Unlike lots of pumpkin spiced delicacies, there’s actually historical precedent for pumpkin beer. In Colonial America, when barley was in limited supply, pumpkin was often used as a last-resort substitute. Since breweries across New England have revived pumpkin beer as an autumn specialty in recent years, we decided to speak with four local brewers to learn more about their style of the seasonal brew.
Cambridge Brewing Company’s Great Pumpkin Ale: This longtime craft brewer takes its pumpkin beer seriously. CBC founder Phil Bannatyne began brewing the beer in 1990, and the recipe has remained essentially the same. The Great Pumpkin Ale is made of organic sugar pumpkins from Massachusetts farms and just a bit of spice.
“The pumpkins aren’t roasted first, and they’re not treated in any way aside from just being shredded,” says brewmaster Will Meyers. “We get a fresh, squashy flavor in the beer — as opposed to what’s more typical, which is kind of a baked pumpkin pie character.”
Cape Ann Brewing’s Imperial Pumpkin Stout: The Gloucester-based company makes a robust stout with notes of pumpkin and chocolate. “[We use] only enough spice to get the essence of the spice without making it a pallet breaker, giving us a more rounded and enjoyable beer overall,” says Cape Ann Brewing’s head brewer Dylan L’Abbe-Linquist.
Sam Adams’ 20 Pounds of Pumpkin: The Boston juggernaut makes a fine traditional take on the pumpkin ale. Nearly 20 pounds of Dickinson pumpkin are used in each barrel of beer. “The pumpkin imparts full, complex character and a deep amber color,” says Boston Brewery manager Jennifer Glanville. “Spices, including cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, add a subtle warmth and depth to the roasted malt and caramel flavors.”
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Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale: Best for those who want just a mild pumpkin spice touch to their beer, Shipyard — which brews in Portland, Maine — makes one of the most widely available beers of the variety. “The backbone of the beer is really our filtered wheat ale, flavored with just the right amounts of pumpkin and pumpkin spice,” says Shipyard trade brewer Bruce Elam. Be sure to imbibe with their signature cinnamon sugar rim.