The polarizing nature of pumpkin spice is overwhelming, as is the sheer availability of everything involving "PS" on the label. From dog food to cereal and yep, even beer, almost anything can be found sporting the occasionally-artificial taste profile. Sadly, when something as popular as pumpkin spice is this commercialized, what is oh-so-delicious can become diluted beyond recognition. Good renditions are mocked, overlooked and given unnecessary shade. Think pumpkin is played? Then take it back to the old school — the original blend of exceptional spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and occasionally clove — and try some of these fantastic brews, both local and not-so-local. We're sure at least one of these will reinvigorate your passion for the pumpkin blend.
Locally, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, Ardent Craft Ales and Strangeways Brewing all are releasing fall options, and they're all made with real ingredients. Hardywood’s Farmhouse Pumpkin (released on Sept. 12, with its rum-barreled cousin dropping this Saturday) is a light farmhouse ale made using caramelized Virginia sugar pumpkins and local ginger. Lickinghole Creek's Pumpkin Ain’t Easy (to be released on Oct. 17) has no spice added, allowing just the sugar pumpkins — grown at the brewery and roasted locally at Tazza Kitchen — to shine through in this Belgian-style ale. "The One” Pumpkin Ale by Ardent Craft Ales (released on Sept. 26) utilizes small amounts of cinnamon and allspice paired with pumpkin and butternut squash. Strangeways goes dark with its imperial pumpkin porter, Gourd of Thunder. The roasty beverage is all vanilla bean and malt. If you're looking for nuttier tones, the aged pecan version is available starting this Saturday.
Nationally-available brands also have some noteworthy seasonal brews. Samuel Adams’ sister company, Traveler Beer, released a Pumpkin Shandy, Jack-O Traveler, which tones down the spice flavor and the alcohol. At 4.4 percent ABV, the brew is light on taste but big on pumpkin — a true example of less as more. Ballast Point’s Pumpkin Down is a traditional Scottish ale combining malt-forward and big body with pumpkin spices — easy drinking with a side of orange hue. Southern Tier Brewing Co.'s Pumking is the quintessential pumpkin beer, all graham cracker and pumpkin pie, sweet and spicy on the finish.
After all of these, if you just can’t get down with pumpkin, there’s still hope. Seasonally-spiced brews are delicious, plentiful and pretty. Down the road in Charlottesville and Norfolk, respectively, Three-Notch’d Brewing Co. and O’Connor Brewing Co. are showing off their festbier chops. Festbiers are similar to the lagers Oktoberfest and Märzen (essentially an Oktoberfest but originally brewed in March), and the recipes are often interchangeable. They were designed to be lighter in alcohol and less filling, most likely to be consumed in large quantities at a festival. The Three Notch'd Hansel and Kettle, a Märzen-style lager, combines flavors of biscuit and caramel to create a close-to-classic Oktoberfest brew. O’Connor’s O’Ctoberfest is a lively Märzen-style lager.
AleSmith Brewing Co, out of California, celebrates fall (and Halloween) with the blood-red Evil Dead Red ale designed to be malty, sweet and hoppy. Abita Brewing Co. in Louisiana makes Bourbon Street Maple Pecan, a nut brown ale that is aged in Bourbon barrels. The brewery adds roasted pecans and maple syrup for a nutty, sweet flavor and aroma.
Still dead set against the flavor profile, even after trying any of these fabulous beers and PS alternatives? Maybe you're just a spice scrooge. With all of these options, raising a glass and tasting fall has never been easier.
If you can't get enough pumpkin spice, pick up our October issue, hitting newsstands now, and flip to page 190 for our favorite local, non-beer PS picks.