Detroit Fall Beer Festival: The Rise of the Spice

Not that long ago, pumpkin spice did not invade every aspect of our society. Oh, sure, there were pumpkin pies, pumpkin muffins, and the occasional pumpkin cheesecake. But one couldn’t get pumpkin spice lattes or pumpkin spice Oreos.

Now, of course, that flavor is everywhere—including in our beer. Pumpkin spice signals fall and all of its glories—colorful leaves, football games, warm hoodies, apple cider. Another sure sign of fall is the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Detroit Fall Beer Festival. Along with thousands of others, MittenBrew attended the festival to sample the best fall beers around, as well as to get some expert opinions on the ubiquitous pumpkin spice.

Tri-City Brewing Company featured many non-pumpkin beers, but did release their Scarecrow Spiced Brown on Saturday. Self-described “brewery ninja” at Tri-City, Jay Green, indicated that while he is not a fan of the spice himself, the pumpkin beer is a big seller. But, he adds, “you have to keep it balanced. It has to taste like pumpkin spice, but you’d better taste the base beer underneath. Like any good beer, balance is key.”

Gabi Palmer, head brewer of Schmohz Brewery Company in Grand Rapids, agreed.

“It’s the season for all things pumpkin, but you have to balance it,” she said.

Palmer loves pumpkin spice and recommended Griffin Claw’s  Screaming Pumpkin and Liberty Street’s Punkin’ Pie Ale.

“Both are great examples of well- balanced beers that still give you spice.”

CRAFT Homebrew Club President Tracy Broomfield also loves pumpkin spice.

“I hate this meme that is going around,” Broomfield said as she enjoyed Dark Horse Brewing Company’s Cocoa Bourbon Nibbler. “It says to enjoy pumpkin beer, you should throw it in the trash. Pumpkin spice beer can be great, especially when the brewer restrains herself a little and lets the base beer come through.”

Both pumpkin spice lovers and non-lovers could enjoy plenty of both kinds of beer at the festival. Over 80 breweries featured more than 675 beers for thirsty attendees.

Pumpkin Spice Standouts:

Northville’s North Center Brewing Company’s Headless Horseman Pumpkin Pie Ale, like the examples cited by Palmer, did an excellent job of providing a taste of the pumpkin spice but not overpowering the beer. Truly tasted like pumpkin pie in fermented form.

Muskegon’s Unruly Brewing Company came through with an excellent pumpkin beer called Punk’n’Rock. The real pumpkin taste stood out, but not to the exclusion of the tasty spices.

Shelby Township’s Sherwood Brewing Company featured its Smoked Pumpkin Porter. The addition of smoked pumpkin gave this dry porter a wonderful taste.

Non Pumpkin Spice Standouts:

There is a reason that Tri-City’s Brownhoist has won three gold medals at the World Expo of Beer—it’s a darn fine brown ale. Some browns tend to taste like plain beer, the malts being hidden under adjuncts or too many hops. Not this beer. It is a creamy blend of five grains and two hops, resulting in a creamy mouthfeel and smooth finish.

Lansing’s Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale had a huge winner in their Hazed and Confused coffee brown ale. One of my friends described it as “Nutella in a glass.” I took a drink and said, “Yes. If Nutella actually tasted good.” So just the fact that a Nutella fan and non-fan can agree should indicate how terrific this beer is.

Milford’s River’s Edge Brewing Company featured a beer called Karate Bonfire, a coconut vanilla stout. Sometimes vanilla beers taste like a bottle of vanilla extract. This beer, however, perfectly married coconut, vanilla, and coffee. Warm as a bonfire, but much tastier.

South Lyon’s Witch’s Brewing Company treated us to its Furious Ginger. This milk stout was aged in bourbon barrels and spiced with ginger and peppers. Would it be cheesy to say that one could not possibly be furious after drinking this wonderful beer? Too bad, because I am saying it anyway.

As always, the Fall Beer Festival had something for everyone—Oktoberfests to stouts to smoked porters to IPAs and yes, plenty of pumpkin spice. Maybe the pumpkin spice invasion isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Patti Smith

Patti Smith

Patti Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor. She is very involved with her community, participating in the storytellers' guild, the public art commission, A2 Geeks, the Rec & Ed Commission, and the local film festival. Patti enjoys boxing, English country dancing, and hosting dinner parties. She hopes to one day sell her young adult novel for at least a three figure advance. Until then, you can find her enjoying her husband and step-cats in the best city on earth! Her newest book, A History of Ann Arbor's People's Food Co-op will be released on April 17. It will be available at the co-op or online.

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