What: Elysian Brewing Great Pumpkin Roadshow

When: 6-8 p.m. Oct. 19

Where: Platypus Pub, 1203 NE Third St., Bend

Contact: platypuspubbend.com

Last October in this column, we tackled Halloween-themed beers while mostly managing to avoid the dreaded “P” brews — “P” as in pumpkin. This year, it’s time to confront the orange elephant in the room, that uniquely American creation pumpkin beer.

Most of America’s brewing traditions are imported from other countries — Germany, England and Belgium for the most part. Very few styles can be considered indigenous to our country; California common (steam beer) and cream ale are two examples. Beers made with pumpkins, native to the Americas, are a third.

Yet, there is rarely a style as divisive among drinkers and brewers as this one. It’s a love-hate proposition, and I believe the negative reactions stem from experiencing poorly brewed, over-spiced “pumpkin pie in a glass” versions. No wonder — these can range from cloyingly sweet to thin and astringent.

On the other hand, when brewed well, these beers offer a delicious and unusual experience that can evoke nostalgia for the holidays.

The pie-spiced ale is still the dominant recipe on the market, though in recent years brewers have expressed more creativity. For instance, New Belgium Brewing’s Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin includes habanero peppers and Saigon cinnamon for a spicy-hot kick. It reminds me of Atomic Fireball candy, with sweet cinnamon up front and gently blooming heat in the finish.

And Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Co. has long brewed a wide variety of pumpkin smash-up styles, including stouts, sour ales and lagers. On Oct. 19, it will showcase a number of these unusual pumpkin beers at the Platypus Pub as part of its Great Pumpkin Roadshow. (The beer list for the event was not available at press time.)

Pumpkin ales originated during the Colonial era in American history, brewed out of necessity for lack of quality ingredients. Pumpkins were plentiful and readily available as a substitute for many staples, including flour, molasses, and sugar — and brewing malt. The earliest known written recipe dates to 1771 from the American Philosophical Society, simply fermenting pumpkin juice with hops and no spices.

The use of pumpkin in beer tapered off through the 19th century as the availability of quality ingredients increased, and all but died out by the 20th.

The first modern pumpkin ale is credited to Buffalo Bill’s Brewery of California. In 1985, owner William Owens was researching colonial brewing practices when he came across an account of George Washington brewing with pumpkin. He decided to brew a similar ale, adding roasted pumpkin to the mash, but was disappointed with the results.

“There was no ‘punkin’ in the flavor!” he told the website Beer Basics in 2011. He concluded that pumpkin by itself contributed no flavor to the finished beer.

“Suddenly, it dawned on me. … One of America’s classic tastes is pumpkin pie and when you pick up a can of pumpkin pie (mix) there it is on the label.” His solution: omit pumpkin and brew the beer with spices only. “When I served it, it was absolutely beautiful. The nose and mouth feel was perfectly balanced, perfectly.”

Thus was born the “classic” pumpkin ale that many breweries emulate, though most also use real pumpkin. It is usually amber in color, moderately sweet, and reminiscent of pumpkin pie. It’s so common, in fact, that spices have become nearly mandatory, regardless of variation.

I am a purist, and I seek out those beers brewed with real pumpkin. One of the main contributions it brings to a beer is mouthfeel; the meat of the squash adds body to the finished beer, giving it a fuller feel. And despite Owens’ belief, subtle flavors of pumpkin exist if you know what to look for.

With that in mind, here are seven locally available pumpkin beers (and ciders) to explore. These pair well with hearty food, and especially dessert.

10 Barrel Brewing — Jamaican Me Pumpkin

10 Barrel’s version is an imperial pumpkin ale aged for a year in Jamaican rum barrels. Sweet notes of spiced rum blend with the pumpkin spice into a boozy, cool weather sipper that is dessert-like.

RiverBend Brewing — Bibbiddi Bobbiddi Boo

I found an emphasis on cloves in this year’s version from the Bend brewpub, with delicate squash notes underlying the seasoning, reminiscent of pumpkin bread.

Rogue Ales — Pumpkin Patch Ale

Newport’s Rogue brews this beer with pumpkins grown on its farm located in Independence. It follows the standard and includes cardamom and orange peel for a well-balanced twist.

2 Towns Ciderhouse — Hollow Jack Unfiltered Pumpkin Cider

Hard cider is infused with caramelized pumpkins, sweet potatoes and a blend of spices for impressions of mulled cider. A touch of brown sugar brings Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole to mind.

Pfriem Family Brewers — Pumpkin Bier

Belgian ale yeast differentiates this Hood River selection, which is mild. Ginger and vanilla round out the subtle vegetal character.

Laurelwood Brewing — Pumpkin Ale

This brew out of Portland looks terrific and presents with a classic aroma of pumpkin spice, followed up with flavors of molasses and roasted malts.

Seattle Cider — Pumpkin Spice Hard Cider

The spice carries through more strongly than the pumpkin in this Washington cider, but you’ll be treated to notes of candied apple skin and cinnamon applesauce.

— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!

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