Pumpkin ale suits the season perfectly


It can be found on shelves of well-stocked liquor stores

October 16, 2002|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There was a time when beverages were as seasonal as foods, a time when the harvests were as evident in cups and mugs as on the dinner plates.

Pumpkin ale is an example of such a beverage. Largely a seasonal oddity these days, it was once common on tables wherever pumpkins were grown. Those were the days before sophisticated distribution networks, when people ate and drank whatever they or their neighbors produced. Now, with brand names prizing consistency over local flavors, you expect ale or beer to taste the same in Montana as in Maryland.

But while we can be fairly sure we know what we're getting, we also tend to lose the surprises variety can bring.

That's why it's refreshing to run across a seasonal offering like pumpkin ale, which can be found on shelves in well-stocked wine and liquor stores this time of year. You can occasionally find it on tap at micro-breweries, and no doubt it's brewing in abundance in the basements of many amateur brewmeisters, where adventurous palates are appreciated.

Pumpkin ale does not have huge numbers of fans, but they are ardent ones. "It's an acquired taste, in my opinion," says Joe Falcone, beer buyer for Wells Discount Liquors on York Road. He's already sold more than half of his seasonal supply.

The pumpkin ale most common around Baltimore is Post Road Pumpkin Ale, brewed by the Post Road Brewing Co. in Utica, N.Y. It's an amber ale, medium-bodied and relatively smooth.

Post Road includes a historical note on each bottle, explaining that Colonial Americans brewed their own ales using local ingredients. Barley was the primary ingredient, but especially this time of year plenty of pumpkins went into the brew as well.

"Pumpkins were favored by brewers for their rich, spicy flavors, which melded perfectly with the malted barley," Post Road tells us.

But don't expect the full dose of cinnamon and spice you find in pumpkin pie. The pumpkin and spices in this ale are more subtle and less sweet.

Sip carefully and you'll detect just enough pumpkin to let you know this is not a treat you would find in spring or summer, and you probably wouldn't want it then anyway. This is an ale for the season, one that stands up well to a bracing chill in the air.

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