[EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally turn our blog space over to our friends in the beer (or in this case food) business. Today we’re very fortunate to have professional foodie-slash-writer-slash-TV host-slash-craft beer fan Daina Falk, Founder of Hungry Fan®, sharing her thoughts on a surprisingly polarizing subject this time of year — the proliferation of pumpkin spice.]
Fall is perhaps my favorite time of the year. With its arrival comes the beautiful changing colors of the leaves as summer’s steamy heat gives way to cooler temperatures.
But more importantly, for this sports fan, fall also signals the start of football season, the World Series and plenty of ACC basketball [preseason] smack-talking. (I fear you Tar Heel basketball fans might stop reading right now if I told you where I went to school. And for the record, I’m enough removed from my college days to be way more open-minded now. In fact, during the tourney I always cheer for the ACC as a whole and all our schools who made it. But I suppose no college basketball conversation is complete without a ‘Go Duke!’ Now please keep reading).
For the foodie in me, the hands-down best thing that happens when autumn arrives is pumpkin spice—and most namely, pumpkin spice beer.
Like most pumpkin spice lovers, my curiosity was piqued in 2003 when Starbucks launched the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Man oh man, I bought in hook, line and sinker. I loved me some PSLs. But after I graduated from college in 2005, I worked diligently to lose 60 pounds, which meant changing my entire way of eating and cutting out a lot of needless sugar. Bye-bye went the pumpkin spice latte, my nearly daily cup of liquid sugar that actually contained zero pumpkin whatsoever.
Despite its dubious nutritional profile and absence of any actual pumpkin, the PSL started something.
Ah yes, the Pumpkin Spice Craze.
You’re nodding because you know exactly what I’m talking about. We’ve now got everything from pumpkin spice oatmeal to lattes to Cheerios to protein powder…and even dog treats. (Not sure if comedian John Oliver is popular amongst North Carolina beer fans, but he really killed this).
Despite the innumerable jokes at the expense of pumpkin spice and the collective PSL fatigue we feel as the holidays near—nothing can overshadow the adoration I have for pumpkin spice beer.
I have a slight beef with the beer industry. They seem to piggyback on Starbucks’ marketing strategy of retiring the pumpkin spice pre-Thanksgiving. (John Oliver’s got it wrong, by the way. Those PSL syrup jars don’t sit on the counter all year. They’re gonzo when the limited supply of pumpkin spice syrup is consumed, not to be seen again until autumn next year). Why must the beer people and Starbucks take away my pumpkin spice? No, but seriously, why?
I’m not crazy. It’s not like I want pumpkin spice beer all the time. But on game day—most particularly when I’m tailgating in the parking lot—I enjoy the warm and fuzzy, fall feeling I get from a pumpkin spice beer.
A few years back, I tried hoarding cases of pumpkin spice beer so it could live on beyond the artificially-imposed time restraints of pumpkin spice season. I live in New York City now, which automatically means I don’t have a great deal of space. So I stored my beer outside on my patio thinking that the colder fall temperatures would help it last. Alas, I hoarded too much and didn’t really account for variations in weather and temperature. Needless to say, it didn’t end well. It was a sad, sad day when I discovered my precious bounty of pumpkin spice beer had gone a little skunky.
I recently had the opportunity to taste Foothills Brewing’s Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale. I found it to be delicious. And the best part? It’s brewed with real pumpkin! Incidentally, I find it keeps best when stored in an actual refrigerator. And according to BeerAdvocate.com, that’s what you should do. Storing beer at 50-55 degrees F is ideal. (According to the site, higher temperatures threaten to shorten the lifespan of your beer; and temperatures lower than 50 degrees F induce a chill haze, making the beer cloudy). Furthermore, Beer Advocate states the best way to store a bottle of beer is upright, ensuring that the yeast in the beer will compact to the bottom of the bottle, which, in turn, decreases the amount of beer exposed and slows the oxidation process.
So what’s a pumpkin-spice-loving-girl to do when there’s no pumpkin spice beer to be found during three quarters of the year?
Three words: make your own.
But I’m not a brewer. I don’t own a brewery. Where do I even buy hops? How does one make beer? I mean, I barely have a normal-sized bathtub (remember, New York City). So, I put my cook’s hat on and decided I would try combining pumpkin spice seasoning with regular beer.
I surveyed the spice shelves of every grocery store near me. I went online. I looked and looked and looked. What I found was that most of the spice blends on the market that you’re familiar with are irradiated. And without getting into a lot of dull science stuff, just know that according to some really smart people and grocers such as Whole Foods, irradiated food is pretty gnarly.
To top things off, none of the pumpkin spice seasonings I found contained actual pumpkin. Zero.
I was therefore left with one option: make my own pumpkin spice.
I packed in some dehydrated, organic pumpkin and a slew of yummy, non-irradiated spices to make one heck of a blend.
What’s the first thing I did when my first shipment of the blend arrived?
I dissolved it into some beer, of course.
For every pint of beer, I dissolve about a teaspoon of my pumpkin spice blend. I wait until the head goes down, then I sprinkle it in and either let it dissolve on its own (about 60 seconds) or I give it a very gentle stir so as not to cause the beer to foam again. (You can use your finger or even a proper cocktail stirrer if you’d like. It’s up to you).
For the best taste and results, I prefer to use an ale (similar to the base of the Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale). My second favorite is a pilsner, like Foothill’s 2017 GABF Award-winning Torch Pilsner. Lagers work well too.
And yes, because my blend is made up of dried pumpkin and spices, you can expect to see some spice remains on the inside of your glass. If that bothers your friends, who are less passionate about pumpkin spice than you are, use a colored plastic cup.
But that little bit of residue—those are flavor crystals that will change your beer-drinking life forever.
I’m finally getting to indulge my love for pumpkin spice year-round. No one can stop me. As long as beer is around, I’ll have pumpkin spice beer whenever I want.
If PSLs are still your thing, be sure to try my pumpkin spice blend in your latte and read how my pumpkin spice blend stacks up against Starbucks.
Daina Falk is the Founder & CEO of Hungry Fan®, a sports lifestyle brand that curates the sports fan’s game day experience. She is a nationally recognized Fangating™ expert, author of The Hungry Fan’s Game Day Cookbook, and host of CBS Sports Network’s “Toughest Tailgate.”
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