Local brewery 'grains' praise for pumpkin beer

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SLC company The Uinta Brewing Company brews award-winning craft beers. Uinta is now offering a seasonal beer called Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale. (The Signpost/ Lichelle Jenkins)

Every fall, The Uinta Brewing Company rolls out it’s signature seasonal beer, Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Considered a specialty craft beer, the tradition of pumpkin beer is as American as meat and potatoes.

Uinta Brewmaster Kevin Ely said, “All these beers have roots in history. George Washington used to have a brewery on site. Everyone use to have these household breweries.”

Colonial Americans made great uses of virtually every resource available.

“They had their malt and they had their ingredients. There were a lot of squash and pumpkins being grown . . . they were probably starting to rot or overly ripe. (Brewing) is a good way to use them before they rot,” Ely said.

Colonial Americans had all the necessary ingredients to brew beer. While the men were busy working the harvest, they did not typically lead the brewing process.

“At the time, most beer was being brewed by women,” Ely said. “It was brewed by a woman who was taking care of a lot of the household chores.”

Modern brewing operations are still churning out pumpkin beer by the barrel. With over 3,000 breweries in the U.S, craft brewers are consistently looking for innovative ways to brew the festive treat.

Gary Dzen, correspondent writer for The Boston Globe, said, “You can turn any style of beer into a pumpkin beer, which is why in recent years we’ve seen a proliferation of pumpkin porters, stouts and even sours, attempting to fill a niche that is a constantly-moving target.”

Pumpkin beer is often associated with the fall season and is produced during the fall harvest.

“Pumpkin everything happens in September. The beer drinkers want pumpkin beer starting in September,” Ely said.

The beer-making process takes about three to four weeks, from the raw material to the finished product. This time frame has proven to be a challenge for brewers invested in the production of pumpkin beer.

“We start brewing (pumpkin beer) in July,” Ely said. “There’s a huge demand for it and so we can’t just shut the brewery down for three weeks and make only pumpkin beer . . . If we started brewing that now it hits market just before Thanksgiving.”

In order to meet consumer demand, the Uinta Brewing Company uses an outside contractor to provide organic pumpkins for their Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale.

“Our pumpkins are basically shredded and frozen,” Ely said.

Ely and his staff check the pumpkin for quality before adding it to a mixture of crushed malted grains and seasonal spices. This big sloppy mess of pumpkin is known as mash. Mash is added to water and is eventually strained and becomes beer.

The Uinta Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale received a silver medal at the 2010 World Beer Championships. Vinny Mannering, writer at alternative, online-only news source Deadspin, said, “(Punk’n ale) is very much a beer with added pumpkin that stands up well on its own, as opposed to an overpoweringly pumpkin-y beer.”