It's almost impossible these days to talk about autumn without talking about pumpkin-flavored this and pumpkin-flavored that. For which, one can presume, we have Starbucks to thank. And you know? Pumpkin may not be your thing (it is not particularly my thing), but we can all agree that the existence of pumpkin-flavored this and pumpkin-flavored that inspires among those who have thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams on the subject some hilariously overwrought internet opining. In no discussion is this more true than in a pumpkin beer debate. To wit, from The Atlantic:
Are the folks to whom pumpkin beer and other flavored beers marketed really 'beer lovers'?
I would suggest that the market for such beer is composed of people who really don't like the taste of beer unless it is disguised with some sweet, spicy or fruity flavoring. I suspect a lot of them would drink pumpkin flavored, malt-based 'wine coolers", if they could be convinced that such beverages were 'sophisticated' or 'cool'.
In response comes this:
This reply reeks of a "macho-man" attitude and is really quite silly. Especially equating beer like pumpkin ales to wine-coolers.
Keep on driving that crazy train, my friend.
Perhaps that's too tame for you? How about some kink?
I quite like the Smuttynose Pumpkin, because it both sounds and tastes like a depraved sex act.
You know what tastes great with a cold pumpkin beer? Gender essentialism.
ooohhh! I'm SO excited!!! love girly beer!!!
But really, at the heart of the matter is this sentiment:
Fuck you and leave my beer alone. It needs no fruit, veggies, squash, or gourds.
There is one—perhaps only one—way to bring the warring pro-pumpkin and no-pumpkin-nope-no-way-no-how-never-gonna-happen factions together: With beer bread. Beer bread! It's a hell of a good time to make, for serious. Also: it's dumb easy.
Your basic beer bread recipe looks like this:
2 ½ cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 oz. beer
You'll first stir together those four dry ingredients. Then you'll add the beer SLOWLY. That's because beer has bubbles in it and if you pour the beer in wicked fast you'll get a foam explosion but you already know that because you're smart.
Then you'll pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake it at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Do be sure to check it after 30 or so minutes though, just to see how it's doing in there. THAT IS ALL. I know! It seems too easy, doesn't it? It really is that easy, and it's also a great way to use up any beers that might be lingering in your refrigerator after a party. I mean, you could also just drink the beers but isn't this a nice alternative to know about?
There are three notes to make regarding the basic version of this recipe.
1) If you would prefer to use honey or agave or fake sugar (I shall not judge your use of fake sugar, though others might), you can absolutely do so. In the case of the stickier versions of sweeteners, you can add them when you add the beer to aid in the blending process.
2) If you would like to use a different kind of flour, by all means do so. You could even use a mix of different kinds of flour! I do not want you to feel that I'm holding you back in any way. Get wild. That's the message here.
3) The type of beer you use should, in theory, affect the taste of the bread.
Which brings us back to that pumpkin beer! Following our theory, beer bread made with pumpkin beer should taste pumpkin-y, but also sort of spicy in the way Fall-themed baked goods tend to taste. So: It should have a hint of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and the like. But that's just a theory, an idea floating in the ether, and we were curious to see if it bears out. So! I made four loaves of beer bread and fed them to the Deadspin staff. Three were made with pumpkin beer—Blue Point Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale, Captain Lawrence Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale, and Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale. These three beers were chosen entirely because they contained the word "pumpkin" right there in the name, instead of something like "harvest" or "autumn" or "holy cow, wouldja look at that foliage?!?"
To begin, I tasted the beer. A quarter-ounce of it, to be exact. Which isn't very much, but it was 9:30 in the morning and also I needed the beer for the bread.
Smell: Like beer?
Taste: Sort of pumpkin-y. Not overly pumpkin-y. Clove-ish. Mostly like beer.
Smell: Like beer? Maybe I just don't have a nose for pumpkin.
Taste: More pumpkin-y. But still not all that pumpkin-y, mostly clove-y/nutmeg-ish. But yeah, still more pumpkin-y than the Blue Point.
Smell: Like beer. It's official, pumpkin renders no smell for me. Or maybe it's just that a quarter-ounce of beer isn't enough to give off much of a scent?
Taste: The most bitter of the three, and least pumpkin-y tasting. Clove-ish. Meh.
The fourth loaf, our control, was made with Budweiser.
The four loaves, and a stick of butter because I'm not a monster who feeds butter-less bread to the Deadspin staff, were delivered to the office shortly before 4:00pm on Monday. Shortly after 4:00 pm on Monday, I got a call from my editor. Ut-oh. "Did you just drop this off and run away? Come back here. We're eating."
I came back, you guys. The news, it was not good.
Despite having emailed the tasting instructions ("There are 3 loaves of pumpkin beer bread and one control loaf made with Budweiser. Each pan is marked. It would be great if you and some of the other guys could each try some of the control and then as much of any or all of the other three as you'd like"), AND leaving a hand-written note reiterating those same instructions in the bag with the bread, they'd managed to eat the entire control loaf ... but hadn't touched the loaves made with the pumpkin beer.
My carefully planned experiment was in shambles.
The thing is, though, I know what beer bread tastes like. Which was lucky for me. So I ate some of the pumpkin beer bread and you know what? It tasted like plain old beer bread. Maybe there was a tiny hint of nutmeg. Maybe. I made a few others taste the bread made with pumpkin beer. We ruminated. Thoughts were shared ("if you wanted it to be pumpkin-tasting, you could toss in a bit of nutmeg and clove") We all agreed that it tasted like plain old beer bread.
The lesson in all of this is twofold:
1) The kind of beer you use to make beer bread doesn't have a huge effect on the taste of the loaf. Which is actually kind of great news! Because it means that if you ever find yourself with a beer in your home that you absolutely, positively, 100% will not ever drink, you can stir it into some flour and a few other things and impress the pants off your friends and family by being the sort of person who bakes his own bread.
2) Future tastings will need to be monitored, as the Deadspin staff apparently requires constant supervision.
Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more of her natterings about food and cleaning can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.
Image by Sam Woolley.