Now in its eigth year, Elysian's Great Pumpkin celebration has attained mythical status matched only in the pumpkin world by Charlie Brown's long-awaited Halloween figure, and certainly surpassing the slutty pumpkin on How I Met Your Mother. But unlike other pumpkin-based legendry, those tracking Elysian's Great Pumpkin Beer Festival know exactly when and where it will appear. Namely, this Friday and Saturday, October 19 and 20.
Every year the brewery crafts a roster of pumpkin beers and invites brewers from across town, across the country, and across the seas to pour their own pumpkin creations (here's a partial list). The result is a celebration of some of the best versions of a type of beer too often dismissed as an overly sweet seasonal novelty.
A boatload of artisanal pumpkin beers is certainly a draw on its own. But the real reason beer lovers freak out over this gathering is the great pumpkin itself. Three enormous, 200-pound pumpkins are hollowed out, filled with beer, and left to ferment. This process essentially turns the pumpkin into a giant keg, and one gets tapped at each of the festival's three sessions. No kegstands.
This year, Elysian surpassed its usual levels of pumpkin obsession, preparing13 brews for the occasion. I had the Dark o' the Moon pumpkin stout recently and was surprised how subtle and adult it was.
Another elder statesman of local beermakers, Pike Brewing, made its first-ever pumpkin ale this fall. It's entitled Harlot's Harvest and bears quite a saucy label designed by founder Charles Finkel. Head brewer Dean Mochizuki told me that his key to making a pumpkin beer for grownups is using a good-quality base beer (in his case a dark, strong Belgian ale), letting the actual pumpkin notes stay in the background, but spicing the brew as you would a pumpkin pie. "You really have to cut back on the hops, because pumpkin beers are more about spices," he says, a form of restraint that can be hard to come by in this part of the world.
Elysian's festival has become so popular that the brewery moved the proceedings to Georgetown last year. This year's orgy of gourd-based libations is broken into three sessions, Friday 4-10 and Saturday, 11-4 and 5-10, and the $25 tickets must be purchased in advance. A ticket gets you a glass and six drink tickets; additional tickets are $2 apiece or 5 for $10.
You can get all the necessary details right over here.