Halloween and Beer: History, Styles, and Events

Halloween and Beer: History, Styles, and Events

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Each holiday has a set of traditions and a feel for the group involved – Christmas and Thanksgiving are for the extended family, July 4th is for big crowds, Valentine’s Day is for couples. But Halloween is for two sets of groups, it’s for the kids with their parents tagging along behind when trick-or-treating, and it’s for adults with parties and more raucous activities. As such, craft beer plays a big role in many the adult Halloween celebration, and with the recent change in Indiana laws, it has a growing role in some of the activities for the kids.

But the connection between beer and Halloween goes back further than just the craft beer age. There is the story that one of the reasons the Pilgrims on the Mayflower paralleled parked at Plymouth Rock as they wandered up the coast of New England was because they were out of beer. They found pumpkins, “pompions” as they called them, and these were a source of sugars for making beer.

This may be why so many pumpkin beers come out each Fall, although I don’t know if the Pilgrims also found pumpkin pie spice when they landed, and most of the beers today are more spice than pumpkin (see this article). While pumpkin beers dominate Autumn and Halloween time, they also tie together other parts of the Halloween traditions. And one of those traditions is the witch.

Ninkasi, the Sumerian Goddess of beer. Apparently it rained alot in Sumeria. image credit: brauista

For thousands of years women brewed the beers, and goddesses, not gods, were the deities that brought fermentation (before we knew about microbiology). The Finnish had the goddess Kalvetar who brought beer to Earth, the Sumerians had priestesses make beer to honor the goddess Ninkasi (like the local homebrew club MONK – Midwestern Order of Ninkasi). The Vikings only let women brew the “aul” with which they celebrated their victories, while their glorious dead receive alcoholic drink from the goat Heiðrún that lives on the roof of Valhalla and rains down goodness from her teets. That’s where Granger’s Heavenly Goat Brewing gets its name.

The brewsters, as female brewers were called, were the healers of their communities, and as such had the knowledge of plants. Early on the northern countries they made a “gruit” a bunch of herbs for bittering and giving antimicrobial properties to beer. In the 3-14th centuries the church also took strongly to brewing, hence the abbey ales I love so much, but eventually the brewing trade moved from the home and church into the marketplace.

Unfortunately, the church barred women from owning property or companies, so brewsters were shaded from dawn of the beer industry. Many kept making beer as they had at home, in cauldrons and adding this and that. They stirred it with a broomstick and would hang that stick over their door to let people know they had beer to sell. In the markets, they wore pointed hats to indicate that they sold beer (in a type of code), but as the church caught on, they tried to suppress this activity.

Perhaps the church spread rumors that these women were adding magical ingredients to their cauldrons or that they were brewing potions to hurt people….. and the witch hunts began, literally. So many of today’s signs of the witch can be tied to brewsters – the hat, the broomstick, the cat (to chase mice away from the malted grain), the black pot. Even a famous brewing name has come to be associated with witches – it was Hildegard von Bingen who introduced hops into beer in the twelfth century. In the Archie comics that led eventually to the TV show Sabrina the Teenage witch, Sabrina’s aunt character who started the story off was named Hilda (short for Hildegard) Antoinette Spellman.

Who knew that Broom-Hilda had a connection to beer? image credit: deadline

There are also references to witches named Hildegard or Hildegarde in many fictional books, and the similarly named, Brunhild, Brunhilda, or Brunhilde was a particularly nasty queen in the late 6th century who supposedly poisoned and tortured many people and had women killed for being witches (to throw suspicion off herself). Therefore, these names have been co-opted often through history and art as witches names, including the Broom-Hilda of the 1970s and 80s comic strip. Can you believe that that they were considering a Broadway musical of Broom-Hilda with Catherine Zeta-Jones playing the title role? It didn’t work out, thankfully.

With all this connection between Halloween, witches, and beer, attending a Halloween craft beer festival is more about honoring the brewsters and the history of brewing than it is crass attempt to win a costume or pumpkin carving contest, although you can do that too. I’m not sure I get why adults like dressing up in costumes, but I don’t begrudge people their fun, especially when it involves craft beer. (Note: this article was first published in 2019) The recent Pumpkin, Cider, and Fall Brew Fest, Broad Ripple Brew Fest, and Hoppy Halloween craft beer events had huge numbers of people in costume, vying to win prizes individually or in groups, trying to drink around their masks, and finding a way to relieve themselves in those small port-a-lets while in costume.

