The first pumpkin ale is believed to have been created in the eighteenth century when the hardy and innovative pioneers used local ingredients, such as pumpkins, to brew ales. Back then, pumpkins were readily available, and their fermentable sugars filled in for the malt required to make beer.
As conventional beer ingredients such as barley became more accessible in the nineteenth century, the reserves of beers made from pumpkins dwindled to extinction. In the mid-1800s, pumpkin ale made a partial-comeback in the form of beers flavored with pumpkin rather than made directly from it.
It was not until the 1980s when the brew made a proper comeback in the form of a flavorful variation. A brewpub owner in California created a beer with pumpkin and added some pie spices for flavor. This combination was later known as “pumpkin zombies.”
In Canada, the interest in Pumpkin beers re-emerged in 2004 when the Windsor Pumpkin Festival requested Halifax’s Propeller Brewing Company to create a beer showcasing the giant gourd – from the huge Jabba-the-Hutt-like pumpkin variety grown by Danny Dill in Windsor, N.S. The drink has been brewed since.
There are tens of varieties of pumpkins, with some giant ones referred to as the Jabba-the-Hutt-like variety, weighing as much as 2,009 pounds. But this variety is not as sweet as pie pumpkins. So, brewers prefer to use light, bready pale malts to create the golden ale that allows the notes of fresh pumpkin pulp and spicy clove to shine.
36,000 pints of the pumpkin zombie can be brewed from around 1,000 giant pumpkins, but the demand for the drink exceeds the supply. The season for pumpkin beers starts around August, but the stock is usually depleted by Halloween.
There are now many varieties of Pumpkin beer, most of which use a combination of pie spices: allspice, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. One particularly interesting variety has a hefty caramel and graham-cracker base that evokes pumpkin-pie in a pint.
Most pumpkin beers sell-through very fast during the Halloween season owing to the increased number of parties around that time. The alcohol content in pumpkin beer is sometimes higher than standard beers, like the Pumpkin Abbey ale at 9.5 percent, but it is still a favorite among locals, especially in the weeks leading up to Halloween.
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