How Colorado baristas and beer brewers got on the pumpkin spice bandwagon

PSLs might be a corporate idea, but they inspired local traditions


Every fall, pumpkin lovers rejoice in knowing their favorite flavors will start migrating from humble gourds to morning mugs. While the specialty beverage has corporate origins, local baristas put a hometown twist on "PSLs" across Colorado.  

The origins of pumpkin spice lattes trace to 2003, when Starbucks’ Director of Espresso Peter Dukes came up with the idea out of a desire to replicate the seasonal success of the eggnog latte and peppermint mocha, according to The Daily Meal 

 “Pumpkin spice latte has become more than just a beverage,” Dukes said. “It has become a harbinger of the season.” 

Since then, the drink has evolved into an annual tradition outside Starbucks.  

At Nixon’s Coffee House in Englewood, one barista said pumpkin pie syrup is used instead of pumpkin spice because it gives the drink a more unique flavor.  

 La Dolce Vita in Arvada uses pumpkin puree sauce and has served the drink since around the time Starbucks began the trend. Unlike the big chain, at LDV the taste will depend on the barista.  

Barista Tamara Hansen said she adds vanilla to her PSL so that it gets a more robust flavor profile.  

“I’m putting pumpkin sauce, of course, and vanilla, and I’m going to put whipped cream and cinnamon sugar,” Hansen said. “(The vanilla) adds a little bit of sweetness.” 

 Her co-worker Josh Crouch's take on the drink is inspired by pumpkin pancakes and features some maple flavors.  

 “It’s got real pumpkin,” Crouch said, pointing to the pumpkin puree sauce used to flavor the drink.   

Not just lattes 

 The PSL trend has spread far beyond espresso drinks. Local breweries have jumped on the flavor train as well — somewhat begrudgingly, in certain cases.  

Colorado Plus Brew Pub in Wheat Ridge serves a “darker style of pumpkin ale,” according to Manager Jordan Peck. The "Don’t Call Me Pumpkin, Pumpkin Spice Ale" ale has a slightly higher-than-average alcohol content than other pumpkin beers, Peck said.   

“It’s really full-bodied,” Peck said. “It’s pumpkin spice without being over the top.” 

Chris Hill, owner of Odyssey Beerwerks in Arvada didn’t necessarily want to make a pumpkin beer, so he took the idea and went a different route.  

“We opened in May of 2013,” Hill said. “As fall was rolling around, everybody was telling us we needed to do a pumpkin beer because everyone does a pumpkin beer in fall. I didn’t really want to do one, but I asked our assistant brewer if he could do a different one. He came back with the idea to do a marshmallow porter with a pumpkin spice.” 

The result is the "Fluffy Pumpkin Toasted Marshmallow Porter," which was such a hit in 2013 that Odyssey kept it going on a seasonal basis.  

 “It was a one-off to appease customers,” Hill admits. “The reason we brewed a second batch was we had two bar owners and two friends of owners who called and said they had or had heard of this been we did and they really wanted to put it on tap. So, we did enough to make four-eight kegs and sold it to them. In 2014, we did a full batch and sold out before we were done fermenting.” 

Despite the Fluffy Pumpkin’s beginnings, Hill says he’s come around on the pumpkin porter.  

“I’m in a happy place with it now,” Hill said. “It’s a really good beer. I won’t say we were opposed, but since everyone does a pumpkin beer, we don’t need to do one, but we did and it was fantastic. I won’t downplay the beer. It’s really good.” 

Barnett and Son Brewing Co. in Parker began their pumpkin beer with a homespun tradition.

Owner Andrew Barnett said their ‘Nevermore Pumpkin Ale’ — fittingly named after ‘The Raven,’ by Edgar Alan Poe — originated with a Halloween tradition at the Barnett home.

“It’s an old home brew recipe. As a home brewer, we used to deck out the Barnett house for Halloween,” Barnett said. “I’d hand out beers in the driveway for neighbors who came out to Halloween. When we opened the brewery, that tradition survived.”

Barnett describes the ale as “a really good balance between the spices and the vegetable,” and said he was cautious against adding too much cinnamon, a move he believes undercuts the flavor of other pumpkin beers.

Nevermore Pumpkin Ale won the silver medal at the 2021 Denver International Beer Competition and is entering its 7th year on tap at Barnett and Son Brewing. The seasonal libation is available from the first Friday in September through about Thanksgiving.



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