Rest in peace, pumpkin beer. What was once a fall craze among emerging craft beer lovers, is no more. It used to be so popular, in fact, that about three years ago, Elizabeth Station had twelve pumpkin beers on draft for part of October. Now? They maybe buy one.
Whether you’re a fan or a hater when it comes to pumpkin beer, you’ve probably noticed there are less available now than over the last five years. When you wander into somewhere like Elizabeth Station, which has over 1,000 beers available, you may expect them to have more than just a few. In recent years, beer-buyer Brendon Olson has read the market trends as a sign to slow down on purchasing pumpkin beer.
Part of the reason there’s less pumpkin to be found at the Station is because Southern Tier, a brewery in Pittsburgh and creator of Pumpking, one of America’s favorite pumpkin beers, stopped distributing in the Pacific Northwest two years ago. Pumking eventually made it into rum-barrels and became even more popular, sparking more interest in pumpkin beer wherever it was distributed. Southern Tier also made a cold press coffee version of Pumpking, and Warlock, a pumpkin stout. When October hit, these were all the rage, even in our upper lefthand corner of the United States.
Olson attributes part of pumpkin beer’s general demise to the lack of favorites no longer being available in our region. However, he thinks it may partially be attributed to the drinking habits of Bellinghamster’s and Washingtonians alike.
“Don’t French it up.” – Keller Morrison, Asst. Brewer, 122 West Brewing
It’s no secret that Washington is hop happy, and that may be part of the problem for pumpkin beer. Typically, employees like Emily Scates at Elizabeth Station, get asked for pumpkin beer around September when the leaves start to turn. According to Emily, she gets asked about pumpkin beer at least once a shift.
The other brews that we all know, love and look forward to in the fall are fresh hop beers. Typically IPAs and pales, more people tend to focus on and gravitate toward the fresh hop in fall. When you’re craving something crisp, refreshing and herbal like a fresh hop beer, the last thing on your mind is something sweet with X amount of spices and a heavy mouthfeel like a pumpkin beer. It’s hard to transition from one to the other, making fresh hop a consistent favorite in comparison among Bellingham beer drinkers.
The people who hate pumpkin beer tend to really hate pumpkin beer. For Kelly Davis of Cascadia Draft, one of Bellingham’s leading draft line cleaners, the dislike of pumpkin beer doesn’t make total sense. While Davis doesn’t like pumpkin beer himself, he doesn’t think it’s fair for people to hate it with such a passion when they like other adjunct flavors in their beers.
“If you like chocolate in your stout, which most of us do, I don’t think it’s fair to ridicule pumpkin so much,” Davis said.
Popular pumpkin beer meme
Lately, beer buyers have seen people lean toward craft lagers, pilsners and schwarzbier. Jacquie Goddard, the beer buyer at The Local Public House, somewhere with a commendable draft list, attributes this to the beer trend that people want to drink what brewers like.
If you’ve ever met a brewer in this town, you’ll probably find them drinking a clean pilsner. Most brewers don’t lean towards making pumpkin beer since it isn’t easy to sell. This makes people more likely to order a craft lager over a pumpkin beer if it’s available.
To Jacquie, pumpkin ciders make a little more sense than pumpkin beers. Not only is there the tartness from the apple to cut through the sweet and heavy mouthfeel of pumpkin beer, but the two flavors go extremely well together, and often don’t need the supplemental spices needed in a pumpkin beer, like cinnamon.
What we all have to accept, however, is the existence of pumpkin beer is inevitable. There are people that love it, like Keller Morrison, assistant brewer from 122 West. His only request? Don’t “french it up”. He doesn’t want a pumpkin saison with Brett, he wants a pumpkin ale that’s sweet and frilly. According to Morrison, since pumpkin beer is supposed to be a gimmick, we should keep it a gimmick.
There are a few available for those of you reading this, feeling like the minority for enjoying yourself the occasional gourd ale. Elizabeth Station does cary:
Night Owl from Elysian Brewing
Autumn Harvest Imperial Pumpkin Ale from Reuben’s
Punkin’ Ale Brown from Dogfish Head
Both The Local and Elizabeth Station have, or will have the Pedro’s Pumpkin Porter from The North Fork, a pumpkin beer that shows pumpkin character without being over-spiced. You may consider it a gateway beer to pumpkin beer-world, or you may see it as a tribute to those pumpkin lovers in your life.
While they’re less popular, they exist so we may as well let them. For now, get in the harvest spirit, whether you have a pumpkin beer in your hand or not.