Fall is officially here. I know because the air outside is biting, I’m drinking apple cider on the daily, Groupon is crowding up my inbox with deals for haunted hayrides, and—most importantly—pumpkin beers are crowding the shelves of liquor stores countrywide. Pumpkin beer kind of gets a bad rep for being kind of a pansy beer. Yes, there are a bunch of super sweet pumpkin beers out there that recall pumpkin pie flavors rather than the heartiness of real-life pumpkin. However, there are still a good number of delicious, not-too-sweet brews out there that are waiting to enjoyed by those who aren’t trying to drink their dessert. Now, how does one navigate the spooky-scary world of pumpkin beers?
Never fear, the best of DC’s bar scene are here to help. I talked to Keith Weymouth, manager of the Black Squirrel, Greg Jasgur, bar manager of Pizzeria Paradiso and Sam Fitz, beer director of Meridian Pint about their recommendations, what they have in store for the fall and the wild world of pumpkin beers in general.
3400 11th Street Northwest Washington, DC 20010
Meridian Pint will have one or two pumpkin beers on for the remainder of the season. The bar changes its draft lines every day, so the pumpkin beers available will shift throughout October. For example, right now the Evolution’s Jacques Au Lantern is on tap, but beer director Sam Fitz says Mad Fox’s Punkinator will be next up.
Fitz’s favorite pumpkin brew is Schafly’s Pumpkin Ale, which he says is the most popular at the Columbia Heights-area bar/restaurant. He likes it because although it does have the traditional pumpkin spices (cloves, nutmeg, allspice, etc.), it’s not to the point where it’s overdone. “I think it’s a little gimmicky to make a beer that’s really overly spiced, you kind of lose the art of brewing and you’re just kind of putting intense flavors in peoples’ face,” he said. “It’s no different than cooking, really.”
According to bar manager Greg Jasgur, there will be all autumnal beers on tap all October long at the pizzeria’s three locations.
Of all the autumnal beers offered, Jasgur says pumpkin beers are the crowd favorite. “They’re definitely the highlight of the lineups,” he said. “Especially because Oktoberfests tended to taste very similar from brewery to brewery, while pumpkin ales are definitely very different.”
Jasgur’s favorite pumpkin ale is Elysian’s Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, because it has “an earthy quality to it as opposed to a pumpkin pie quality.”
For those who are in the market for a pumpkin beer that scream PUMPKIN BEER, he suggests Southern Tier’s Pumpkin Ale. “We go through tons of that every October.” Jasgur said he likes pumpkin beers that are less spice-heavy are more drinkable than those that are cloyingly sweet.
“Subtle, light-handed pumpkin ales are really nice,” he said.
2427 18th Street Northwest Washington, DC 20009
The Black Squirrel has ample stocks of pumpkin ales to last through those chilly October nights, including Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road Pumpkin Ale and Smuttynose’s Pumpkin Ale, which will get switched out depending how long they last on tap. Right now there are four types of pumpkin ales available on the three levels of the bar. Manager Keith Weymouth told me breweries have been releasing their pumpkin beers earlier and earlier. Some breweries release their pumpkin beers as early as July these days because of their increasing popularity.
And if you’re super into all things pumpkin, Living Social is offering a deal right now for pumpkin-themed tasting events hosted by the guys behind D.C. barbecue joint Smoke & Barrel. On the menu: Chipotle pumpkin soup, smoked pork with pumpkin risotto, maple-pumpkin crème brûlée, a pumpkin spice Manhattan cocktail and Southern Tier Pumpkin Ale. You’ll probably swear off pumpkin-flavored food items for the rest of the year, but it will probably be oh-so-worth it!