Drinking often comes with strong opinions. Which is why we’re launching a new series, Pro/Con, where we’ll argue some of the more contentious booze issues. With today being the first day of fall, we thought there was no subject more appropriate to debate than pumpkin beer. While some people really love pumpkin beer, other people really hate it. Luckily we have two people at VinePair who are squarely on either side of this issue: one’s a massive fan, the other wants nothing to do with the stuff.
Issue #1: Why Must Everything In Fall Be Flavored With Pumpkin?
Adam Teeter: Don’t get me wrong, I love a good slice of pumpkin pie as much as anyone, but that’s about where it stops for me in terms of pumpkin flavor. I don’t want it in my latte – and not just because I don’t consider myself “basic” – I don’t particularly enjoy it in bread and muffins and I definitely don’t want it in my beer. Why does fall always have to be pumpkin flavored? We have so many other great flavors to choose from, and yet the pumpkin seems to represent fall in one tidy little bow.
Emily Bell: A wise, and I believe now-legally-able-to-rent-a-car, woman once said “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” That, my friend, is all you’re doing here. Sure, you admit to liking seasonal pumpkin, but only in one tiny literal slice of pie per annum. Otherwise it seems like you’re just objecting to the ubiquity of pumpkin out there–not just in beer, but in the many lattes and scones and low-fat, gluten free, vegan, baptized, non-GMO muffins that Juicy Couture sweatsuit-clad “basic” chicks such as myself purchase on our way to a Sephora sale or a Zac Efron book signing. Or whatever. Why is everything flavored with pumpkin in the fall? Because it’s fall. And yes, while far too many things are “pumpkin-flavored” these days, your objection to pumpkin beer so far seems based on the “too much pumpkin” phenom. Not the beer. So yeah. Asking you about pumpkin beer is like asking the old man who takes my frisbee when it lands in his yard whether he wants to play a few rounds of Ultimate with me and my awesome friends.
Issue #2: There’s Something to Be Said for Participating in the Seasonal Culinary Zeitgeist
Emily: Yes, pumpkin’s everywhere, and it’s kind of annoying, and it’s all over the beer shelves already. But there’s something to be said for just allowing yourself to engage in the zeitgeist (which, for Seinfeld fans, is kind of like Volstein). Not trying to condone the fact that every holiday food/decorative item is unleashed far too early, that’s a crime against nature none of us can stop (Merry Christmas, btw). But there is a unifying seasonal rhythm to things: we crave turkey at Thanksgiving time, and even though it’s a hassle to get, and you still regret shoving that old woman when she was going for the last 18 pounder, at least you felt like you were part of something. Drinking pumpkin beer, whether in a bar among friends or alone in your room, writing an apology letter to that old lady, is a way of culturally connecting with your fellow man in an era that – pause for sigh – promises so much technological connectivity but yields so much alienation…
Adam: Aren’t we of a time in history where we celebrate people who think outside the box? Where we actually want people to challenge the status quo and say enough is enough? Look I’m not trying to equate the struggle to be free of pumpkin beer with actual legitimate struggles going on in the world, but it would be nice to find people who are actually saying “look at me I am doing things differently, I am comfortable saying no to pumpkin.” The cool thing is that a lot of people are starting to. Some breweries are actually having the balls to say, “we are going to get creative, we aren’t going to be pigeonholed by this whole pumpkin beer trend and we’re going to make libations that actually speak to our own fall experience” – Day Of The Dead beers i’m looking at you. The more this happens, the more beer drinkers will be rewarded. Seasonal beers should be offerings that challenge and excite us as drinkers, not things that simply are released because we feel like they should be. Basically, pumpkin beer is limiting brewers creativity and we should all be pro creativity.
Issue #3: These Beers Don’t Actually Taste Like Pumpkin
Adam: If I wanted a little bit of pumpkin pie with my beer, I’d just grab a slice of pie and a nice brown ale – they actually complement each other well. It’s the sad truth that most pumpkin beers don’t taste like actual pumpkin, not even close. Instead they taste strongly of all the spices used in pumpkin pie – clove, nutmeg, cinnamon – with a touch of artificial flavoring to tie it all together. And don’t try to tell me there are some beers that use real pumpkin and I should be drinking those instead, because guess what, no one really likes the flavor of real pumpkin, that’s why we use all those spices in the first place, but using them in beer just turns the brew into an artificially flavored sweet mess.
Emily: Oh, “no one really likes the flavor of real pumpkin”? Really? You know who actually did like the flavor of real pumpkin? Native Americans. It was a staple food, in fact, something they (very kindly) introduced to the Pilgrims who might have otherwise – what did that website say? – oh yeah, “died from starvation.” So basically, without some very wise and generous people relishing the flavor of real pumpkin, none of us would be here–able to drink our Day of the Dead beers or hyper-hopped IPAs (speaking of which, if I wanted an entire grapefruit and a Christmas tree in my beer I could add it myself, thanks California). In the very least, don’t disparage the humble little beers that try to honor the important native heritage of the mighty pumpkin. Plus–while I have to agree, some pumpkin beers taste like someone blitzed out on baking spices–a few of them, including the Saranac Pumpkin I had just the other day, incorporate both pumpkin and (especially) spice gently, ending up with a nicely rounded flavor–cuz pumpkin goes with the maltiness, homeboy. Pumpkin flavor–which most true American’s don’t need adulterated in lattes or pies anyway–actually marries really well with beer, assuming it’s well balanced (which, if it isn’t, why are you buying it anyway?).
Issue #4: Drinking Pumpkin Beer is One of the Last Vestiges of Seasonal Celebration Allowed in Adulthood
Emily: Sure, Halloween’s coming. Thanksgiving’s coming. But it doesn’t matter, because, let’s face it, being an adult is joyless. There are taxes. There are the first early signs of aging, like when you keep forgetting to pay your taxes. There’s the unstated expectation that you can no longer weep openly in public, no matter how long the line at the DMV is. Even Halloween is joyless. Candy corn means root canals. And actual Halloween doesn’t mean trick-or-treating–it means picking a sufficiently ironic or pun-tastic costume to wear to your friend’s warehouse party that for some reason can only be reached by bus. And forget Thanksgiving–the four-hour contentious food orgy in which, yes, you’ll take your one slice of pumpkin pie, Adam–because for most of us it’s either fighting about whose family to visit or waiting for the tryptophan and wine to kick in as we deal with our own families, alone. One of the last, precious, irony-free ways we adults get to acknowledge Halloween or fall is the comforting, hearty flavor of pumpkin in our beer. While kids trade Snickers and Mike n’ Ike’s, and some poor fool tries to get rid of his box of raisins, we get to go to the store with our legal IDs and purchase beers like Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Pumking, and Punkaccino (because pumpkin even works well with coffee-flavored beers). In fact, there are so many pumpkin beers out there, I barely have to argue my point–sure, there are pumpkin lattes, but they’re all basically the same. Pumpkin works well, in a variety of ways, in beer. No trick to that. All treat, baby.
Adam: I’d say the most adult thing one can do to celebrate the season is to avoid pumpkin beer and opt for a cider instead. In my opinion nothing says fall quite like cider, and with the plethora of quality ciders now on the market, you’re sure to find one you enjoy. On top of this, cider, unlike many pumpkin beers which can be cloying, pairs perfectly with fall’s bounty. It’s both the perfect fall libation and the perfect drink for fall food. Enough said.
Emily: Masterful debating, Mr. Trump, er, I mean, Adam. But if you really loved cider you’d know a ton of American ciders are cloyingly sweet, like caramel apples. Looks like I know the most about all things seasonal and American. Amen.