Wine & Beer Column: Oktoberfest & Pumpkin Ale

Matt Young writes the Wine & Beer Column on CaryCitizen. Yard of beer photo by Club Transatlântico. Munich Oktoberfest photo by Jonas K.

Cary, NC – Autumn beers. Like so many things we eat and drink, many of the best beer styles were born out of necessity. Thank you, necessity!


Before modern refrigeration existed, beer could not be fermented in the hot months of summer. The  fermentation process is best performed at under 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The German locals would brew in early spring what they called Märzenbier (March beer), and place them in cold caves to mature and ferment to be consumed later in the fall.

All hail the birth of Oktoberfest beer.  These beers are also, more appropriately, referred to as “Bavarian Märzenbiers” by beer purists.

The early Bavarian brewmasters purposely made these beers at higher alcohol levels to resist bacterial infections. As a consequence the recipes were heavy on the malt (that leads to more sugar and thus – higher alcohol). So…these were flavorful, malty, high-ish “gravity” (about 6% ABV) lager beers. If you are a pale ale or lager lover, and not a hophead, there’s no reason you won’t like these.

Here’s a couple to try:

• Spaten Oktoberfestbier: Deep amber, crisp, dry, malty, bready, slight hoppiness, earthy. Characteristic of the style. This is one of the classics, a mainstay, actually drunk in the beer gartens of Munich during Oktoberfest. It’s not overly complex, but something you could sit outside with and drink all day.

• Hacker-Pschorr Oktobertfest: Copper colored, dry, caramel, earthy, toffee. Characteristic of the style.

Pumpkin Ales

Lots of people get excited about these every fall. It’s a novelty. Like egg nog at Christmas.

I mean, these days you can get canned pumpkin and the applicable spices all year round so certainly there is nothing inhibiting drinking this all year round but we don’t. That said – they are good. It’s just that they are seasonal.

If you offered your buddy one of these on the beach, the assumption would be that you got them at a close-out sale.

Some brewers don’t use actual pumpkin (sin of sins) and just brew their ale with the spices (ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice). They ought to call that “mock pumpkin beer” or “spice beer” but alas there are no laws governing the naming of pumpkin beer.

These ales typically have little bitterness and no hop aroma. The pumpkin used by brewers can be canned or fresh and those that use fresh pumpkin often roast it first. I believe that crazy brewer, Sam Calgione (Dogfish Head Punkin Ale), made this style cool some years ago. I have nothing on which to base that opinion other than my astute observations of the beer world.

Stores are already filled with dozens of brewery’s offerings of the stuff in preparation for the autumn rush, many local to Cary.

By the way, if you have a friend that is a home brewer, ask him or her for a bottle. It’s a favorite brew in the fall.

Here’s a couple to try:

• Dogfish Head Punkin Ale :  Named after the “Punkin Chunkin Contest” in the Dogfish Head brewery’s home in Delaware. In fact, Punkin Ale made its debut in the 1994 Punkin Chunkin Recipe Contest before the brewery was in business! This is a spicy, robust ale made with lots of organic brown sugar. You can detect the ginger and nutmeg and the hops come through ever so slightly.

Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale (Winston-Salem, NC) : Slightly darker than a lager, distinctive pumpkin pie aroma, spicy, low bitterness, low alcohol, light and sweet. Yummy. If you are eating a fall meal, serve this one – maybe even with dessert. Kudos to Foothills Brewing Company. Nice.



The Wine & Beer Column on CaryCitizen is sponsored by Triangle Wine Company on Davis Drive in Morrisville.

2 replies
  1. Jillian Galloway
    Jillian Galloway says:

    Alcohol kills 80,000 people every year in the U.S. while marijuana kills none. If we were really interested in keeping people safe we’d allow stores to sell marijuana like beer and wine and we’d let people choose to use marijuana instead of alcohol.

    A LOT of the violence, disease and harm currently caused by alcohol could be prevented by letting people substitute marijuana for alcohol. Drug Dealers Don’t Card, Supermarkets Do.

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