This script is from the first season of Beer Notes, which you can listen to at beernotes.org.
Quoting Draftmag.com, “There is no family of beers as broadly despised yet also as incredibly popular as the pumpkin beer.” This week on Beer Notes, we’re exploring the history of pumpkin beer.
Today, there are almost unlimited varieties of pumpkin beer, from earthy, gourdy beers, to sweet caramel and spice versions, to hoppy and bitter or even sour styles. You never know what to expect, which makes this a style of beer that scares some drinkers away and attracts the adventurous. The same can be said for pumpkin beers across the centuries.
Pumpkin beer was prevalent in colonial times, when access to high-quality malts was difficult.
An American folksong written in 1643 said,
If barley be wanting to make into malt
We must be contented and think it no fault
For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips.
Ingenuity has always been a hallmark of our culture. U.S. settlers discovered the meat of the pumpkin, a native plant easily and readily accessible, could provide fermentable sugars and be used in place of the malt during the brewing process.
One of the most oft-quoted pumpkin beer recipes dates from 1771, but by the early 1800s, pumpkins were viewed as too commonplace and malt had become far more accessible. During the colonial revival of the 1840s, pumpkin regained some status as a flavoring ingredient rather than the brewing necessity it had been.
In the mid 1980s, Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in California created what might be the first modern commercially-brewed pumpkin beer in the U.S., inspired by one of George Washington’s recipes.
So if you look forward to autumn every year, not for the changing leaves but for the abundance of pumpkin beers on the shelves, you’ve got the Colonial settlers, and Buffalo Bill’s, to thank. For Beer Notes, this is Anne Neely.