I walked into Trader Joe’s the other day and felt attacked. Pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds? Are you kidding? Pumpkin butter, pumpkin muffin mix, pumpkin tortilla chips, Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s, and Pumpkin-Ginger Mini Hold-the-Cone Ice Cream Cones! (OK, I bought the last one, but who wouldn’t?) This time of year, pumpkin inundates everything. It is too much. Too overwhelming. I mean, I grew up on pumpkin pie. Can’t we just have pumpkin pie?
Well, if capitalism has taught us anything, the answer is “no.” Over the last five or so years, we’ve spiraled into a pumpkin-spice love-affair—spicing anything that stands still. Pumpkin beer season is no different.
It can be challenging for brewers and beer buyers since pre-orders start as early as July—when it’s still hotter than the surface of the sun in Wilmington. With our warm fall and short winter here, brewers face challenges with consumer expectations regarding fall and winter beers. Yes, we all want hot cocoa and pumpkin pie, but can it be iced?
I’ve decided to mosey to a few local brewers to see how they’re dealing with our fall cravings in summer temperatures.
Wilmington Brewing Company
824 S. Kerr Ave.
The Beer: Pretty Pumpkin, pumpkin ale, 5 percent ABV
The Gist: Pretty Pumpkin is an amber ale by style (think Yuengling, for sippers still getting their craft-beer sea legs). The brewers tossed exactly 100 Apple Annie’s pumpkin pies into the batch.
While discussing Pretty Pumpkin, WBC brewer Lee Murray notes, “You get that tradition, you get that sense of fall [from the beer]. Fall, for me, is such a great beer-drinking, food-eating season. So, you know, you get that call-out, ‘Hey. Let’s do this. It’s time.’ But it’s beer. It’s just beer.”
The Result: It is exactly the kind of pumpkin beer I want, which isn’t surprising because I’ve never been disappointed by Wilmington Brewing. It’s a crisp, dry amber ale, with all the flavors of fall in the backseat. It boasts of “crackery amber ale” according to Murray.
On the finish, he tastes the cinnamon-allspice-nutmeg combination pumpkin pies contain.
One of the great things about Pretty Pumpkin is its 5 percent ABV, so drinkers can definitely have two. In spite of the fact it is made with pumpkin pies, it isn’t a big, sweet dessert beer.
So, hey! Let’s do this. It’s time!
Skytown Beer Company
4712 New Centre Dr. #100
The Beer: What’s This, pumpkin cheesecake Berliner Weisse, 4.3 percent ABV
The Gist: What’s This is a Berliner Weisse—a traditional, low-gravity, tart wheat ale that originated in Germany. It’s brewed with caramelized honey, a small amount of smoked malt, and Lactobacillus, a friendly bacteria frequently used in brewing to make beer tart.
Hayley Jensen, Skytown’s beer sommelier, says, “It is sour, but not too sour. It is spiced, but not too spiced.”
The caramelized honey achieves toasty, graham cracker character, as tasted in a sweet-tart pumpkin cheesecake dessert.
“Everything is restrained because there’s so much going on there,” Jensen tells.
While the brew might seem a little intimidating or polarizing because of the sour nature, trust me:
The Result: I wasn’t sure what to expect of my first sip. Pumpkin? Cheesecake? Sour beer? Of course, the beer is everything Jensen said it would be … and more.
It’s the perfect beer for fall in Wilmington—a love letter to October by the sea, where we don’t get as much of the cool temperatures and crunchy leaves, but we still crave nostalgic flavors of pumpkin pie.
Anyone nervous about the fact it’s a sour shouldn’t be. It’s more than approachable. In fact, it will have sippers singing like Jack Skellington. I recommend pairing it with their cornbread or peanut butter cookies.
Salty Turtle Beer Company
103 Triton Lane, Surf City, NC, 28445
The Beer: She’s So Basic, Pumpkin Spice Latte Lager (PSLL)
The Gist: She’s So Basic is a Pumpkin Spice Latte Lager with a Märzen (more commonly known as an Oktoberfest lager) base. Daniel Callender, owner and general manager of the Surf City brewery, explains the PSLL wasn’t exactly planned in the Salty Turtle tap list.
“So it was an accident beer,” he tells. “We had our Oktoberfest beer that we did in the middle of the hurricane. It fermented it out, but it still rose to a temperature that we didn’t really want it to.”
Lagers are bottom-fermenting beers and require cold temperatures to keep the yeast happy and creating palatable flavors, so a spike in temperature during fermentation can be nerve-racking. But the beer prevailed and the brewery served it for their Oktoberfest celebration at the beginning of October.
Salty Turtle harvested a second generation of their Märzen yeast (a common practice for breweries around the globe) to make another batch of their Oktoberfest, but their brewer, Dean Kelley, decided the beer didn’t pass muster. So what did he do? Toss in some Java Estate Pumpkin Spice-flavored coffee!
The Result: The lager base is nice and crisp, and the coffee addition is really playful. I’m a big fan of coffee in unexpected places, and this beer reinforces it.
The pumpkin spice certainly adds some sweetness—welcoming alongside the biscuity lager and bitter coffee. The fact it is a “lemonade out of lemons” situation with the yeast and Hurricane Florence makes it even better. If this beer is basic, buy me some Uggs and sign me up. I’m all in.