I’ll do my best to string together enough half-truths and plain old incorrect facts to turn your honest query into pageviews for me. Ain’t I just the best?

Written by chuck

September 5th, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Beer and You

11 Responses to 'Timing of Pumpkin Ales'

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  1. Gah I was looking forward to reading this and then decrypting that font was so exhausting that I gave up. I think I made out “pumpkin”. YOUNG PEOPLE DON’T KNOW WHAT HANDWRITING IS

    RicardoB

    5 Sep 13 at 19:56

  2. @RichardB — Unfortunately I don’t have great control over what font is used. I specified it as Script, but how that appears on your computer is largely due to what fonts you yourself have installed. For all three computers I tested it on (Mac, PC and iPhone) it simply shows as the backup font of Arial.

    If you can’t read it, there’s a magical feature on your computer called “cut and paste.”

    chuck

    5 Sep 13 at 21:39

  3. Want to know who doesn’t use canned anything in their fruit beer?
    Crannòg.
    Just another reason why they are a rare and special gem.

    David

    5 Sep 13 at 22:51

  4. It looks like Cannery brewing uses locally-grown pumpkins in their knucklehead ale. They just posted a picture on their Facebook page of the farmers harvesting the pumpkins.

    Matt

    6 Sep 13 at 11:45

  5. I definitely don’t see a problem with these breweries using canned stuff. Sure, Crannog and Cannery may not, and good for them, but it doesn’t mean every other brewery is less desirable for me. I’ll go buy the pumpkin beers that I like (Pumpkineater, Pumking, Schadenfreude), and support them nonetheless.

    Alex

    7 Sep 13 at 08:47

  6. Spinnaker’s is one that uses fresh pumpkins.

    Jono

    9 Sep 13 at 11:59

  7. The window a brewery has to produce and sell a pumpkin beer seems pretty short, especially in Canada where Thanksgiving occurs before Halloween, so I understand why brewers would want to get a head start with puree. That being said, I say screw the pumpkins, bring on the wet hops!

    Ryan

    10 Sep 13 at 17:13

  8. Hi guys – great discussion! We do use actual pumpkins in our Knucklehead Pumpkin Ale. We use a pumpkin called a Knucklehead Pumpkin (www.KnuckleheadPumpkin.com) which is distinguished by orange and green gnarly warts on them.

    We had our Knucklehead pumpkins (about 750 pounds of them) grown specifically for us at Covert Farms in Oliver and they were just delivered to us last week. Tomorrow we will be roasting them with brown sugar and traditional fall spices.

    Given the fact that we use real pumpkins, we have to wait until they are ready to be harvested, then with the roasting work we do, then brewing time, our Knucklehead Pumpkin Ale won’t be ready until early October.

    Kim Lawton

    11 Sep 13 at 16:36

  9. By the way, here is a video we put together last year showing the making of our 2012 Cannery Brewing Knucklehead Pumpkin Ale.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmayBDeStVY&feature=c4-overview&list=UUeQKez21Y41fcYCPuyP5Ajw

    Thanks, Kim Lawton, Cannery Brewing

    Kim Lawton

    11 Sep 13 at 16:41

  10. Thanks Kim; all good info.

    chuck

    11 Sep 13 at 16:48

  11. I, like Kim have to admit, we waited until a local pumpkin was available for our brew. Being isolated on Vancouver Island we might not have the access to most awesome canned pumpkin. (canned salmon we can get). By September 23 we aquired enough awesome sweet pumpkin from a local dude to create our first Pumpkin Beer. Nuf said it will be available October 15 in a limited supply. hope you like it.

    Harley

    3 Oct 13 at 01:55

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