It might not feel like fall outside, but that doesn’t mean Austinites aren’t going to celebrate like it is. And autumn means one thing: pumpkin beers.
Or at least it did.
By this time last year, many local bars and stores had already been rotating through their supply of pumpkin beers several times over, having had a steady stream of them come through as early as July. Now, however, the craze has appeared to die down.
“It just doesn’t seem to be as hot of a style this year,” Matt Cox, the beer buyer at Growler USA, said.
The one-year-old campus-area beer bar only had three pumpkin beverages — one of which was a cider — on tap as of late September, though he had plans to add more throughout October. This year, he said, Oktoberfest beers seem to be the more popular seasonal style.
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Retail spots like WhichCraft Beer Store on South Lamar Boulevard have also noticed the lack of pumpkin beer options. Tim Vela, the general manager of the craft beer-only shop, said that brewers have been more cautious to make them this go-round because “there were so just many left over by the end” last year.
To Vela, who loves pumpkin beers and has ready examples of them for people visiting WhichCraft, that’s a shame. But maybe it’s not an altogether bad thing. The pumpkin beers that are out this fall are as good as ever, and many of them aren’t the typical dark brews overflowing with pumpkin spice that traditionally dominate the fruited style. For those of us craving them, we’ll get plenty.
Here are the ones to try, according to Cox and Vela, so you can feel those autumn vibes even if it’s 90 degrees outside.
- Saint Arnold Pumpkinator: This one has become a Texas tradition, and you typically have to act fast to secure a bottle. The imperial pumpkin stout releases on Oct. 16 — along with a special barrel-aged version. Last year’s Pumpkinator spent about 10 months in Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrels to add nice toasted notes to the brown sugar and spice of the beer.
- Wasatch Black O’ Lantern Pumpkin Stout: A proper pumpkin beer to Vela has “pumpkin spice, a little bit of gourdiness and a nice dark roasty flavor,” he said. Of all the ones at WhichCraft this year, that’s best fulfilled by this midnight black canned brew from Utah.
- New Belgium Atomic Pumpkin: How about some spiciness instead of just spice? The aptly named beer features habanero peppers and Saigon cinnamon in addition to pumpkin, and the result of this seemingly odd combination is “some nice back-of-the-throat heat that arises from the habanero after the cinnamon spice washes away,” Cox said of the beer on tap at Growler USA. Oh, yum.
- Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale: The New York brewery turned to American history for this traditional offering with hundreds of pounds of pumpkins. They were blended into the mash stage of each batch, in keeping with the steps early colonists apparently took to make beer from natural ingredients. This one’s also at Growler USA.
- Dogfish Head Punkin Ale: The epitome of a good pumpkin beer for people other than Vela, Punkin’s “a full-bodied brown ale brewed with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. People love it because it's got the spices and not just the pumpkin flavor,” he said.
- Martin House Cuvee Pumpkin Latte: Call this one the beer version of those uniquitous Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes — but better, of course. The Fort Worth brewery found a nice balance with the roastiness from freshly ground Cuvee Coffee and the earthy spice from 300 pounds of pumpkin and a little bit of vanilla.
- Tieton Smoked Pumpkin Cider: With apples and pumpkins, this cider’s just about as perfect for fall as you could hope for. Clearly, the gentle addition of smoke means the Washington State’s cidery is hoping to gain the favor of all of us barbecue-loving Texas. Well, they’ve got it. Best of all? It’s gluten-free for “people who can’t have beer but still want to indulge in pumpkin season,” Cox said.
- Strange Land Brewery’s The Headless Gentleman: Vela and I both have a soft spot for this local bomber, an imperial version of the Westlake-area brewery’s Entire Porter with pumpkins and aged on bourbon-infused American oak. Dark as night, it’ll taste like a rich blend of spice and vanilla, held together by a backbone of roasted malts, that makes for a perfect accompaniment to all the cool evenings we hope are ahead.
Not sure which beer you want to commit your Halloween imbibing to? The downtown beer bar Easy Tiger is bringing back its two-day pumpkin beer flight special on Oct. 9 and 10. Throughout both days, you can order $10 flights with four pumpkin brews. They include the Punkin and the Post Road, as well as Elysian Brewing Night Owl and the always popular Southern Tier Pumking.