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Mixing pumpkin, or any vegetable, into a beer takes a little bit of guts and a little bit of crazy. Photo by Ryan Woldt
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Cheers! North County: Do you know the Pumking?

I’ve never been a Halloween guy. I didn’t trick-or-treat as a kid. I don’t like scary movies. Carving pumpkins doesn’t make sense to me, and as a bartender, there was nothing worse than trying to check the I.D. of a dozen adult-ish patrons dressed up with masks or faces painted like whatever superhero villain was trendy that year.

That is until I discovered the Pumking. The Pumking is a superhero of seasonal beers, an imperial ale brewed at Southern Tier in the weird little southwestern corner of New York state that should be part of Pennsylvania. Its tastes like pumpkin pie, graham cracker, vanilla, cinnamon, Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled up into one. It is released every year just before Halloween. I don’t know if Phil DeMink, founder of Southern Tier, was the first to think, “You know what this beer needs? Some winter squash,” but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Mixing pumpkin, or any vegetable, into a beer takes a little bit of guts and a little bit of crazy. Pumpkin beers also divide the drinkers. A quick social media polling revealed a 50/50 split on whether or not beer drinkers liked and drank them. I reached out to some local brewers to get a professional opinion. Bill DeWitt, head brewer at California Wild Ales is making a very limited release called Pumpkin Pie barrel-aged sour, and Daniel Cady, special projects brewer at Mikkeller Brewing San Diego, is brewing Beer Geek “Pun KXNG” Shake, a variation on their popular imperial stout.

Cheers: Why do you think people react so strongly to pumpkin beers either positively or negatively?

Bill, CWA: I’m not really sure. Actual pumpkin flavor is rather mild so I’m not sure why people get so worked up about it. The obsession with Pumpkin Spice is a cultural phenomenon. I blame the internet, and Starbucks.

Daniel, Mikkeller: They come out too early in the year, and the concept of pumpkin beer has drastically changed. What once was a wholesome Fall seasonal that resonated autumnal pleasantries, evolved into “everyone has to make one,” and the shelves got too crowded.


Cheers: Do you use real pumpkin?

Bill, CWA: We only use real pumpkin! This year we went up to the Carlsbad Strawberry Fields and picked out a dozen small sugar pumpkins. We halved them, removed the seeds, dusted with brown sugar, and roasted. After they were roasted, we scooped them out and added a bevy of spices including cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, clove, sea salt, ginger, clove, and extra brown sugar.

Daniel, Mikkeller: Yes, we hand-processed over 100 pounds of squash that we then roasted with brown sugar and cinnamon until a deep caramelization was achieved.


Cheers: Is there anything unusual you have to do during the brewing process to add that pumpkin?

Bill, CWA: Not so much during the brewing process, but I would guess we are the only brewery in town that makes a barrel-aged pumpkin wild ale. Our Pumpkin mixture is added to our Barrel-Aged Golden Sour. After about a month we remove the pumpkin, and you are left with Liquid Pumpkin Pie.

Daniel, Mikkeller: Because we wanted to use real gourd, and include a rich brûlée profile, we added our freshly processed gourd to a sanitized vessel and racked [added] finished beer into it.

When I asked if there was anything else, Bill asked me a question, “Have you ever tried a Pumpkin sour? What are you waiting for?”

I haven’t, and I honestly don’t know. Move over Pumking. I need to make room in the fridge. The supply of California Wild Ales Pumpkin Pie Sour Ale is limited. You can reserve a bottle on their website at

Check out Mikkeller Brewing’s online shop,, to buy Beer Geek “Pun KXNG” Shake, which will be available in mid-November.

Be sure to check out the most recent episode of the Cheers! North County podcast featuring Taylor Steele, co-founder of Solento Organic Tequila and legendary local surf filmmaker. Available everywhere you listen to great podcasts.

Don’t forget to follow Cheers! North County on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Got an interesting story about your drinking adventures? Reach out! I want to hear it.