The Divided States of Pumpkin Spicelandia

We live in a time of fake news, alternative facts and a nation so bisected that as we hurtle helplessly through the autumn and a hostile election season, the only topic more divisive than “who do you want to be president?” is most likely “do you like pumpkin stuff?”

Maybe it started with the latte, who knows.  But the seasonal pumpkin invasion soon infiltrated supermarket borders, claiming for its own once solidly chocolate dessert territories like cookies, ice cream and pudding.  As tyrants are seldom content to stand pat, the great pumpkin oppressive would march on to claim key alcohol enclaves, with stalwarts schnapps, rum and vodka the next to fall.  

Would beer be conquered by the pumpkin, as well?  Or is pumpkin flavor actually invigorating our fatigued taste buds and should be treated as liberators instead of invaders?

~~~ lists almost 1,800 beers as “pumpkin”, with scores predictably ranging from a perfect five to a perfectly bare and uninhabited zero, a range frustratingly appropriate for pumpkin flavor.  I don’t know that I would go so far as to equate pumpkin beer with prison wine, as my intrepid colleague did recently in this piece for Barley Prose, but I generally put up a spirited defense against the three-flank holiday pumpkin spice attack of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. 

Biases are learned behaviors, and to tear them down, it often takes an experience that hits close to home to shake foundational beliefs and make you see something with new eyes and a different clarity.  

Meet the Pumpkin Noir Spiced Ale by Marble Brewery in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The description on the can reads “Our lady of darkness always chooses the burnt slice of pumpkin pie.  Heads have been known to roll around here until we achieve the perfect balance of carbonized fruit, delicate spice and velvet viscosity.”  

A lot to chew on there.  

The Pumpkin Noir is an annual seasonal and this year’s version checks in at 8% ABV on the nose, and pours a deep, spooky black with a creamy and frothy head.  As we saw in the supermarket usurpation, pumpkin spices invade in the fall and with the dessert territories already conquered, it was wise to attack the cold-weather beers, typically dark and malty stouts and ales.  

The aroma of the Pumpkin Noir is a strong amalgam of the pumpkin spices, but the taste is more subtle.  It starts like a porter but with a nice spice on the tongue (from the ginger?).  It’s a full beer, warm and comfortingly boozy, but not heavy-handed with unnecessary pumpkinry. 

The verdict?  This beer is damn good. It’s delicious. 

So what’s the lesson here?  That the pumpkin faction were right all along?  Maybe not.  Pumpkin for the sake of pumpkin, you know, pumpkin spice Pringles, chicken sausage and PSL pasta sauce (!?) is a marketing cash-grab directly targeting the nostalgic, autumn-loving Starbucks drinkers.

But a pumpkin-flavored beer made thoughtfully by a brewer whose creations you love and trust can maybe be a different story altogether.  We can still hate with all our guts and vitriol one another’s stances on things as polarizing as pumpkin flavor, but maybe we should just shut up, try a pumpkin beer and remember the lesson Edwin Starr tried to impart on us: “War, what is it good for?”.













The Slop and Prison Wine and Pumpkin Beers

When I was in high school, obviously, alcohol was a bit harder for us to come by.

Obviously, we had our opportunities, when a friend’s older brother maybe was in town, or when we were clued in to some party in the woods somewhere where someone had procured a precious keg.

But, also, sometimes we took matters into our own hands.

I had a buddy Matt, who had a recipe on a yellowed sheet of loose leaf paper.  The end product of that recipe was a concoction that was fondly referred to as “the Slop.”  While I can’t recount the full ingredients list, it involved juice, and sugar, and yeast, and a cooler that was left alone in the forest somewhere to ferment for a bunch of weeks and do its thing.  And we drank the Slop and it was good.

Well, let’s redefine the term “good.”  It was alcohol and we made it and it was ours to drink.  And perhaps that was what was truly good about it.  Not the mouthfeel, or the hints or nuances.  We’d mix it with iced tea, or apple juice, or something to make it taste less like embalming fluid mixed with gummy bears, and then voila!  We was a drinkin’.

(What does this have to do with pumpkin beers and seasonal ales?  Bear with me, faithful readers).

The Slop was, in a certain parlance, our high school forest equivalent of prison wine.  Maybe a bit more elegant than a sock filled with yeast and orange slices hidden behind a toilet tank, but, yet, also maybe not so much.

To me, pumpkin beer is the craft equivalent of prison wine.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing but fond memories of my time slugging down the Slop in the wee hours of the night, in dark places with my friends.  And to me, pumpkin beer is the beer that tastes most like it was cooked up by enterprising and thirsty young kids trying to turn no-beer-nights into a fall festival.

This week, I’m drinking the Brooklyn Brewery’s “Post Road” Pumpkin Ale.

Not brewed in the woods by delinquent teens, to my knowledge


From those fine folks, ITBMCBB*, comes a drink that “use[s] a touch of spices and pounds of real pumpkins to create a warm but surprisingly crisp spin on the traditional pumpkin ales made by American colonists.”

This is a fine fall beer, with the right amount of pumpkinery. And like so many other products offered by the Brooklyn Brewing Company, this beer hits all the points you’d expect it to. I got to meet some of these folks when they had a table set up at the Great New York State Fair and I gushed about my love for their Brown Ale, their Bel Air Sour, and their various IPAs. I’ve yet to have a beer that these folks put out there that I wouldn’t buy again.

But here’s the thing. I’ll also go about 10 months without drinking a pumpkin beer and I will miss it about as much as I miss the Slop. Nothing against these guys, or anyone who puts out a pumpkin beer. But sometimes prison wine is best left out in the woods in that cooler.

I’m going to blow the dust of the ol’ Proseinator and let it bring this review home.

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