WITH REVIEW: ‘Tis the season for pumpkin beer

Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Few people ride the fence when it comes to pumpkin beer. You either love it or you hate it. If you are one of those people whose heart flutters for the gourd, now is the time to indulge. ‘Tis the season and there are several in stores to choose from, including one from Mother’s Brewing Company in Springfield, Missouri.

First, a primer on how pumpkin beer is brewed.

Pumpkin Beer Varieties

A few pumpkin beers available locally include:

Mr. Pumpkin – Mother’s Brewing Co.
Pumpkinhead – Shipyard Brewing Co.
Pumpkick – New Belgium Brewing
Pumpkin Ale – Schlafly Beer
HornyCopia Pumpkin – Horny Goat Brewing Co.
Witch’s Brew’mmm – Charleville Brewing Co.
Ace Hard Pumpkin Cider – Califonia Cider Co.

Pumpkin is typically added to the mash, which is the step in the brewing process when grain starches are converted to sugar (yeast will later turn much of the sugar into alcohol). Pale and roasted caramel malts are the most common base grains used in pumpkin beer.

Brewers usually pre-roast the pumpkin to caramelize the flesh and start the conversion. When added to the mash things get a bit sticky, resulting in a slower than usual runoff (and more than a few headaches in the brewhouse).

Stuck mashes are fairly common. To combat this, rice hulls are used to create a better filter bed for wort extraction. The hulls have no flavor impact on the finished product.

What results is a subtle pumpkin character that is easy to miss if too little is used. It takes a lot of pumpkin to make an impression. Truth be told, the flavor from spices and other additions to the boil are what most people associate with the style.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice are all common additions. But there’s a fine line between Granny’s pumpkin pie (the ideal) and an overpowering mess of a beer. The best examples of the style tend to take a lighter hand with the spice.

Mr. Pumpkin – Mother’s Brewing Company

I bought a bottle of Mother’s Mr. Pumpkin as a part of a mix-pack from a local beer retailer (my favorite way to try new beers). The label depicted a suited man with a huge pumpkin head and a Mad Men-era fedora. The obligatory marketing copy was found along the side:

Todd Gill

Our first release from Mother’s cupboard, Mr. Pumpkin is a medium-bodied copper colored ale. With just the perfect blend of 2 row, caramel, and crystal malts, pumpkin and spices, Mother’s has created one yummy pint of love. Perfect after dinner in lieu of dessert, or on a night out on the town.

The beer did indeed pour copper in color. The bubbles were voracious, though the beer was not overly carbonated.

Perhaps the best part of Mr. Pumpkin – which was evidenced in both the aroma and the flavor – was the subtle nature of the spices. They were definitely in there, but in a restrained and gentle way, expertly toeing the line of just enough and a little too much. The beer instantly triggered memories of turkey, dressing, and Granny’s cranberry fluff.

Underneath the spices Mr. Pumpkin showed off its bready malt base. Not too sweet, it finished dry with very little hop characteristic. And at a moderate 5.0% ABV, it’s a beer that can be enjoyed in higher volumes.

People are often turned off by pumpkin beer because they have encountered caricatures of what it should be. More spice does not equal more enjoyment. The beauty of this style is not in the extreme; it’s in the subtleties.

With that in mind, Mother’s Brewing Company’s version should appeal to those wanting the nostalgia of the season, without losing hold of the beer beneath.

Brian Sorensen (@EBSorensen) is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds.