Pumpkin Beer: A Polemic

It’s that time of year where we don jeans, sing the praises of New York in the fall, and… drink pumpkin spiced beer? Yep, the pumpkin spice craze, long embodied by, and confined to, the novelty Starbucks latte, has bled into all aspects of our society. And beer is not safe from the scourge. Recent evidence has shown that what was once a novelty brew put out by big brewers like Blue Moon and Sam Adams has now infected the entire craft beer world, at least according to Thrillist’s exhaustive roundup of the latest tiresome fad: “The Best Pumpkin Beers in America”.

The title alone is a bit wonky, as America is the only country in the world that would tolerate such a product. OK, maybe the UK (they also thought up Brexit, so…). America’s obsession with fake pumpkin pie flavoring is well established, with pumpkin spice Cheerios, pumpkin spice tea, pumpkin spice Twinkies, pumpkin spice Pop-Tarts, pumpkin spice Pringles, pumpkin spice dog treats, pumpkin spice ice cream, pumpkin spice Oreos, pumpkin spice Clif Bars, and, yes, pumpkin spice friggin’ SPAM®. This is not the innovative experimentation that brought us the phonograph and the Model T; this is soulless marketers run amok. They notice an uptick in competitor’s sales one year, a trending #hashtag, and before you know it they’re spraying artificial nutmeg onto every goddamn thing we can put in our mouths.

Not to say that spiced beer is something new. People have been brewing spiced ales for centuries, not to mention the long tradition of mulling cider, rum, and other alcohols. (There’s really nothing like a mug of Glühwein on a cold winter day.) But these modern beers seem to take all the fun of spicing up a bottle of booze and replace it with clove extract, mold inhibitor, and sulphite preservatives.

The Thrillist, er, list shows brewers, like our pumpkin-obsessed corporate food overlords, are throwing anything at the gourd wall to see what sticks. There is no limit to the type of beer they’ll adulterate: rum barrel-aged ale, bourbon barrel-aged ale, imperial ale, imperial stout, coffee ale, sour ale (yech!), and so many more. And this is just the “best” out there — there’s probably hundreds more pumpkin spice somethings lying in the shadows of bodega shelves and walk-in coolers all over the country.

It’s as if the marketing department in every brewery sent a memo to the master brewer saying, “Whatever’s in the tun, add cinnamon. We printed up 50,000 labels and need to get this #pumpkinspicebeer to market ASAP!” The poor, beleaguered brewer then casts his sunken eyes over the burbling vats of beer wort and reluctantly chooses one to sacrifice to the pumpkin spice gods. Consequently, sales increase 2% YOY, while millions of Americans at holiday parties take a swig and say, “It’s OK, but I couldn’t drink a whole bottle.”

No, thanks. We’ll celebrate the autumn with some real Oktoberfest beers, thankyouverymuch.