Entertainment Restaurants Bars

Pumpkin beers: They're baaaaack

Like their non-boozy cousin, Starbucks' ubiquitous Pumpkin Spice latte, pumpkin beers signal fall's arrival—even if it's not fall yet. While temperatures pushed the upper 90s earlier this week, customers snatched up bottles of the dozen or so pumpkin beers that have been available at Binny's stores since the end of August.

"It seems like they come earlier and earlier every year," said Kyle Fornek, assistant beer buyer for Binny's. "Pretty much every single one will be sold out by October, if not the end of September."

That makes some people very unhappy. Earlier this month, brew enthusiast website Beer Advocate created an Internet uproar when it retweeted an anti-pumpkin beer joke ("RT @fancypantsbeer: Pumpkin beer is the modern day equivalent of the mullet. Everybody that brewed one will be ashamed of it in a decade.") that had defenders and critics in a Twitter fit.

"I know it's a polarizing style," Fornek said. "Traditional beer drinkers, people who like a lot of imports or German beer and Belgian beer, and people who don't like spice in their beer, they don't really take to pumpkin beers."

While anti-pumpkin sentiment is high within certain circles, their popularity isn't waning in Chicago.

"We'll sell more of Shipyard's pumpkin beer in two weeks than every single one of their other beers combined in six months. We'll get asked for [Southern Tier's] Pumking 50 times a day at some stores," Fornek said. "If I started a brewery, I'd brew an IPA and pumpkin beer."

Pumpkin flavor also is creeping beyond the category of traditional ales and into other alcoholic beverages. Tieton Cider Works this year released a smoked pumpkin cider, and The Traveler Beer Co. has introduced a Jack-o-Traveler pumpkin shandy, both available around the city.

Two Chicago breweries also are getting in on the game. Spiteful Brewing and South Loop Brewing are in the process of brewing their pumpkin beers, named Jackass O'Lantern and Jack Ale Lantern, respectively. The challenge for breweries hoping to make a pumpkin beer that uses real pumpkin, rather than canned pumpkin puree or only pumpkin spices such as nutmeg and clove, is simply where to get pumpkins so early in the season.

Spiteful's Jason Klein spotted Sugar Pie pumpkins at Dominick's and promptly bought all 60 pounds that the grocery store had in stock. South Loop Brewing's Jeremiah Zimmer also spotted the gourds at the grocery store. Once he posted a photo of them to Twitter, three other breweries contacted him to find out where he'd found them.

"Almost every other commercial pumpkin beer is already sitting on the premiere shelf at Binny's, and I could barely get my hands on a box of pumpkins," Zimmer said. "It's easy to tell who's using real pumpkins and who's not."

Fresh, canned or otherwise, pumpkin has Chicago firmly in its grip—at least for the next few weeks.

"You get burned out on them," said Binny's Kyle Fornek. "After you drink 10 or 20 pumpkin beers, you're done until next year."

>>Have pumpkin-flavored goodies gone too far? Watch RedEye staffers try pumpkin yogurt, Pop Tarts and more.

FIVE TO TRY

These five beers, on shelves now, are a solid place to start your pumpkin education.

1. Southern Tier Pumking
One of the most popular bottles of pumpkin beer out there, this vanilla- and nutmeg-laced imperial ale sneaks up on you at 8 percent ABV.

2. Big Muddy Brewing Pumpkin Smasher
Brewed in Murphysboro, Ill., this beer is made with sweet and savory spices and plenty of malt.

3. Smuttynose Pumpkin ale
Hoppier than most other pumpkin beers, Smuttynose's ale is a good bet for transitioning out of warmer temperatures.

4. O'Fallon Pumpkin beer
Like pumpkin pie in a bottle, O'Fallon's version has a pumpkin backbone with a hefty dose of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

5. Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest ale
Once temperatures drop a bit, this brown ale with molasses, spice and pumpkin will taste even more seasonally appropriate.

 

kbernot@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Oklahoma fraternity's racist chant learned on a cruise
    Oklahoma fraternity's racist chant learned on a cruise

    Members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity apparently learned a racist chant that recently got their chapter disbanded during a national leadership cruise four years ago that was sponsored by the fraternity's national administration, the university's president said Friday.

  • In NYC building collapse, mayor cites 'inappropriately' tapped gas line; 2 missing
    In NYC building collapse, mayor cites 'inappropriately' tapped gas line; 2 missing

    Someone may have improperly tapped a gas line before an explosion that leveled three apartment buildings and injured nearly two dozen people, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday as firefighters soaked the still-smoldering buildings and police searched for at least two missing people.

  • Construction ongoing at Wrigley Field
    Construction ongoing at Wrigley Field

    From bleachers to structural details, work to renovate Wrigley Field continues.

  • Emanuel uses borrowing to cope with Daley's debt burden
    Emanuel uses borrowing to cope with Daley's debt burden

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel has reduced spending and increased fines, fees and certain taxes to shrink the chronic budget deficits left over from his predecessor, Richard M. Daley.

  • Six Flags Great America's lost attractions
    Six Flags Great America's lost attractions

    Not every ride's the Willard's Whizzer. That iconic coaster debuted in 1976 when Marriott's Great America, now Six Flags Great America, in Gurnee, Ill., first opened. And it's still popular today. But for every Whizzer there's a Tidal Wave, Shockwave or Z-Force, rides existing only in memory.

  • Denim's just getting started
    Denim's just getting started

    Five years ago, denim-on-denim defied all of the dire warnings in the "Undateable" handbook: Instead of evoking John Denver or Britney Spears in her misstyled youth, chambray shirts paired with darker blue jeans became as cool as actor Johnny Depp and street-style heroine Alexa Chung.

Comments
Loading