Embrace season of pumpkin beer
BY MICHAEL AUSTIN October 23, 2012 10:01AM
Mike Miller holds three bottles of 30 different pumpkin beers available at Delilah's, 2771 N. Lincoln Avenue Wednesday October 17, 2012. (L-R) Southern Tier Pumking; Lakefront Pumpkin Lager Beer and O'Fallon Pumpkin Beer. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: November 25, 2012 6:03AM
Pumpkin beer lovers and haters, this is for you.
On the most pumpkin night of the year, Oct. 31, Delilah’s (2771 N. Lincoln 773-472-2771, www.delilahschicago.com) is serving just about every pumpkin beer available in Chicago, or at least the ones that are left. The Halloween pumpkin beer list should total about 30 — or 31 if you count the lone pumpkin cider that Delilah’s will offer, and why would you not include that on such a night?
Here is why this opportunity is for everyone: pumpkin lovers can dive into a cauldron of their favorite seasonal brews and drink their fill, while perhaps discovering a new love; haters can let Delilah’s owner Mike Miller steer them toward a pumpkin brew they actually can enjoy, owing to the diversity of the genre, and the uninitiated (and undead) can wander slowly, aimlessly perhaps, bumping into taste after taste on their own terms.
These peculiar seasonal beers range from mildly gourdish and slightly sweet to decidedly pumpkiny and intensely spicy. I have walked away from many bottles of pumpkin beer after one sip, 11 ounces of abandoned brew standing alone, like a tombstone. On other occasions pumpkin beers have raised my eyebrows and prompted me to order another of the same.
“I drink every kind of beer,” says Miller, a beer aficionado who also happens to be a whiskey expert. “I like pumpkin beer. But you can’t just say, ‘I like pumpkin beer’ and then try them all and like them all.”
Miller insists that there is a pumpkin beer for everyone, and I agree. Some taste like beer, just beer, with a little kicker added to it. Others taste like the leftover juice in a potpourri burner.
For the biggest blast of pure pumpkin, try Southern Tier Pumking. Delilah’s has it on tap and in 22-ounce bottles from 2012 and 2011. Sharing and sampling with your ghoulish fiends — I mean, friends — is encouraged. For spices and some sweetness, try O’Fallon Pumpkin Beer in 12-ounce bottles from 2012 and 2011. On the lighter side, go with a Lakefront Pumpkin Lager Beer (12-ounces, 2012 and 2011), a rare lager in an ale-heavy category.
Delilah’s also will have at least three other pumpkin beers on draft, and about 25 other bottles from breweries coast to coast, many from the Midwest, and a few from the Land of Lincoln.
This is your chance to sample a bunch of different pumpkin brews in one place so you can discover which ones make you howl at the moon and which ones you want to avoid like the plague in future Octobers. Because pumpkin beers are not going away anytime soon.
“Go to the liquor store,” Miller says. “Pumpkin beer has its own section. Not its own shelf — an entire section. Stacks on the floor.”
As recent as six years ago, pumpkin beers were a novelty, an unlikely concoction of ingredients cooked up a few maverick brewers. But for the last five years, pumpkin beers have been almost as much a part of the Halloween season as Jack O’ Lanterns and tiny candy bars.
“I’ve never seen a category go from zero to 100 faster,” Miller says. “Ten years ago there was no pumpkin beer.”
One thing to love about all pumpkin beers is their seasonality and their truly artisanal nature. Most brewers make them once a year so there is an of-the-moment, handmade, roll-of-the-dice element to them. Technology keeps quality fairly consistent but these beers change year to year as much as any others.
“If you’re having a Three Floyds Gumballhead they’re making it all the time so the consistency should be very high,” Miller says.
But pumpkin beers fluctuate, and in a time when so many things are so predictable, a little fluctuation is as welcome and comforting as a warm fall breeze rattling a pile of leaves.
On Halloween night, expect appropriately spooky, campy and punky music from DJ Machetti, and classic slasher movies on the TVs. You can wear a costume if you want, but no one will look at you funny if you show up in street clothes.
“We don’t need dress-up, man,” Miller says. “We amp it up with the TVs and music and atmosphere.”
And pumpkin beers. Right now, and through Halloween, Delilah’s is a veritable haunted clearinghouse of pumpkin beer. If you cannot wait until the 31st, or you want to do a little advance research, head over and let the pumpkining begin. If you have been to Delilah’s you know that it is sort of Halloween in there every night of the year, anyway.
“Exactly my thought, too,” Miller says.
Michael Austin is a Chicago free-lance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.