Is This Pumpkin Beer Thing Out of Control?
How We Got Here
You'd be hard-pressed to find something as polarizing in the "craft beer community" (trust me, I cringed at myself just typing that phrase) as the presence of pumpkin beer.
Some purists, die-hards, people who want unique, weird, out-there ideas tend to think that the pumpkin beer concept is just too predictable and boring.
There are a multitude of reasons for this. Some purists, die-hards, people who want unique, weird, out-there ideas tend to think that the pumpkin beer concept is just too predictable and boring. Maybe too safe and approachable; there are people who want to be challenged by beer and experience flavors unlike any they've had before.
That "safe" aspect is another source of controversy: some people who are devotees of the craft beer scene view it as an exclusive club, and that things like pumpkin beers allow people who are not part of it to invade, that their beloved craft breweries are deigning to service those who are outside of the craft beer world.
Some people don't like them because, well, they don't like pumpkin.
some people who are devotees of the craft beer scene view it as an exclusive club, and that things like pumpkin beers allow people who are not part of it to invade
But for those that do like them, pumpkin beers are something to savor while they last, something to enjoy during the crisp fall months, a delicious culinary symbol of the changing seasons, embodying everything good and comforting about Autumn. Something to look forward to, something to let you anticipate Autumn all year.
And that's how we got where we are: with pumpkin ales having been on the shelf since the beginning of this month.
Summer Is the New Fall
No longer does one have to wait, anticipating the changing of the leaves and the cool breeze of the Fall. No, now you can head to the supermarket in the midst of a devastating, stifling heat wave and snag yourself a big ol' Pumking from Southern Tier.
Once you've celebrated Halloween ... and enjoyed the slow, steady descent into the cool weather ... are you really reaching for something pumpkin flavored?
There are many reasons for breweries putting out pumpkin beer so early. First of all, they're wildly popular, but wildly popular during a very specific time of year. Once you've celebrated Halloween, paired Dogfish Punkin Ale (side note #1: Punkin was the first beer Dogfish brewed) with your Thanksgiving dinner, and enjoyed the slow, steady descent into the cool weather and hit the freezing temperatures of winter, are you really reaching for something pumpkin flavored?
It's kind of like eating a candy cane in late January. Sure, you'll have it because it's there. But it's not special, it doesn't have the same effect. So breweries need to cash in before the tide turns and people don't want them anymore.
Secondly, brewing is a business. If they can beat their fellow brewers to the punch and be the one that first catches your eye and makes you think "Oh man! It's pumpkin beer season, I haven't had one of those since last fall!" it might just result in a sale.
Is there anything less appetizing than the thought of something dense and heavy when you desperately need refreshment?
Of course, that also leads to a race to be the absolute first, and in my case, a reminder of the thick, spiced feel of a pumpkin beer being brought to mind while I was sweating through every article of clothing and really, is there anything less appetizing than the thought of something dense and heavy when you desperately need refreshment?
So, despite widely-reported panic and controversy over the availability of pumpkin for the seasonal beers (which turned out to be false (side note #2: many of the pumpkin beers you see are brewed with extract instead of actual pumpkin pulp anyway (yeah, I just double-parenthesized, and now it's tripled. What are you gonna do about it?)), you can not only find pumpkin beer this year, but you can already get pumpkin beer.
Pumpkin Beer=Fall. Period.
Personally, I have no qualms about pumpkin beer and actually enjoy one from time to time. The problem I have is that the enjoyment is directly relative to the fact that it symbolizes the beginning of Autumn, as important to me as the actual taste. So, I have absolutely no use for pumpkin beers before, say, mid-September. I'm okay with coinciding pumpkin beer season with the first NFL game of the season. That seems fair to me. Let's pass a law.
What do you think? Is this absurdly early? Is pumpkin beer disgusting? Is it always a good time for a pumpkin-spiced goblet of goodness?
If you love craft beer, be sure to join us for the Hudson River Craft Beer Festival at Riverfront Park in Beacon on Sept. 17.