Why Pumpkin Was The Crux Of Early American Brewing

When you think of pumpkins today, what likely comes to mind is jack-o-lantern, seasonal lattes, and pies. It is a fruit commonly harvested in the autumn and is often associated with Halloween, sweets, and harvest dishes. Most people don't normally think of beer, even if they love all things Oktoberfest. But for a long time, that's exactly what Americans did think of! At least, they did back when the United States was still a British colony.

Let's back up. Why pumpkins? Why did colonists not use wheat or barley? As per usual, it all comes down to resources. Malt plants were difficult to grow on the East Coast because it was incredibly difficult to farm in the stony Northeastern terrain when the land was first colonized. So settlers had to make do with plants native to the Americas like the pumpkin (via SoilsMatter). According to Craft Beer & Brewing, the flesh of the squash was filled with sugars that made for an equitable replacement for traditional grains. Pumpkin ale was also used as an ingredient in old-timey cocktails and was serenaded in one of the first recorded folk songs. It went a little something like: "If barley be wanting to make into malt // We must be contented and think it no fault // For we can make liquor, to sweeten our lips, // Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips ... " (via Serious Eats).

Pumpkin beer is still around today

There is a difference between beer brewed with pumpkin and what we think of as "pumpkin beer" or ale that contains the same spices we use in pumpkin pie. A lot of commercial pumpkin beer doesn't have pumpkin in it at all, but spices that make it taste like that. Buffalo Bill's Brewery in California created a pumpkin beer after reportedly hearing that it was popular amongst founding fathers (via Matador Network).

Looking to get back to their roots, Buffalo Bill's Brewery mixed baked squash in with their malt, producing what is technically a pumpkin beer, but the thing is, pumpkin beer tastes like any other grain-based beer. What we've done to make pumpkin beer actually tastes how we imagine "pumpkin" — like pumpkin pie and pumpkin lattes — is by adding a blend of pumpkin pie spices such as nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice into the brew (via Beer&Brewing). Pumpkin beer is super popular due to the addition of these spices, and though it isn't necessary to actually use pumpkin during fermentation anymore, it's done to honor the old method and add a touch of authenticity to pumpkin beer brands.