Pumpkin beers and I parted ways years ago, shortly after being introduced. Almost immediately, frankly. I’m trying to think of beers I don’t like: malt liquor, Newcastle Nut Brown Ale, Boddingtons, and pumpkin beers… possibly one or two others. I like beer, I like mace, I like nutmeg, cinnamon, and I love pumpkin pie. But I don’t like pumpkin beers. I fully understand the historical significance of pumpkin used in brewing, and if I were a professional brewer, I’d be tempted to put my spin on it. Pumpkin flavored beers have been brewed for over 300 years, likely not long after the first Pilgrims set up shop. Still not my thing. I remember one of my other beer drinking friends having pretty much the same reaction and gave this blanket statement of all pumpkin beers: “Get them out of my face.” Because that reaffirmed that it wasn’t just me, I’ve left pumpkin beers alone for at least 15 years.
But, now that I have started a blog that includes showcasing beers, and because it is October, this was as good a time as any to check back in and re-commit my dislike of pumpkin beers.
I went to Bevmo which had no shortage of options this time of year. One choice in the chilled section stood out above all others as having the best chance of swaying my prejudice. Brewed by Buffalo Bill’s Brewery, the description on the label seemed to be an obvious choice. Here before me was an oatmeal stout brewed with pumpkin with natural spice flavors added. That struck me as the perfect marriage of style and flavor. Maybe I just never looked hard enough before, but I wondered why all the other pumpkin beers I had ever seen were in the mold of a pale ale or Märzen. I mean, if you’re absolutely dead set on throwing gourds into your mash tun and no one is going to be able to change your mind, then do it with a style that has that potential of matching with desserts.
My decision was easily made based on style plus a pretty cool label if you asked me–reversing the orange pumpkin and black with a black, sunken pumpkin with a gnarled stem on orange background. Buffalo Bill’s is located in Hayward, CA, a Bay Area City. I had completely forgotten that I had once been there, but as it turns out, on my way home from graduating college at San Francisco State, I did a little bit of a microbrewery tour on my drive back down to San Diego. This was in 1991. Something about the name and the location prompted me to check my coaster collection, and sure enough, I still have their old coaster from that visit 25 years ago.
So, about the actual beer contained in the bottle. Deep black, thick slightly tan head. What you taste is mace/cinnamon/nutmeg, pumpkin, and then stout, a smooooth oatmeal stout, in approximately that order. Very low bitterness and virtually no hop presence, which are probably the two core reasons why my perception of past pumpkin beers in general don’t work for me. Pumpkin, especially with the commonly paired spices, is most often associated with dessert or sweetness, not with something that has a bitterness component like hops. Buffalo Bill’s Black Pumpkin is like a pumpkin pie that has been carefully infused with stout, an oatmeal stout which is going to add an extra soft creaminess to it. The spices compliment the slight sweetness but don’t overpower. I guess for me pumpkin with spices is still a jarring flavor profile to experience in a beer. But it did get me thinking, “Maybe I should go buy another bottle.” I suppose this means pumpkin beers and I are on the mend.