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Pumpkin beers come in variety of tastes

Kasey Oines pours a beer out of a pumpkin that has been equipped with a pouring spout at J L Beers in Fargo. Dave Wallis/FORUM NEWS SERVICE

Come Thursday night, kids will be diving into their Halloween haul for mouthfuls of candy.

Kids aren’t the only ones savoring the treats of the season. Beer connoisseurs are quaffing pumpkin brews while they last.

Over the past decade, pumpkin beers have rapidly grown into a major autumn phenomenon.

“It’s definitely a fall thing. It’s like a comfort food. These beers really tie into fall flavors,” says Laura Mio, general manager at the downtown Fargo JL Beers.

Brian Patterson, bar manager at the Sidestreet Grille & Pub in Fargo, says pumpkin beers go hand in hand with the malts of traditional Oktoberfest beverages.

“They play off each other really well,” he says.

While pumpkin may be the flavor of the month, it comes in a variety of tastes.

Last Thursday, Sidestreet had Third Street Brew House’s Jack’d Up Autumn Ale on tap. The name comes from the pumpkin spices packed in.

Patterson also pulled out a bottle of New Belgium’s Pumpkick.

“It’s a little sweeter than your average pumpkin beer, not as spicy,” the barkeep says.

Pumpkick includes pumpkin juice and generous portions of predictable spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The hidden ingredients are cranberries and lemongrass to give it a lighter, crisp flavor that belies its 6 percent alcohol by volume and make it good all year round, not just in autumn.

An informal survey revealed Pumpkick was on tap at the south Fargo Buffalo Wild Wings and the Old Broadway Sports Zone, where it’s proven to be a popular pour says assistant manager, Nate Johnson.

Old Chicago in Fargo was serving Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale and Sam Adams Fat Jack.

On Thursday, JL Beers downtown was gearing up for a mini Halloween tap takeover, already pouring New Holland’s Ichabod Ale and Southern Tier’ Pumpking, which Mio says sets the bar by which all pumpkin beers are judged. She says people start asking about it in early September.

If you follow Mio’s thought that pumpkin beers are like comfort food, then the imperial ale, Pumpking, is like a wedge of pumpkin pie. The spices waft well ahead of the first sip with a nice earthiness. With an 8.6 percent ABV, you may want to reconsider whether you really need a second serving.

Despite Pumpking’s popularity, Mio has a taste for the New Holland option.

“I’m really digging the Ichabod. It just seems creamier to me,” she says.

Creamier and not as overwhelming as the Pumpking. With a significantly lower 5.5 ABV, it’s also an easy drinking beer.

The same won’t be said of Millstream’s Imperial Pumpkin Stout. The roasted malts, chocolate tones and 7.6 ABV give this beer a sharper up-front taste.

The bold flavors prompted some bartenders to play with it.

At the Hotel Donaldson Josh Tandberg topped two parts of the stout with one part of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, itself a very distinct tasting American India pale ale. Across the river at Usher’s, Aaron Duma layers the Millstream over Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Cider.

“It’s deeelish,” Duma says.

The Imperial Pumpkin Stout found a good pairing at W.F. Maxwell’s on Thursday night, when it was served with a pumpkin-spiced cheesecake with cranberry preserves and salted caramel sauce to top off a Millstream beer dinner.

Patterson’s favorite so far has been the Pumpkin Porter from Alaskan Brewing Co.

“There is usually too much pumpkin or too much spice. The porter had a nice balance,” he says. “It was a good, solid porter.”

Fargo Brewing Company got in on the pumpkin craze with its own offering, Spooky Scary, a brown ale with brown sugar and roasted pumpkin.

“People were asking us if we’d have a pumpkin beer, and it’s not something I’d made as a brewer, so I thought it would be fun to play with it,” said brew master Chris Anderson.

The response was so positive they finished off their only keg in four days.

“We got a lot of feedback from people who appreciated that it was subtle and spicy and not over-the-top and in-your-face,” Anderson says.

The good reaction most likely means Spooky Scary will be back next year, but Anderson isn’t looking forward to roasting a large batch of pumpkins.

Mio sees a market for another style of pumpbrew.

“I would like to see a pumpkin wheat beer, because wheat beers already have a clove spice,” she says.

That will have to wait until next fall as the pumpkin beers will soon be giving way to winter brews.

But Mio advises drinkers to take time and savor the fall-flavored suds.

“I recommend drinking these beers slowly,” she says. “They get better as they warm up and the flavor of the spice comes out.”

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