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“Basic” Pumpkin Spice, Craft Brew Style!

Introducing Table Hopping’s new craft-brew-loving gal Kristen Merrit.

Truly, there’s nothing better in CNY than a cool, crisp, sunny fall weekend full of pumpkin and apple-picking, football, bonfires, the changing leaves, and cozy layers. Add in a few great seasonal beers, a few great friends, and you’ve just given yourself a 5-star weekend.

Personally, it wouldn’t quite be Autumn  in my book without pumpkin. Yes, we’re talking the yoga-pants-wearing, Mean Girls-loving, Starbucks-drinking, filtered-selfie-Instagraming, #hashtagabusing, sexy-Halloween-costume planning, fall-scented-candle-burning, flannel & Uggs-schlepping, basic white girl pumpkin spice goodness. I mean, let’s get real, most men out there are secretly into more than half of these things listed, so yes, you’re an honorary basic white chick too; or you’re dating one, so you’re still guilty by association. While all know about the pumpkin spice craze that has taken over the human population, it has also infiltrated the world of beer too. You only have to wander down the “seasonal” aisle of your local grocery store’s beer section to notice that pumpkin (and spice) isn’t just reserved for your lattes. But I think you’d be surprised to know that pumpkin beer brewing has actually been around for hundreds of years, especially right here in the good ol’ U S of A.

“The American Herbal,” written by Samuel Stearns, a well-known physician of his time, was published in 1801, and actually meant to be a medical guide, discusses the different types of beer commonly brewed during that time period. “Common malt beer is made of water, malt and hops. Porter and ale is also made of the same ingredients. There are likewise other kinds of beer, as pumpkin beer, bran beer, spruce beer, etc.” The same text goes on to say what types of ailments arise from drinking these specific types of beers. Ale, for instance, causes flatulence, colic and cholera, and constant consumption of ale gives the drinker a constant fever “and is therefore injurious.” Porter “agrees” with some types of people, “but not with others,” and the text gives an example of a young woman who drinks a porter and it magically clears up her heart palpitations. Spruce beer is “very wholesome” and “very beneficial” in curing scurvy. Pumpkin and bran beers “partake of the virtues of the ingredients” and were also prepared and prescribed by physicians to treat a variety of ailments. (Useful for a colon cleanse perhaps? Where’s the poop emoticon when you need it?!)

A small sampling of what you may find wandering the craft beer aisle at any given grocery store this Autumn.

Another reference to pumpkin beer in colonial America was made by historian Edward Field in his work “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century: A History,” that was published in 1902, that encompassed the time period before the American Revolution through the 1800s. In this text he describes a “flip” which was a popular mixed drink, served piping hot, that consisted of “home brewed beer, sweetened with sugar, molasses or dried pumpkin, and flavored with a liberal dash of rum, then stirred in a great mug or pitcher with a red hot hottle or flip dog (an iron tool of the time), which made the liquor foam, and gave it a burnt, bitter taste,” and sometimes they added other ingredients including beaten eggs or whipped cream. Needless to say, we’ve come a long way since the pumpkin brews that our great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers were drinking. I’ll share with you a few of my personal favorite pumpkin craft beers that are found locally both on tap and in many of our local outfits that sell beer.

Pumking by Southern Tier Brewing Company – Truly, this is the King of the pumpkin beers. At 8.6% ABV, and brewed right here in NYS, you can find this virtually everywhere in CNY, both on tap and bottled. This tasty brew has a good balanced mix of pure pumpkin flavor and all the spices you’d expect to find in a hearty piece of pumpkin pie —cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove— along with a heavy dose of vanilla. Medium in body, you can have a glass or two on Thanksgiving day and not spoil your appetite for dinner. Southern Tier also offers other variations of their Pumking including the Cold Press Coffee Pumking and Rum Barrel Aged Pumking, that are both fantastic in their own rights.

Pumpkin spice isn’t just for pies when celebrating this coming Thanksgiving holiday seasons bounty.

Saranac Pumpkin Ale by Saranac Brewery (F.X. Matt Brewing Co.) – Saranac brews are a staple for most of us here in CNY, and they give us yet another hit with their 5.3% ABV pumpkin beer. While not as sweet as many others, and with a less heavy pumpkin presence and more malt, this still evokes the same blend of pumpkin spice we all know and love – with perhaps a bit of ginger thrown in for good measure. It’s a solid brew made by a solid brewery.

Basic Becky by Stout Beard Brewing Company – If you’re looking for something even closer to home, this Syracuse brewery offers a new pumpkin beer worth checking out. I even had the opportunity to sample this brew with my friend, (I kid you not), named Becky. (Basic Becky drinking a Basic Becky?! How amazingly awesome is that!?) A very balanced brew, upon tasting, it’s light on the start with soft notes of vanilla and coffee, heavy pumpkin with a sprinkle of cinnamon in the middle, and a potent dash of nutmeg on the finish, without going overboard. Ironically, there’s nothing really “basic” about it. You’ll have to head over to the brewery for this one, and don’t forget your growler for extra to take home.

In other fall-related news, what better way to experience all of what our local breweries and downtown Syracuse has to offer in the way of craft brews than by this year’s 10th annual Syracuse Beer Week that runs from November 5th through 11th. There are so many offerings this year, from Kitty Hoynes’ Beer and Banger fest IV, to tap takeovers all week long at The Evergreen, or visiting one of the hometown favorites, The Blue Tusk, where you can try one (or a few) of their many seasonal offerings on their 69 rotating taps. Truly, you can run the full gamut of craft brews in one incredible week. And if you’re looking even further ahead (and are a “type-A” planner like myself), now’s the time to grab your tickets to the 5th annual New York Craft Brewers Festival at the Landmark Theatre, held  this year on Saturday, December 2nd that runs from 4-8pm. There are only 1,000 tickets available, and this event does sell out every year. There are a couple of different ticket tiers to choose from, including DD tickets. Not only does the event ticket come with a tasting glass (that’s actually made of glass!), but it includes unlimited

samplings of brews from over 60 NYS breweries and a variety of food items from an array of local restaurants and food trucks. This is a fabulous event that shouldn’t be missed and is another great way to expand your palate this fall all while supporting local business.  For more information and to purchase tickets, check out Facebook or www.newyorkcraftbeer.com.

In conclusion, as the days grow shorter and the number of days decrease until the dreaded “S” word shows up, so does your opportunity to taste a little slice of pumpkin in a beer glass. So throw on your quilted vest, your SU emblazoned baseball cap, or your “basic” knee-high leather riding boots (that have never stepped foot in an actual stable) and get out and enjoy the best of what our local businesses, restaurants, bars, and craft breweries have to offer this fall!

Kristin Merritt
Just a brief introduction that I’ve joined the Table Hopping crew as your new craft-brew-loving gal who will be bringing you your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope that I can give a few recommendations for your grocery lists, event suggestions and local hotspots for an afternoon out with friends or planning a date, and if not for nothing, perhaps enlighten you with some random knowledge that you can amaze your teammates with at trivia night – or at least give you and your pals a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! I have some mighty large shoes to fill that my friend and fellow Syracuse Women of Craft Beer member (& founder), Gloria Rakowsky, left for me, but I hope that my style (and shenanigans) will keep all y’all coming back for more each month. Cheers!