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In South Florida, a great pumpkin-beer takeover

South Florida has a love-hate relationship with pumpkin beer.

It's pumpkin-beer season at Bangin' Banjo Brewing Company in Pompano Beach, and co-owner Adam Feingold is not a fan of the gourd.

In particular, Feingold shuns cinnamon spice, an ingredient essential to every beer flavored like homemade pumpkin pie. But that hardly stopped Feingold and his partner, brewmaster Matthew Giani, from making Johnny B. Gourd, a sweet pumpkin ale spiced with toasted coconut, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

On Saturday, Aug. 27, the pair staged a release party for Johnny B. Gourd, selling nearly 300 bottles and gallons more on draft. All but 50 bottles remain, and Feingold says the pumpkin beer should run out within the week. They say pumpkin beer fills a strong demand in South Florida from September to November, where drinkers are lured to taprooms and beer stores by the signature flavors of fall.

"People have this association with the joy of Thanksgiving and Halloween, when there's always plenty of pumpkin pies," says Feingold, who began brewing Johnny B. Gourd in early August. "The holidays and pumpkin flavors go hand in hand."

In September, breweries such as 26 Degree in Pompano Beach, Devour in Boynton Beach and J. Wakefield in Wynwood will follow Bangin' Banjo by staging release parties in their taprooms. Drinkers can already buy cans of Due South Brewing's Isle of MaGourdo, a spicy pumpkin amber ale, in stores.

Bangin' Banjo and other local breweries have been serving beers based on the seasonal squash, competing with a market saturated with nonlocal pumpkin beers. Beer stores have already jumped on the pumpkin train, carrying regional brands such as Southern Tier Pumking, Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, New Belgium Pumpkick and 20 more.

But if local brewers say pumpkin beer remains a boon to sales, they also maintain a love-hate relationship with it.

"Pumpkin beer has a short shelf life," Giani says. "You almost have to come out with it sooner, because other breweries are also coming out with it, and you don't want drinkers to be tired of it by the time you release your beer."

Brewmaster Greg Lieberman decided to lampoon pumpkin-beer season at his 26 Degree Brewing Company. Not Another F'n Pumpkin Porter, brewed with canned raw pumpkin, nutmeg and ginger and other spices, will debut in the taproom on Labor Day. It will be served in a snifter rimmed with cinnamon sugar.

Lieberman is only brewing a small batch of Not Another F'n — about 500 gallons — which is just enough to satisfy the brewery's thirsty pumpkin heads. But raw pumpkin can cause problems for brewing systems, he says.

"From a brewer's side, nobody likes working with pumpkin, because pumpkin gets so gummy in the tank," says Liberman, who doesn't "really migrate to pumpkin beer." "It's tough to work with and tough to clean. And you don't want to make too much of it because demand plummets by November."

At Riverside Market, a craft-beer emporium stocking hundreds of varieties in Fort Lauderdale, dozens of orange-labeled bottles rest in cold cases along a wall. Owner Julian Siegel says most breweries use pureed pumpkin in a can, since fresh harvests don't begin until late September. Even though his store offers many options, his go-to pumpkin beer is Due South's Isle of MaGourdo for its "sweet, pumpkin-y kick." It's his only local pumpkin beer sold in-store.

Brian Tonnessen, Due South's regional sales manager, says Isle of MaGourdo lets beer drinkers pretend that seasonless South Florida has an autumn.

"We know that pumpkins don't really grow here indigenously, so this is a way for us to flex our creative muscles," Tonnessen says. "You fall in love with the aroma. It just smells like a baking pumpkin pie. Having one of these feels like you're in a pumpkin patch in the middle of New York."

Adam Fine, owner of Craft Beer Cartel and the soon-to-open Native Brewing Company in downtown Fort Lauderdale, has been teaching pumpkin-beer-making classes on the last Saturday of the month since last fall. Pumpkin beer can take up to six weeks to ferment, he says.

"You want a pumpkin beer that's all about that pumpkin-pie flavor, that's all about the spices," Fine says. "I personally like the full pumpkin flavor, with a little bit of spice to remind you of the fall."

Plenty of breweries relish pumpkin season. In Miami, J. Wakefield Brewing will offer Gourdita Imperial Pumpkin Ale, a golden ale brewed with Tahitian vanilla beans, by late September. Since Gourdita debuted in the taproom last year, drinkers have craved its return, brand manager Alex Gutierrez says.

"We got so much great feedback, we had to bring it back," Gutierrez says.

Count Chip Breighner, co-owner of Devour Brewing Company, as a pumpkin fan. His Pumpkin on the Run, an amber ale with coffee notes, will be released the third week of September in its Boynton Beach taproom, he says.

"It's one of my favorite times of year," Breighner says. "I try to add as much pumpkin as possible, but not overspice it."

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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