Beer drinkers will debate anything: whether beer flights are stupid, whether New England IPAs are an affront to the style, whether pint glasses are total trash. Yet it seems that pumpkin beers are universally, unequivocally reviled among people who proclaim themselves craft beer drinkers. If that were the case, though, breweries wouldn’t make them and stores wouldn’t stock them. Someone is buying, drinking, and dare I say enjoying pumpkin beers. And that person could be you.
I know this because I was once a pumpkin beer hater. It was the “cool” position to take—this contrarian, rebel-without-a-cause proclamation I made in my early 20s to earn what I thought was beer cred. “Yeah, pumpkin beers suck. They taste like Yankee Candles.” And sure, some do, especially the cinnamon-nutmeg-clove aroma bombs that belong more in your bathtub than your fridge. But as with any beer style, good versions exist. I have tasted them! Some are even made with real pumpkin and have a pleasant autumnal earthiness that’s a wonderful pairing with rich, slow-cooker chili.
So how did I turn the corner? I threw a pumpkin beer party.
Beginning around 2012-ish, I sent out invites each fall for Dark Gourd Day (a play on Indiana brewery 3 Floyds’ Dark Lord Day that those brewers would probably shoot me for) and stocked my fridge with as many pumpkin beers as I could get my hands on. Friends brought their favorites from their hometowns, or picked up out-of-state versions on their fall travels. I wasn’t a huge pumpkin beer fan at the time, but I wanted to be. I love fall (as does seemingly everyone else)—I love flannel and cider doughnuts and crisp leaves and decorative gourds and hell, why not pumpkin beer? Tasting those different versions of pumpkin beers from all over the country opened my eyes to the variations within the category, and turned their arrival into a pleasant fall novelty rather than an excuse for eye-rolling.
Here’s how Dark Gourd Day taught me to appreciate pumpkin beers, and how you can learn to embrace them, too:
Even Cookie Monster knows cookies are a “sometimes food.” Eat enough of anything and you’ll get sick of it; that goes double for pumpkin beers. You really only need a few each fall to get your fill—and that’s okay. At my annual pumpkin beer party, I drank my way through plenty of those spicy, earthy beers, enjoyed it, and didn’t need to take one more sip for another 11 months.
If you don’t like boozy, brawny, barrel-aged beers, why are you drinking Rumpkin? And if you don’t like dessert-sweet beers, why are you drinking Pumking? While most pumpkin beers do fall on the malty end of the beer spectrum, they can range from sours to funky farmhouse beers to lagers. I personally seek out traditional, uses-actual-pumpkin beers, but you do you.
I like standard amber pumpkin beers with football-friendly fall fare such as chili, cornbread, soft pretzels, and salty chips. But the sweeter, spiced versions are great as dessert beers, too—sip a small snifter of a bourbon barrel-aged pumpkin beer alternating with bites of real vanilla ice cream and tell me it doesn’t blow your mind just a little.
Maybe pumpkin on its own isn’t rocking your world. How about pumpkin with cocoa nibs, ancho chile, and habanero pepper? Or pumpkin with coffee? Or—not technically beer, but—what about pumpkin cider? These examples just scratch the surface of some of the less traditional pumpkin combos brewers and cidermakers have tried. Oh, and don’t forget pumpkin beer’s cousin: sweet potato beer.
This is just solid life advice in general, but if you like something, why let other people harsh your good time? I find that barstool critics often expect you to sheepishly apologize for your beer preferences, while a response like “I really enjoy the earthy pumpkin and clove flavors in this, actually,” tends to shut them up. Anyone who has the time to lecture you about your beer order needs to get themselves a hobby—or should offer to buy your next pint of Oktoberfest instead.