Your Beermonger: Pumpkin Beers are Back… Yes, Already

This sponsored column is written by Todd Himes, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Order from Arrowine’s expanding online store for curbside pickup.

I, for one, welcome our pumpkin beer overlords. There it is, I’ve said it. Much like Kent Brockman or perhaps later Ken Jennings, I have accepted my fate.

You would think the beer calendar was only 51 weeks because, each year, the outrage comes earlier and earlier. Yes, outrage. There is no release that draws more ire than the arrival of pumpkin beer in the middle of the summer. There is something about a 10% imperial amber ale with nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, and what is most likely frozen or canned puree from last fall that brings out the hot takes from everyone — and I mean everyone. Customers, sales reps, shop owners, cheesemongers, delivery drivers… I smile through it (you can’t always tell under this mask, but yes, there is a smile) and offer up some placation like, “Yes, it is earlier than last year,” or “You’re right, it does need to be about 30 degrees cooler before I want to drink this, too.” But occasionally I do need to assure people that pumpkin beer is not “the devil” or “only for girls.”

I think fall beers have definitely caught a very bad reputation and drawn a lot of ire from many — including at one point even myself — because, in part, they show up earlier and earlier each year, cutting into the summer. They also draw in many non-craft beer drinkers. (I’m not afraid to admit the early arrival of the 30 cases of Pumking bombers that I preordered in 2012 showing up in the middle of August was greeted with a string of expletives that I am not typically known for spewing.)

Pumpkins at the Columbia Pike farmers market (Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok)

For years, I really thought I was taking some moral high ground by never putting pumpkin beer out on the sales floor until Sept. 1 — that seemed like an at least somewhat appropriate fall date. But the truth is, it didn’t matter when I put them out. They kept showing up earlier and earlier each year, and I would talk to a number of customers who were looking for them earlier. I would grab them a bottle or two from the back and tell them when it was “officially” coming out in hopes they would come back for more. But I know that wasn’t always going to be the case — I’m sure the next store they stopped in, if the pumpkin beers were out, would sell them as much as they wanted. I also know the year before, in the small edge of the suburbs town I was living in at the time, the one store that stocked Pumking marked their bottles up about 300% and was still able to sell out of their stock in about a week.

Oktoberfest beers present their own unique problems in coming to market. Here is my obligated mention that Oktoberfest doesn’t always take place in October. But that doesn’t stop people from wanting to drink these beers well into November, though, and who can blame them? The amber-hued toastiness of a Marzen is welcome many, many times throughout the year. Say nothing of the golden, bready and more hop-present Festbier style, equally at home with pretzels and almonds as it is with pizza and football games.

I don’t know about you, but I would say 2020 was my personal lowest year of consumption of any pumpkin beer in well over a decade. It just did not seem right. I tried a few samples, and I knew that year’s batch was worth tasting, but personally I just didn’t feel compelled to reach for one at home — and I certainly wasn’t going out anywhere.

This year, though, is feeling a little bit different — and not just because I recently found a Schlafly pumpkin ale from 2011 when I was moving a few old bottles around at home. I was very interested to try out that 10-year difference. I did not hold particularly high hopes — and I can’t imagine that there are much of the spices left in that beer — but, at the same time, it seemed pretty fun to try it against a brand-new 2021 bottle.

I know my personal consumption of Oktoberfests is way up already, and it doesn’t appear to be letting up any time soon while we collectively work to finish off the small drop of Bingo Oktoberfest we got in two weeks ago, celebrate the arrival for my beloved Rothaus’s take on the Marzen and its first year in the U.S., and, of course, an all-time favorite local Port City arriving next week. I even bought a 1-liter can and mug pack of Paulaner Festbier despite having had a long self-imposed break from that particular beer. (Ask me sometime about my friend Adam who ended up with a palette of liter cans and needed help “disposing” of them.)

Drop a comment below with your favorite Oktoberfest and pumpkin beers, or let me know which ones you’re looking forward to trying this year.

Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok

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