After a blistering summer—and plenty of lovely, citrusy wheat beers and pale ales to keep us cool—fall is finally here, and with it comes a raft of new brews that suit the season. Of course, that includes some pumpkin flavors—pumpkin beers are the best-selling seasonal beers in the U.S.—but the iconic gourd may not be as ubiquitous as it once was.
CraftBeer.com recently offered a “beyond the gourd” pumpkin-free guide to fall seasonals, while breweries everywhere, from upstate New York to North Carolina, are reducing their pumpkin-beer production or finding seasonal alternatives.
Some beer experts even say the pumpkin trend is in the rearview. “Yes, the pumpkin trend is absolutely over, and good riddance,” says Jason Gotcher, director of brewery operations for Manor Hill Brewing in Ellicott City. “In our opinion, appealing to the pumpkin macchiato crowd was more important to some breweries than actually making good beer.”
Lisa Markiewicz, owner of Baltimore’s West Madison Craft Beer & Wine Bar, concedes that pumpkin beer “is not as sought after anymore.” Still, she’s planning to carry a few of them this season anyway, including Evolution’s classic Jacque Au Lantern, a household name, and Dogfish Punkin—“it’s one of the originals and is great,” she says.
The actual original came from Frederick-based Flying Dog Brewery, which—according to Erin Weston, Flying Dog’s senior director of communications—was the first brewery to release a pumpkin IPA. Now they offer two pumpkin beers, neither of which is run-of-the-mill.
“A lot of pumpkin beers are on the sweeter side, so we push the boundaries of the pumpkin beer spectrum with our Gourd Standard Pumpkin IPA,” says Weston. “For us, the traditional pumpkin pie spices work beautifully with the earthiness of traditional German noble hops.”
Overall, Weston says, the folks at Flying Dog don’t put too much stock in trends. “We are all beer consumers ourselves,” she says, “so we brew beers that we would seek out and buy.
That includes Flying Dog’s Secret Stash, which, like so many fall craft beers this year, is a fresh hop ale.
“More and more breweries are creating harvest-style ales that utilize the many other ingredients that you can gather in the fall season, such as apples, berries, spices and wet hops,” says Gotcher. “Beers utilizing wet hops have recently become a very popular alternative to brewing a pumpkin beer in the fall.”
Markiewicz is also interested in fresh hop beers—in particular, the Tröegs Hop Knife: “It’s citric and holds tropical aromas. I think our housemade traditional flatbread complements this beer well, because of the oregano and earthy herbs.”
Gotcher cautions, however, that food pairings with fresh hop/wet hop beers can be tricky depending on the hop intensity. “More intensely hopped ales will pair nicely with red meat—burgers, steak, lamb—and more aggressive cheeses such as Gorgonzola or Stilton,” he explains. “Occasionally, you will get wet hop ales that go in a more spicy, subtle fruit direction—great food pairings for that would be any Thai cuisine or a dish that has curry. Fried seafood is also a perfect pairing for these type of beers—fried oysters, calamari, clams, etc.”
Markiewicz likes fall’s Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest for pairing with meaty, smoky, spicy flavors. “I chose it because it is a light lager with a grassy finish,” she says. She says it pairs well with the earthy fare on her menu—“our Brussels and peppery salads like arugula”—as well as with their chicken apple sausage with maple BBQ.
Local ingredients are also an important part of the fall picture. Flying Dog’s Secret Stash, for instance, is made exclusively with locally grown hops, while its small-batch Bee Beer is brewed with local bee pollen and buckwheat honey. Flying Dog is even collaborating with local producers to create a beer-infused chocolate bar. “We worked with Salazon Chocolate Co., which is based in Eldersburg, Md., on a dark chocolate bar that’s made with our Gourd Standard Pumpkin IPA,” Weston says. “It’s 72 percent organic dark chocolate made with the hops and spice blend we use in the beer. Salazon was the first chocolate maker to use sea salt, and the sea salt on this bar is infused with the beer.”
The Gourd Standard chocolate bar may just be the perfect compromise for beer lovers who crave that fall seasonal spice but suffer from too-sweet pumpkin fatigue. After all, it’s beer and chocolate. That’s a fall pairing pretty much anyone can get behind.