Beer people (myself included) tend to bristle a bit when not-as-beer-nerdy people suggest that all beer tastes the same, that they "just don't like mead," or speak generally about how they "don't like lagers" or "really only drink ales." We typically respond by suggesting that they're overgeneralizing, that they need to try this beer or that beer because it's better than the example they cited, that mead isn't the super-sweet bee-gasm that they get at Ren Fairs, etc.
Which is why it's odd to me that we're such hypocrites about pumpkin beers.
Not everyone, of course. But pumpkin-beer-hating seems to be as much a part of the fall as Oktoberfests and football, and I have to say...I don't get it.
Pumpkin Beers Suck
Yeah - some of them do. Just like some imperial stouts, IPAs, and ANY kind of beer suck. But a lot of them don't, and some are exceptional.
Yet we've all seen the meme:
It isn't as though spice beers or fruit beers are somehow anathema to us - but build it around a gourd and all of a sudden we lose our shit? Why the double standard? In any other scenario we'd be defending the creativity and ingenuity of brewers and saying that just because you had a few bad examples, you shouldn't be judging all pumpkin beers that way.
Pumpkin Beers are out ALREADY? Too soon...
Says who? I was at an "End of Season" sale for summer clothes...in July. Where were the "too soon for sweaters" haters? Or the people screaming at my local hardware store for having snowblowers out - on a day with a heat index of 102F?
Hell, I love fall. I don't care if we have this stuff year-round. But what's it to you? Yes, some bars go overboard and overstock their taps with pumpkin beers, but it's hardly universal.
And if there are an overabundance on tap, so what? Every time I bring up the ubiquity of IPA and how 75% of the taps are dominated by it, the "Invisible Hand" aficionados are out in force to explain to me that, "hey, it's obviously what people are buying, so stop complaining!" Well, when you can't get your favorite IPA because there are nine pumpkin beers on...well, you now know how I feel looking for an Altbier in a forest of DIPAs.
Pumpkin Beer Season is So Artificial...
Yeah, it kind of is. But so is Summer Ale season, and I don't see anyone complaining when they hit the market - in April, btw...
Do pumpkin beers crowd out other fall-friendly styles like Oktoberfest, nut brown ales, and hop-harvest beers? Maybe. But see above: where's our overriding concern for variety on the taps when we're talking about a run on hop-forward beers? And there's nothing stopping bars from putting malt-forward beers on at any time of year, including all winter.
They All Taste the Same!
Uh....no, not really. In "researching" this phenomenon, I noticed that there's a common sentiment that they "all seem to fall into the same trap: they're loaded with sugar and so alcoholic you can't drink more than one..."
Again, I'd point out the backlash that occurs when people paint with this broad a brush on things like IPAs and lagers: we're quick to point out that there's a huge range of variation within general parameters. This is no less true for beers that might or might not even include pumpkin, use a wide range of spices in multiple ratios, and come in session, standard, and imperial strengths.
If we argue that all pumpkin beers taste the same, then we also need to accept the argument that all IPAs taste the same. And all beers taste the same. Sound good?
What Might Really Be Going On
I have two pet theories as to what's really behind this.
The first one is boring: devotees of any niche market develop strong attitudes towards things they like and dislike in that market, and thus the anti-pumpkiners are really no different than people who express dislike of sours, or imperial everything, or barrel-aged beers, or "session" this and that. Possible. But boring. And also not necessarily apt, since I honestly don't notice anything like this kind of response to other questionable market segments.
The second one is less-boring, and seems intuitively plausible to me: pumpkin beers make us feel like the mustachioed hipsters that the big beer companies like to mock, and so we all turn into latter-day Peters when confronted with them.
And so we overreact. We mock a particular spice beer because it seems like pumpkin-spice-everything is out of control and super trendy - while ignoring that FALL BEER seems like the most logical place in the world to find it and isn't like the artificial use of pumpkin spice in other products. But since everything else in that category seems over-hyped, we dismiss and denigrate it as a way to suggest that we're too cool for it. It's inauthentic. It tastes bad. It's a product of marketers and sheep who will buy anything because of that delicious aroma.
And it makes us hypocrites. At every turn we celebrate craft beer's use of interesting ingredients and its ability to offer variety and diversity - except here.
Pumpkin beers are fine. Maybe you love them. Maybe you hate them. Maybe you just like to drink them because you like autumn and they make you think of autumn (hand raised). But there's no reason to suggest that within the panoply of beer varieties out there, this one is especially deserving of ridicule and contempt.
If you didn't like that one you had - try another sometime. Maybe you'll like it. But don't dismiss or disparage them just because its trendy to do so, as the irony of doing that (while citing the trendiness of the beers themselves) might actually make your head explode.
And this, too, shall pass - just in time for Christmas beers to be released...on October 30th.
Keep it simple.