It’s a controversial time of year for beer drinkers. Pumpkin beer season is upon us, and the mere mention of the spiced, gourdy brews prompts both groans of pleasure and vigorous eye rolls. As the releases creep ever earlier (do we need nutmeg in July?), it’s become popular, at least among the craft beer intelligentsia, to dismiss pumpkin beer as overly sweet, overly hyped or just plain inferior to less gimmicky styles of suds. And while I’ll admit that I’ve occasionally bashed a certain imperial pumpkin ale from Western New York, I’ll also admit: I like pumpkin beer.
When the crisp scent of fall finally replaces the summer’s sticky humidity, few things jumpstart the season like a well-made pumpkin beer. That first sip of roasted squash and baking spices ushers in a whole new mindset, not to mention a new wardrobe. And now that we’ve reached Labor Day, it’s about time to start planning the season of pumpkin beer drinking ahead. Though dozens of options from around the country are showing up in stores and bars, you may not need to look farther than your own neighborhood.
Have a look at some of the spicy, squashy brews Pittsburgh’s brewers are bringing you this season.
Church Brew Works Pumpkin Stout
For their seasonal offering, Church Brew Works adds roasted pumpkin and a blend of spices to their American Stout recipe. The full-bodied beer is packed with roasted malt flavor and a subtle caramel sweetness. Because they use about 150 pounds of freshly harvested pumpkin in each batch, the beer isn’t ready until the pumpkins are. Look for it at the brewpub and a handful of bars in mid-October.
Hitchhiker The Hitcher Pumpkin Ale
Mt. Lebanon’s Hitchhiker Brewing Company released The Hitcher this past Sunday. Owner Gary Olden describes it as a “mild, malt-forward ale with spices and a smooth mouthfeel.” The Hitcher clocks in at 6.1% ABV and will be on tap at the brewery until Halloween (or until they run out).
East End Nunkin Ale
It’s not uncommon for breweries to make a pumpkin beer without any real pumpkin, though some are more upfront about it than others. East End Brewing Company makes sure you know it right from the name. Nunkin is a malty, slightly sweet ale bursting with pie spices—and nary a squash in sight. Nunkin is available beginning in October.
Roundabout Jacked Up O’Lantern
Also in the “pumpkin-free pumpkin beer” category is Roundabout Brewery’s Jacked Up O’Lantern. The American stout is brewed with La Prima-roasted coffee beans, then finished off with vanilla and fall spices, ensuring so much flavor that you won’t miss the pumpkins. And at just 5.2% ABV, you can have more than one. Jacked Up O’Lantern will be released sometime this fall.
Hop Farm Pumpkin Dunkel
No one, including brewer Matt Gouwens, knows quite what this beer will be. Though Hop Farm has never brewed a pumpkin beer before, Gouwens had the idea for some sort of pumpkin Dunkel, a style of dark German lager. The “Punkel” will be released in a limited quantity in mid-October.
Penn Brewery Pumpkin Roll Ale
Penn Brewery offers a unique take on the category with their Pumpkin Roll Ale. Mimicking the flavors of the dessert in its name, the beer offers up a creamy mouthfeel with tons of vanilla and graham cracker flavor. Not surprisingly, Penn’s Pumpkin Roll Ale lands on the sweeter end of the spectrum. Released in July, it’s one of Pittsburgh’s earliest (and easiest to find) pumpkin beers.
Block House Pumpkin Ale
Speaking of sweet, Block House Pumpkin Ale is another dessert-in-a-glass type of beer. The craft division of Pittsburgh Brewing Company (who make Iron City), Block House’s offering is sugary, rich and heavy on the cinnamon. Block House Pumpkin Ale is available now in bottles and on draft.
All Saints Hallowed Pumpkin Ale and St. Juttemis Pumpkin Porter
Greensburg’s All Saints Brewing Company puts the bounty of the surrounding farmland to good use in two pumpkin beers. The Hallowed Pumpkin Ale (a malty, toasty amber ale) and the St. Juttemis Pumpkin Porter (a smooth, spiced porter) use hundreds of pounds of locally grown pumpkins in every batch. All Saints sends their spent grain to that same farmer, who uses it to feed his sheep. Everything will come full circle at their September 26th Oktoberfest celebration, which will include a lamb roast and the debut of the Hallowed Pumpkin Ale. Expect the porter in late October or early November.
Rivertowne Headless Wylie
If you’re a fan of Southern Tier’s wildly popular Pumking, then Rivertowne’s Headless Wylie might be the beer for you. Boasting a similarly high ABV (8%) and a rich, creamy mouthfeel, Headless Wylie is a spicy, full-bodied brew. And like all of Rivertowne’s offerings, it comes in cans, making it perfect for a weekend camping trip or backyard bonfire. Headless Wylie is available now.
Spoonwood Pie Bandit
This is the first autumn for Bethel Park’s Spoonwood Brewing Company, which opened earlier this year. To celebrate, they are releasing Pie Bandit, a pumpkin brew fermented with a Belgian yeast and spiced with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Pie Bandit will be released at the brewery on September 23rd, kicking off their weeklong “Septoberfest” celebration.
Voodoo Brewing’s Caution! Contains Real Pumpkin!!! is a big, boozy and unique take on the style, brewing a malty barleywine with hundreds of pounds of pumpkin and then aging it in bourbon barrels. It receives an honorable mention only because the brewery is unsure if they will release any more of it this year.
Braddock’s Brew Gentlemen is not making a pumpkin beer this season, but their massively popular White Sky might just fit the bill. Though the chai-spiced wheat beer is available year-round, the ginger, cloves and cinnamon recall toasty fall flavors.
And to try a whole mess of pumpkin beers from Pittsburgh and beyond, check out Hough’s 4th Annual Drunkin’ Punkin’ Festival on Saturday, October 3rd. Or head to Homestead on October 10th for Blue Dust’s Pumpkinfest, an annual pumpkin beer and music extravaganza.
What did we miss? Let us know in the comments!
In other news…
If you see a massive crowd of people dressed in white this Friday, don’t worry: it’s not a new Pittsburgh cult. It’s just Le Diner en Blanc, the international dining phenomenon in which thousands of people, all wearing white, meet at a secret location for an elegant (if a bit odd) urban picnic.
This weekend is the 25th year of the Pittsburgh Irish Festival. The festival, which will take place at the Riverplex at Sandcastle from September 11-13, will feature Irish food, music, dance and more.
On Saturday, October 3rd, Community Human Services will host The Big Share at Blackberry Meadows Farm. The farm-to-table dinner and concert will support CHS’ efforts to buy local, organic produce for their food pantry. More information and tickets are available here.
Early next year, East Liberty’s BRGR will be relocating to a larger space. Though it will still be in East Liberty, the new BRGR will be twice the size and feature an expanded menu.