Pumpkin beer is now like Black Friday or those reindeer lawn ornaments that line the aisles of Costco; they arrive earlier every year. Offerings from Weyerbacher, Shipyard, and New Belgium hit shelves in July, which provoked some serious industry backlash and concerns about ensuing pumpkin fatigue. Firestone Walker Brewing employee John Bryan made waves last week when he tweeted, “Pumpkin beer is the modern day equivalent of the mullet. Everybody that brewed one will be ashamed of it in a decade.”
It’s easy to see both sides of the sensitive great pumpkin debate as purists reject the goofy novelty of it and the often garish, over-the-top quality of the final product. But it seems a tad hypocritical since American craft brewers are often guilty of pushing the boundaries of accepted levels of alcohol, hops, and artisanal adjuncts. No, you would never see this trend is countries with more pervasive beer cultures, such as Germany, the UK, or even candy-crazy Belgium.
But I embrace this celebration of sugar and excess in the same spirit as candy corn and horror movies. It’s a fun, short-lived reprieve from the norm and certainly one that’s more exciting than blah summer seasonals that too often taste like Snapple lemonade dilluted by a tray of melted ice cubes.
I recently joined Globe beer writer Gary Dzen, his wife, Melissa, and our beer-crazy friend Meaghan Gardner to blind sample 16 pumpkin beers. There’s a reason why sommeliers and cicerones adhere to the practice: It challenges every one of your senses and forces you to abandon your biases at the door. The following results are the average of our respective lists. When the brown paper bags were shucked, some of the results were stunning. Brewers and labels that we all admire were fully thrown under the metaphorical bus, while plenty of quiet underdogs rose to the top of this year’s vintage.