NoDa Brewing gets jump on pumpkin business

NoDa Brewing will release its Gordgeous pumpkin ale on draft at the taproom Monday. Canned four-packs of the beer should be available around Labor Day.
NoDa Brewing will release its Gordgeous pumpkin ale on draft at the taproom Monday. Canned four-packs of the beer should be available around Labor Day. NoDa Brewing Company

We are a nation obsessed with pumpkins. The fall fruit once reserved for pies – or as something upon which to carve out a face – has found its way into nearly anything that could be sipped or savored, adding a dash of autumn to muffins, M&Ms, Eggo waffles and, of course, coffee.

Soon, Starbucks will no doubt begin its annual campaign to grant early access to its Pumpkin Spice Latte (which actually doesn’t contain pumpkin) to its most loyal members. Some of the promotion for the beverage is done through the company’s @TheRealPSL Twitter account, whose followers are treated to the distinctive white and green cup making sand castles or musing about its spirit animal.

It might seem silly until you see the responses to this inanimate cup, which usually fall into two camps: the desperate and clingy, begging for Pumpkin Spice Latte to come back; or the more realistic, content simply to tell Pumpkin Spice Latte how much they miss him/her/it.

While no single beer can muster that kind of seasonal sex appeal, the pumpkin beer category is getting close. And every year, bottles of pumpkin beers land on shelves earlier and earlier. In the beer world, we call this seasonal creep.

At first, NoDa Brewing resisted putting its Gordgeous pumpkin ale out to market in the summer, even when other craft brewers had done so as early as July. Before Chad Henderson became head brewer at NoDa Brewing, he homebrewed an early iteration of the beer by mashing the grains in a 74-pound pumpkin before spicing the beer with brown sugar, ginger, cardamom, cloves and allspice.

He would later brew it on a much larger scale. In 2012, NoDa Brewing released a production-sized batch of the beer in early October. And while that might seem the perfect time to drink a pumpkin beer, it wasn’t the best time to release one.

“We unfortunately didn’t sell as much as we could have,” said Suzie Ford, the brewery’s co-owner and president. “By the time fall rolled around, everyone had their pumpkin beer taps filled and no one wanted to change them in the middle of the season. You have to capture the pumpkin taps as soon as you can.”

And so they’ve moved up the release of Gordgeous in the years since. In a tongue-in-cheek video announcing its release last year, Henderson – sunning himself with baking pans in sunglasses and a black tank top – urged people to “come on down and try this delicious fall beer, before fall gets here.”

The brewery is in on the joke, well aware this might seem silly to some. But for every person who scoffs at drinking Gordgeous in the summer, there’s another coming into the taproom from the summer heat to ask about the beer. And if people are asking about the beer, that means bars and restaurants are also asking about it. NoDa Brewing’s choice is to either wait and lose sales, or get the product out as soon as there is a demand for it.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” said Suzie Ford. “And it seems like the hype and the excitement is building more and more, not just for Gordgeous but for pumpkin beers in general.”

To better meet demand this year, NoDa Brewing has already brewed 120 barrels of Gordgeous. It will be released in the taproom Monday, and then in area bars beginning the next day. Fans of the pumpkin ale will be happy to know it will be canned for the first time this year in 16-ounce four-packs, which should be out around Labor Day.

That’s a couple weeks before the official start of autumn, but I’m willing to bet plenty of people will indeed buy this delicious fall beer before fall gets here.

Event of the Week: 10-Year Pop the Cap Celebration

WHEN: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Brawley’s Beverage, 4620 Park Road.

Ten years ago, a grassroots movement called Pop the Cap successfully campaigned to raise North Carolina’s ABV cap from 6 percent to 15 percent. House Bill 392 passed on Aug. 13, 2005, and on the following Monday, Michael Brawley at Brawley’s Beverage sold the first high-gravity beer in the state. The shop is celebrating Pop the Cap’s 10-year passage Saturday by tapping special beers and selling a selection of vintage bottles. At 2 p.m., it will tie-dye T-shirts (bring or buy one); at 3 p.m., Papi Queso will roll up and serve grilled cheese; at 4 p.m. is a “low stress” bocce tournament; at 5 p.m., there will be face painting for the kids; and at 7 p.m., John Godwin will DJ out on the patio.