Covid-19 cut a hole clean through the space-time continuum. Days, weeks, and months blur by, the passage of time marked by the weekly filling and emptying of my recycling bin.
As a drinking writer, my consumption more or less follows a clock. I favor snappy pilsners, bracing goses, and icy lagers for weekend day drinking, then stronger IPAs and stouts as sun relents to dusk and darkness. Rinse, repeat, following a calendar to fine-tune my liquid routine: barley wines for winter, strong maibock lagers for spring, and fruity and crushable summer ales.
Fall requires extra explanation.
Ten or 15 years ago, I lost my gourd for pumpkin ales. All those spices, all that flavor to savor, fall sold by the bottle. I annually anticipated that sprinkle of cinnamon and ginger in Elysian Night Owl and the wallop of Southern Tier’s pumpkin-infused Warlock Imperial Stout. Pumpkin beer sat in the same cozy mental cubbyhole as Halloween, sweaters, and hayrides, all intoxicating symbols of fall.
Soon, seasonal creep began afflicting pumpkin beers. They arrived ever earlier, dropping in August as I dove into lakes and boogey-boarded at beaches. Who wanted pumpkin beers while wiping sand off hands? Mass-market pumpkin beers became a basic flex, double-fisted with a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latté.
In a world ticking like clockwork, I could write a clickbait rant about seasonal confusion. But life is absurdly abnormal. Schedules are upended, everyone is working from home (a.k.a. “sleeping at the office”), and we’re likely homeschooling our six-year-old daughter again this fall. I’m a terrible elementary school teacher. I could use some comfort, no matter the time, day, or season.
So it’s time to revisit a pumpkin (beer) patch. The Pumpkin Porter from Four Peaks is already ripe and ready, released in early August—a full month earlier than normal. “By any measure, summer 2020 has sucked,” Andy Ingram, a Four Peaks founder and the head brewer, wrote in a press release. (The brewery is owned by AB InBev.) “We’re just going to skip the rest of it and go right into fall.”
I normally would’ve rolled my hazel eyeballs at that quote, but my March pretty much fast-forwarded straight to August. Bring on the Pumpkin Porter! Typically, pumpkin beer’s Achilles heel is too much spicing layered on a light body, the taste not unlike cheap lager mixed with canned pumpkin and grandma’s bathroom potpourri. To my taste buds, the most successful pumpkin beers start with a darker base. Four Peaks opts for a porter.
It delivers a lightly roasty counterpoint to the ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg, the spices integrated into the beer and not overwhelming it. At around 5 percent, the porter is light enough to sip as the sun beats down—the brewery is based in Arizona, after all—though I worry the body might be too featherweight when the weather breaks cold.
The big lesson of the last six months is that predicting the future is impossible. When the leaves flutter groundward, maybe I’ll crave a lime-squeezed kölsch or an IPA packed with pineapples. Seasons have ceased to have meaning, giving you free reign to drink whatever you want, whenever you want it.
According to your mind, stomach, or calendar, it’s forever pumpkin beer season somewhere.