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Anatomy of a Colonial-Era Pumpkin Ale

Popular legend holds that colonists brewed ales with pumpkins, even if the evidence is scanty. But if they did, what would they have been like? Frank Clark, food historian and brewer at Colonial Williamsburg, walks us through his highly educated guess.

Joe Stange Sep 23, 2019 - 6 min read

Anatomy of a Colonial-Era Pumpkin Ale Primary Image

Love ’em or hate ’em, it’s that pumpkin-beers time of year. Store shelves are jammed with them, while homebrewers try to figure out how best to work with that bulbous orange squash.

Brewing beers with pumpkin has become an American tradition, fueled by commercialism and seasonal hankerings. The oft-repeated, received wisdom is that American colonists brewed with pumpkin. Did they really though?

“It is funny, but with all the talk of colonial people brewing with pumpkins, I have yet to find an actual recipe in any period sources for making a pumpkin beer,” says Frank Clark, brewer and master of foodways at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. “All of the 18th century brewing manuals were written in England, and pumpkins are a New World plant that had not gained popularity over there yet.

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