The 2012 crop of pumpkin ale — the most popular seasonal beer, made by brewers around the country every fall — has arrived. But this year there's a new twist from Samuel Adams: The Boston brewer shipped its Harvest Pumpkin Ale in six-packs to Texas for the very first time.
A spokeswoman for Samuel Adams couldn't (or wouldn't) say how much pumpkin ale they brewed this year; beer companies tend to be tight-lipped with that kind of information. But beginning in late August, six-packs of Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale have shown up all over: supermarkets, liquor store chains like Spec's and indie liquor stores.
Serious beer nerds ordinarily would snub a release from a mainstream brewer like Samuel Adams, even if it is pumpkin. But the Pumpkin Ale is a special case, because you couldn't buy it in six-packs. Last year, the only way to get it was in a 12-bottle variety pack, which netted you a mere two bottles of Pumpkin Ale, along with 10 other less-rare Samuel Adams brews such as Octoberfest. Those 12-packs have returned in 2012, along with a very limited-edition 22-ounce bottle of pumpkin ale called Fat Jack.
The limited-edition status of pumpkin beers makes them seem more prized, says World Beer Co. beer buyer Stephanie Roethlisberger.
Pumpkin-flavored beers have become crazy-popular in the past few years, because of their crowd-pleasing spice flavor and because their limited-edition status makes them seem more prized, says Stephanie Roethlisberger, beer buyer for World Beer Co. in Dallas.
"It's definitely one of the most popular seasonal beers," she says. "You have your summer releases and autumn releases, like Octoberfest. But the difference is that, with something like Octoberfest, those beers tend to taste the same, no matter who is making them. With pumpkin, you get interesting variations."
Pumpkin beers are amber to dark in color, with flavors of allspice, cinnamon and clove. Some call them "pumpkin pie in a bottle." Pumpkin brews have a long history dating back to Colonial times, but the current wave was launched in 1985 by Buffalo Bill's Brewery, whose pumpkin beer is widely available in grocery chains such as Central Market. The next big evolution in pumpkin beer came from Dogfish Head, a well-respected, medium-size brewer in Delaware that came out with its Punkin' Ale in the mid-'90s.
Samuel Adams came to the pumpkin game late, releasing its first pumpkin ale in 2010 in limited quantities, mostly around Boston. Because the brewer uses real pumpkin, it's forced to buy its pumpkin frozen to get it out during pumpkin season.