This weekend, I had the pleasure of planning a menu and cooking a beer dinner for a few friends of mine. One of the items I planned to prepare for the fall feast was a pumpkin soup – made with canned pumpkin (for time constraints). I was excited to make this because I love all things pumpkin – and relished the chance to develop a yummy fall recipe. But when I came to  the aisle in my faovrite grocey store with pe filling, there was a conspicuous absence in between the blueberry and cherry. And hanging over the open space was a plain note:

“Due to poor growing conditions, pumpkin pie filling is being allocated throughout our stores. Please keep checking back with us. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

I stood and stared for a moment. I realized two things. The first was that I take food supplies – especially canned foods – for granted. I expected that I should always be able to get ingredients that I want. That seems arrogant, but until that moment I didn’t really realize it was true. The second thought was – with the growing popularity of pumpkin beer, what effect has this poor pumpkin crop had on the brewers?

Should you doubt my profession that there are a lot of pumpkin beers afoot, let me name a few. These are the ones that I know of just off the top of my head. Jack’s Spice Pumpkin Beer (AB), Dogfish Head Punkin, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, Southern Tier Pumpking, Post Road Pumpkin Ale (Brooklyn Brewery), Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale (Coors), Punk’d, Southampton Pumpkin Ale, Elysian Pumpkin… not to mention those made by places like John Harvard’s, Boston Beer Works, Cambridge Brewing Company, Portsmouth Brewery, Milly’s Tavernand other brewpub-only venues.

If you add that up even with just the small list I’ve created above, that’s a lot of pumpkin!! Though some pumpkin beer is made from extracts of pumpkin flavor, and some actually contain only the peripheral spices, like  nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, there are still many that rely on the pumpkin crop to produce them. Lots of brewers, especially small-scale brewers – use real pumpkin – actual bits of the vegetable itself. The Portsmouth Brewery (NH) for example, has a lot of fun while brewing, but its quite a messy process. (Check out a video of the process here!)

But back to the pumpkin shortage. I did a little reading and I found out something interesting. 85% of all the U.S. pumpkin patches are owned by Nestle, and go to making things like Libby’s Pumpkin Pie filling [1]. Also, the canned pumpkin is made from last year’s surplus crop in addition to the crop produced each year. Last year there was no surplus, however, as rains destroyed a lot of the pumpkins allowing them to rot on the vine.

Thankfully, brewers use local patches and regional suppliers, so it’s a good possibility that this “shortage” never touched their production, since the rains that “seems to have destroyed what remained of a small harvest in its corporate pumpkin patch” [2]. Still, I wonder with the growing popularity of pumpkin beer whether one will affect the other in the future.

So, this thanksgiving, when you’re sad that no one could get the raw ingredients for pumpkin pie – reach for a pumpkin brew instead, and thank your local brewer for doing what it takes to make a real pumpkin beer.