Sean Lightholder’s Pumpkin Ales: Guest Post No. 15


The 15th beer in our 2014 pumpkin beer lineup is the original pumpkin beer: the draught version of Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin beer as tweaked each year by master brewer Mike Manty.

I wrote in my first post about Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin ale and have already reviewed the 2014 bottled version in a subsequent post. To come is a longer piece about my conversation with Mike about Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub. This post is just about the 2014 draught version of Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Beer.

I have to admit, I was a bit nervous. Back in 2001 I remember the pumpkin beer at Buffalo Bills as being so good I must have made the 1.5-hour round trip a dozen times from Berkeley to fill my growler. Since then, things have not been at the same level. 2012 was acceptable, but one growler fill was enough. Last year was much the same. Then, just to complicate things, the bottled version of Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Beer I tried last year was downright awful. It turns out that was not the fault of the recipe: in 2012 there were problems so serious at Pyramid Brewing’s contract brew center (where Buffalo Bill’s bottled pumpkin is brewed) that other Pyramid beer were pulled from taps and, afterwards, the entire brew system was dismantled.

But even accounting for the failings of the past, regular Simon Says followers know that I found this year’s bottled product underwhelming.
So, here am I, chatting with Mike, an affable, amazingly hospitable, super-friendly and profoundly sensible brewer, standing in his brewpub having the craíc before the place fills up with punters, talking about brewing and local bay area beer lore, telling him about having loved this brewery and this beer for so many years…all the while worried that what I was about to drink might not be sublime. But the thing is, this dude is so down to earth, I made a silent promise to myself that I was going to be honest. It was the least I could do – tell him what I really thought.

Nervous? That’s a bit of an understatement. That first pint of draft pumpkin beer at Buffalo Bill’s poured out and I glanced nervously toward the brewery to see if Mike was watching. I’m ashamed to say I was hoping that I might be able to have my reaction to the beer privately. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t know if I’d have the guts to tell him. I eyed the exit and contemplated whether I could just slink out of the pub without him noticing I’d left.

Casey, excellent barkeep that she is, enthusiastically confirmed the first keg of pumpkin beer of the year had been tapped, filled my glass, and placed the fresh, foaming glass of beer on a mat in front of me.

“Hey, is that the pumpkin?” the guy next to me asked. “I didn’t know they had that on yet!”

“Yeah,” I confirmed, “This is the first pint, I think.”

“Hunh!” he responded, nodding and not taking his eyes off me.

Great: an audience.

I pulled the pint glass close and that second I knew that things had taken a very, very good turn. A waft of spice from the glass heartened me, so I drank. The malt…oh, the biscuity, creamy, roasted goodness I experienced was akin to a mouthful of milk. This year’s batch has just the right amount of spice, manifest in the aroma, sure, but not the first thing you notice as you sip. The sip greets the tongue with a beautiful malt profile that, just before the tannins kick in, get swiftly mediated by a mellowing pumpkin flavor that washes past leaving only an earthy memory of cinnamon. This is a big-swallowing, fill-your-mouth-and-close-your-eyes-until-it’s-over kind of pint. Speaking of which, that first pint went WAY too fast.

“Good?” asked my neighbor.

“Oh yeah,” I replied.

“I’ll have one of those,” he said, motioning to Casey.

You should too.

Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub in Hayward, California is open 7 days a week from 11am-10pm. If you show up early, you might catch Mike among the brew tanks – tell him I sent ya.

This beer is well worth the trip to the brewpub in Hayward. Bring a growler (or buy one on premise), you’ll want to take this one home to share with your friends.


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