If you don’t know any better, you might assume the whole pumpkin beer phenomenon is an offshoot of Starbucks’ pumpkin spiced latte phenomenon. But it most certainly is not: The PSL only hit the American drinking public in 2003. Pumpkin beers, on the other hand, are typically dated to 1983 or thereabouts, shortly after one Bill Owens opened Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, Calif.
Owens’ fermentation-fueled journey began at the age of 15 when he and a buddy from Catholic school attempted to make wine after learning of Jesus’s supposed ability to turn water to wine. By the time he got to college, he was homebrewing as both a hobby and a way to save money on suds before entering the real world as a photojournalist. All the while, Owens continued homebrewing, and when he got laid off from his photography gig, the beer making — and research on how to do so — ramped up. He toured a number of California breweries, picked brewers’ brains, and attended a handful of brewing courses, compiling his studies in the 1982 book “Draft Beer in Ten Days.” A year later, he opened Buffalo Bill’s Brewery
It was there that Owens — a former award-winning photojournalist and future founder of the American Distilling Institute — took a tip from a historical recipe attributed to George Washington and put pumpkins into a beer’s mash. Since the resulting brew had no distinct pumpkin flavor, Owens picked up a container of pumpkin pie spice, tossed it in a coffee percolator, and poured the liquid into the brite tank, thus creating the first ever batch of “pumpkin ale.”
On this episode of “Taplines,” Bill Owens himself joins Dave to discuss how he pioneered the autumnal brew and created one of craft brewing’s most enduring calendrical calling cards in the process. Tune in for more.