Dark labels with cartoonish jack-o’-lanterns, boasting fall spices, orange hues, and an abundant harvest of squash: It’s a sight beer drinkers have come to expect every fall, as sure as the changing foliage and ads for pumpkin-flavored latte.
In recent years — some say due to overwhelming consumer demand, others put the blame on the complicated arrangements necessary with distribution warehouses — pumpkin beer season has been starting long before October, with some releases hitting shelves as early as July. What’s that? You don’t fancy a heavy, spicy brew in the middle of a late-summer heat wave? No worries: Valley brewers are putting the fall bounty to use in a number of different ways, taking advantage of the vast resources available in New York to offer timely fall flavors.
If you are looking for a new spin on the combination of amber malts and warming spices, you may want to try Plan Bee Farm Brewery’s Tiny Acorn, which uses caramelized acorn squash from a local farm. Fishkill’s Plan Bee brews beers with 100 percent New York State-grown ingredients — one of the only breweries to do so. “Embracing traditional local flavors is what we do best,” says Brewmaster Evan Watson. His brewing philosophy, as well as matters of practicality, led him to shirk the usual pumpkin pie spices. “There’s not a lot of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove grown in New York,” he says. “We pick fresh homegrown lemongrass, coriander, and curry plant from our raised beds, and add that to the boil kettle.”
Tiny Acorn retains a familiar caramel backbone, but opens up with a very different sort of spice character than most fall beverages, finishing dry and zesty. Bottles are available at the brewery’s farmstand and at the Beacon farmers market on Sundays.
Squashtober Ale, from the Newburgh Brewing Company, puts its pumpkins and butternut squash to a slightly more traditional use, but still relies on local fields for its flavor. The beer likely won’t be available until November, which may sound awfully late in the season for a pumpkin ale, but Newburgh enters the game late for a very good reason: They brew only when the pumpkins are ready. And since beer requires a number of weeks to ferment and condition, that pushes the timetable back quite a bit.
Brewmaster Chris Basso roasts the squash and adds it to the mash, fermenting the ale with Belgian yeast and rye malt to add spiciness — in fact, no actual spices are introduced to the beer. With its rich amber color, medium body, and a sweet finish, Newburgh’s Squashtober stands apart as a fall beer you could down a few of without feeling squashed yourself. Newburgh’s lineup is tap only, so keep a lookout for the beer at local bars, or visit the brewery’s impressive tasting room overlooking the Hudson.
Brewers Michael Renganeschi and Jason Synan run the Brewery at Bacchus — a small, brewpub-style operation in the back of New Paltz’s Bacchus Restaurant that they launched last fall. They’ve released a range of farmhouse ales, sours, and other experiments, many incorporating local fruit and vegetables. Renganeschi says that this fall will be no different.
“We’ll be doing a farmhouse ale with fall veggies, but we’re waiting to see what grows well this season,” he says. The Brewery at Bacchus also brings back its Orchard Sour, a Berliner Weisse-style sour wheat ale infused with local beets and that ubiquitous autumn staple, local apples. “We have such a vibrant fall harvest here, and we want to take advantage of that,” Renganeschi says.
Finally, for a truly quintessential fall brew, turn to Captain Lawrence’s Pumpkin Ale. As one of the largest breweries in the Valley, Captain Lawrence’s fall seasonal is perhaps the most widely distributed, with six-packs available throughout the region. The Elmsford-based brewery delivers what one expects from a hearty pumpkin ale: rich copper color from pureed pumpkin added to the mash, a nose of pie spices, and just enough malt and other spices to balance out this dessert-like treat.
Captain Lawrence’s Scott Vaccaro reports that the style’s popularity is unflagging. “We have made more and more Pumpkin Ale every year since we started, and the demand does not seem to be slowing,” he says. “The beer appeals to a lot of people; if you like pumpkin pie, this beer delivers those flavors.”
While bottles of Pumpkin Ale can be snatched up around the region, Vaccaro revealed that the brewery will release a special, one-off batch of Imperial Pumpkin Ale this fall. “We are going to ramp up the flavors, malt, and everything else in this beer to make it really stand out,” he says.
Regardless of when these brews drop, you’ll have to grab them quickly — such special releases are as fleeting as the foliage itself.
Derek Dellinger is the creator of the brewing blog Bear-Flavored.com, brewmaster at Kent Falls Brewing Co., and author of The Fermented Man, out 2016. He leads homebrewing workshops and classes in the Hudson Valley with Beacon Homebrew.