Rise of the Anti-Pumpkin

Every year at this time every beer store has large end cap displays filled with Pumpkin beer. But it seems like the past few years holiday creep has moved pumpkin season to August. I even saw a few in late July. While I despise holiday creep, I understand where the brewer is coming from. There is no seasonal style of beer that is more anticipated, loved, despised and condemned more than pumpkin beer. Brewers that make a pumpkin beer have to be incredibly aggressive to get the consumers dollars before they get sick of pumpkin beer, or retails stop ordering. Hence the creep. Holiday creep is one of the reasons pumpkin beers have  become so polarizing. Another reason according to Jailbreak founder Justin Bonner, “In most cases, the flavor of pumpkin isn’t even apparent in most of these beers so the industry seems to be fixated more by imagery rather than flavor.”

2014_Collab_Xocoveza_WEBBut this year I have noticed a couple brewers that have eschewed the pumpkin beer trend in favor of an anti-pumpkin beer. I am sure there are more than just these two, but the two I have noticed this year are Jailbreak Brewing Carrot Cake Conspiracy and Stone Xocoveza.

Both of these beers have a lot of the components of a pumpkin beer, but don’t need to be specifically tied to the season. They are also different enough from a pumpkin beer that it can peacefully co-exist with pumpkin beer.

Stone was kind enough to send me a sample of their most recent collaboration, Xocoveza, and I am very glad they did. This is a very intense beer. The beer came about at a AHA Rally this past March. Chris Banker entered the homebrew competition and won with a beer that was inspired by Mexican Hot Chocolate. Stone’s tradition of always collaborating in threes is no different here. To complete the trio they partnered with Cervaceria Insurgente, a Mexican craft brewer from Tijuana.

The result is an intense decadent beer. Xocoveza has many of the same spice flavors so many enjoy with pumpkin beers. The beer is brewed with cinnamon and nutmeg, similar to pumpkin beers, but to set it apart a lot of its flavor profile comes from chocolate, chile pepper, vanilla, and coffee. In addition to that it is also a milk stout. Sure not a session beer, its intensity makes just a glass suffice.

Jailbreak’s Carrot Cake Conspiracy is another take on the spiced beer. Also brewed with some of the usual suspects of pumpkin beer ingredients with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. The Carrot Cake Conspiracy sets itself apart by adding brown sugar, raisin puree, and fresh roasted carrots. This beer comes across quite a bit lighter than Stone’s anti-pumpkin, and lighter than quite a few pumpkin beers.

The lighter body is in part to its reasonable 6.4% ABV. Big enough to be able to give the drinker the sweet malty backbone a fall beer requires, but not enough to feel heavy. While Stone’s anti-pumpkin may have been coincidental, Jailbreak’s break for the doldrums of fall beer was completely intentional. Jailbreak intends to, forgive the pun, jailbreak the spices from pumpkin beer.

carrotcakelabelBonner elaborates, “While our Carrot Cake ale does offer the flavor of roasted carrots as it warms, it is still a spice dominant beer.   The conversation should be centered around the limitations being placed on the use of these spices solely in the Fall season.  The imagery seems to have limited the opportunity for these spices to be utilized in year round offerings.  By creating our carrot cake ale, we’ve “conspired” to do our part in separating the imagery from the primary ingredients and allow these perfectly complimentary spices to thrive outside of an annual two month window.”

This beer, while dessert themed, is not so sweet it is undrinkable. Quite the opposite. The sweetness comes at you like an addiction. Subtle, but creating the desire for more. This carrot cake ale has the ability to be just as polarizing as pumpkin beers, but without the holiday creep and endcap domination. At least for now.

So if you want a great spiced beer, but are a little tired of pumpkin season, I highly recommend hunting down these two beers. We’d like to avoid the pumpkin apocalypse that Bonner predicts.

“A day will come when our youth will be forced to carve out watermelons on Halloween as the beer industry will have successfully commandeered the nation’s pumpkin supply.  Kids will then grow to despise craft beer for the theft of the symbol of such a cherished holiday.  Once reaching adulthood, they’ll choose to instead consume only mass produced beer infused with watermelon while telling tales to their children of the long forgotten tradition of carving a very dissimilar tasting gourd. What a sad and tragic day that will be.” –Justin Bonner

Images courtesy of Charles M. Schulz, & PEANUTS © 1966