As far as I can tell, pumpkin ale goes back to the time of George Washington and perhaps farther. Particularly brewed around harvest, these so-called spiced ales reflected the need to use up as many resources as possible so that nothing was wasted. You see, pumpkin doesn’t actually add that much flavor to a beer. Often what you’re tasting in the beer is spices added by the brewer. These spices give the taste and feel of pumpkin pie rather than the sweet, buttery taste of the gourd.
The funny thing is that spiced ales are much older, and certain spiced ales have been associated with certain holidays and festivals, especially harvest and solstice. In my opinion, pumpkin beer is a novelty that has become somewhat mainstream because the flavors invoke fall, harvest, celebration, oncoming winter and festivities. Just look at the way people get excited about pumpkin lattes at Starbucks. Read more about the popularity of pumpkin beer in this article.
It brings up a good question though. Do you think pumpkin ales are a seasonal gem or a bad blend?
Anybody know of any Montana breweries doing a pumpkin ale this year?