There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and pumpkin spice-flavored everything.
Just as the leaves on trees turn from green to red, the sight of pumpkin spice in beverages from beer to coffee is one of the surest signs of fall.
It’s a sign that many people embrace.
“I do indeed love pumpkin spice lattes! I know they get a bad rep for being ‘basic,’ but I am ‘basic’ and proud,” said Lori Hovermale of Winchester.
“They signal Halloween and fall for me, the best time of the year.”
And just as many shun.
“I hate it,” laughed Charlie Fish, co-owner of Murphy Beverage Company in Old Town Winchester.
“I had revelation that I don’t eat anything orange, I think I tracked it back to circus peanuts. Maybe it’s the beta-carotene, it’s an odd sweet flavor to me. I just don’t like that flavor profile.”
You either love it, or you hate it. Which camp are you in?
We conducted a poll on The Winchester Facebook page this week to see what people thought of the ubiquitous seasonal supplement. It turns out, the majority of those who voted are not fans of pumpkin beer or pumpkin spice lattes: As of noon Friday, only 13 percent of 378 voters said they liked pumpkin beer, and only 32 percent out of 1,500 voters said they liked pumpkin spice lattes.
However, there are plenty local lovers of the autumnal libations. Victoria Kidd, co-owner of The Hideaway Cafe in Old Town Winchester, said their pumpkin spice latte is one of their most popular coffees in the fall.
“We have one liter of the pumpkin puree of the concentrate, and we go through a bottle of that a day,” said Kidd. She estimates that about 15 to 20 percent of her daily transactions are pumpkin spice lattes.
The Hideaway Cafe wanted the flavor of their latte to be as close to that of pumpkin pie as possible.
“We actually went and got pumpkin pie, and sat down with it and continually refined the recipe until it became more like a pumpkin pie latte than pumpkin spice,” she said.
The latte’s recipe has been refined over the years, but follows mostly the same formula with a “very specific concentration of milk and half and half to raise the fat content, which carries the flavor. Then we use a house made whipped topping with a little bit of pumpkin pie seasoning. All that together tastes like a pumpkin pie,” said Kidd. The cafe also offers a dairy-free version of the drink.
Pumpkin beer is almost as ubiquitous as the famed PSL, and it too evokes strong emotions in people. But the history of putting pumpkin in beer goes back much further than the coffee version, which was invented by Starbucks in 2003.
The first commercially brewed pumpkin beer was crafted in Hayward, Calif., in 1986 by Buffalo Bill’s Brewery — the recipe they used was based on brewing studies made by George Washington. The brewery added spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove, because the pumpkin by itself didn’t lend much flavor to the beer.
Bonnie Landy, co-owner and director of brewing operations for Winchester Brew Works, said that spices have long been used in beer.
“Spices and beer go back way. That’s what people used to preserve their beer before they really knew that hops could help preserve beer,” she said.
“Belgians have been putting coriander and black pepper in their beers forever. So really, the idea of putting nutmeg, clove, ginger, cinnamon, it’s not too far of a stretch from coriander.”
But the historical connection isn’t enough for some to give the controversial beverage a try.
“I do know a lot of craft beer lovers who refuse to drink anything with cinnamon in it,” said Landy.
The brewery just released two of its pumpkin beers last Saturday — Basic Witch, a pumpkin amber, and Harvest Shandy, which their Canoe Love cream ale combined with housemade lemonade, apple butter and pumpkin. They also offered a pumpkin spice latte beer, which sold out that day.
“(The pumpkin beer) was probably 70 percent of what I sold during the eight hours I was here that day,” said Holly Redding, co-owner of Winchester Brew Works.
“As we go forward, it’s about 20 percent or 15 percent of our sales, a lot of people want just one. They want one pint, or they want the flight of all the pumpkin options, then they’re back to what they normally order.”
Sales of pumpkin beer both locally and nationwide have declined over the years after experiencing a peak around 2014, according to Fish, who sells a few varieties of pumpkin beer in her store.
“Four years ago I was still selling it in March. I didn’t anticipate the bubble burst, I way overbought,” she said.
“It used to probably be around 70 percent of my customers would come in and buy it, they would buy one, but they wouldn’t buy it all season long. Now it’s less than 30 percent. It’s like Oktoberfest, you want to enjoy it during the season then you’re done with it.”
And while there may be a connotation that pumpkin beer is for women, Landy and Redding say that many men order the gourd-flavored beer at their brewery.
“We can tell you for sure, at Old Town’s Oktoberfest last year, we were pouring the Basic Witch, and I’d say 80 percent of the dudes that ordered, ordered the Basic Witch. It was that or an IPA, and they were like, ‘I’ll have the Basic Witch,’ because yeah, it’s the time of year to drink it. It’s delicious!” Redding said with a laugh.
“I think it’s becoming more ubiquitous, people are like, OK this is it, we’re just going to enjoy it,” she said.
So what’s with all the haters?
“People reject what’s popular because that rejection is cool, and that’s OK,” Kidd said.
“There is a subset of people who plain don’t like it, they don’t like the flavor. When someone tells me they don’t like pumpkin pie, well you’re not going to like this beverage.”
Ultimately, it’s all about enjoying whatever beverage you enjoy, seasonally-spiced or not.
“There’s an awful lot of people for who it is a treat for them. It is something that brings a smile to their face,” said Kidd.
“It’s very complicated to navigate life right now, so if what I put in this cup gives you a smile, makes your day happy, then I am happy about that.”