Archive for buffalo bill’s brewery

Differences With No Distinction: Pumpkin Beer

Posted in beer with tags , , , , on November 3, 2014 by cueball


Sometimes I wish all brewers followed the Reinheitsgebot.  Most of the time I feel the purity law is an artificial governor on innovation and creativity in beer brewing.  However, sometime in September and October as yet another pumpkin beer was being forced fed into the craft beer world, I began to think limiting what brewers can brew with can be a beneficial thing.  The Reinheitsgebot began as a tax law and a way to protect bread makers by protecting the wheat supply, but it has lasted as long as it has because it helps ensure quality beer.

I have two primary problems with this year’s pumpkin beer season.  One, it lasted too long and two there were too many.  Pumpkin season started in August this year.  Maybe the first pumpkin beers appeared just as early as last year, but they all seemed to appear at the same time this year. Every brewer tried to be the first to get their pumpkin beer out to the masses. My problem with that is as far as I can remember August is the heart of the summer.

There are two retail pressures that push brewers to bring out their pumpkins so early.  The first is beer is a perishable product.  Once it is made it has a shelf life and as a brewer you want it sold and consumed before it goes bad.  If someone drinks a bad bottle of your beer it doesn’t matter if they drank it a month after its prime tasting life.  That person just knows your beer was bad.

The other retail pressure is in a crowded market place, the first is sometimes the most successful.  Getting your product out in front of consumers before all the other available beers affect their perception of you is very important to your success.

So as a matter of pure business I understand why this year it feels as if pumpkin beers (ostensibly a seasonal beer) have been out since June.

The other problem I have is as a seasonal beer, pumpkin beers are supposed to be special.  However, with so many on the market, their uniqueness is lost.  It becomes difficult to distinguish one pumpkin from another at a certain point.

Like most seasonals, pumpkin beers started because some brewer said, “Hey, look at all these pumpkins about. I bet I could make a cool tasting beer if used some of them.”  That modern honor goes to Buffalo Bill’s Bay Area Brewery in Hayward, CA who started brewing their Pumpkin Ale in 1985.  That actually did make them special. There were few and they were all unique. Now, I can bet you, the next pumpkin beer you drink will taste of nutmeg, cinnamon, and all-spice.  There maybe a few more hops here and a little more carbonation there, but you get the point. (Here is a nice quick history of pumpkin beers.)

When I think of seasonal beers I think of something special and almost experimental.  If I drink two seasonal beers from two different brewers I want there to be a distinct difference not a difference with no distinction.

Look, right now the same can be said of most of the most popular styles, like IPAs.  I understand this is business and pumpkins are hot.  I work at a place that went through two kegs of pumpkin beers in about a week.  These pumpkins (and IPAs) are making a lot of money for people.  It’s just that, as a lover of all beers, I think sometimes a bunch of any one thing is a bad thing.