It’s August, which means it’s the season for summer vacations, shorts, and yes—really—pumpkin beer. Chances are you’ve already spotted it at your neighborhood grocery store. (If not, you will soon. Very soon.) It’s become standard practice for breweries to to release the seasonal specialty long before a single leaf turns orange.
Why so early? Well, for starters, the pumpkin beer market has become an increasingly competitive one, and brewers typically want to get their products out before the other guy. Also, because it’s a seasonal, there’s a limited timeframe in which pumpkin beer will sell. After Halloween and Thanksgiving are over, sales drop off. Better to get it out early than have extra inventory laying around when everyone has moved on to Christmas ales. This also means that when it’s seasonally-appropriate to drink pumpkin beer, the supply from certain sought-after brands has already run dry.
But here’s the other pumpkin beer secret: It’s not always made with real pumpkins. The fall fruits don’t lend a ton of flavor to beer, so instead brewers rely on “pumpkin spice”—a combination of cinnamon, cloves, and other pie-like flavors that conjure up the holiday season. When brewers do use pumpkin, it’s often canned or frozen. The fresh stuff isn’t in season until its too late to market and sell the beer. One notable local exception: Mad Fox Brewing Company, which in the past has used heirloom Cinderella pumpkins from a Maryland farm for its pumpkin brew.
The good news is that if you’re grasping onto the tails of summer, the beer industry hasn’t given up on you yet. There are plenty of summer ales to go around.