The costuming portion of Halloween will continue all this weekend and through next week as we will talk about below, but Halloween’s connection to today’s craft beer is fairly strong on its own. Local, regional, and national breweries make beers every year that have Halloween inspired names or use Halloween-y ingredients. Nosferatu from Great Lakes Brewing, Zombie Dust from Three Floyds, Damien from Surly Brewing, Krieky Bones from Firestone Walker, or The Entrails of the Perished from Burial Beer Co.….you can find lists and lists of beers that have names inspired by the characters and traditions of All Hallows Eve.

Homebrewers as well as commercial breweries have embraced candy corn in beer. image credit: homebrewtalk.com

On the ingredient side, we’ve talked about the pumpkin beers before, but there are also the candy corn beers. Cigar City made a Candy Corn IPA and there was Scarlet Lane’s Lenore with Candy Corn. Indiana City did a firkin Double Uddercut with candy corn added, and Books & Brews did a version of their Scream Ale brewed with candy corn. There are beers made with other candies too, but few say Halloween more than candy corn.

There is also the trend of pairing different candies with different styles of beer. Even more than costumes, I have never gotten into the fad of eating candy with beer. The closest I’ve come to that is really enjoying the Shattered from HopLore Brewing, a beer made with Jolly Ranchers. Nevertheless, you can find many articles, from reputable sources, that tell you what kind of candy goes with what kind of beer. I reproduce below, even though none of them ever agree with each other.

The seriousness of the beer and Halloween connection in Indiana is best demonstrated by a couple of Indianapolis breweries, Scarlet Lane and Black Acre. Scarlet Lane has trademarked the phrase, The Official beer of Horror, as we discussed in an article earlier this year (here), and their head brewer Joshua and assistant brewer Nathan both write horror movie screenplays and make horror films. Scarlet Lane really celebrates Halloween year round, but they feel it even more strongly this time of year. Check out their website and Facebook page to see what they have going on for the holiday.

Black Acre has to embrace Halloween based on their location. The Irvington neighborhood of Indianapolis is renowned for their Irvington Halloween Festival. This year is the 73rd edition of the festival, with Black Acre having been around for the last seven. Since Black Acre is on Washington Street in the heart of Irvington, the street fair, the parade, the window painting contest….everything takes place around the brewpub. In addition they have their own events for the holiday, like the Monster Bash and their fifth annual horror film trivia contest (sorry, that was Wednesday).

I’ll leave this here. Click for a bigger image. image credit: thekitchn.com

Don’t worry of you’ve missed a Halloween and craft beer event or two already, there are plenty of them coming up in the next few days. The Indiana On Tap calendar (here) has no fewer than 60 different craft beer + Halloween events listed all over the state, from 18th Street in Hammond, to LaOtto Brewing near Fort Wayne and from Zorn Brew Works in Michigan City all the way down to Carson’s Brewery in Evansville.

The events envelope all sorts of activities, and many of them take in more than one type of activity. There are artsy events, like costume contests and pumpkin carving/decorating. Broad Ripple Brewpub is having their 25th annual pumpkin carving contest on Sunday, and Cardinal Spirits in Bloomington is just one of the craft beverage places having costume contests with prizes; there is on Friday night (25th).

Other events are more for the kids, like the pumpkin painting and Hocus Pocus showing at MashCraft-Fishers on Sunday, the family friendly Halloween party at Bier on Saturday, or the Trunk or treat party with Grand Junction in Westfield on Sunday. Animals get into the act too, with the Mummies & Doggies event at Trubble Brewing in Fort Wayne on Saturday and the Howl at the Moontown party at Moontown Brewing on Wednesday the 30th.

There are many Halloween trivia contests, and the latest trend is movie showings at the breweries. LaOtto is having movies Friday and Saturday night (25th-26th), and Carson’s Brewery in Evansville is doing a triple feature of chilling movies on

Chapman’s in Columbia City has a two day music event focused around Halloween. Check out the calendar at Indiana On Tap for all the events. image credit: Chapman’s Brewing

The brains even get in on the act if they want to, as Centerpoint is having an Anatomy night on Monday night where zombies come into teach about the brain and participants get to dissect a sheep brain of their own. Look for Lil’ Walter to be at that one, while I might take in the Books, Brains, and Brews event and Ash & Elm on Tuesday where they will discuss the book Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain by Timothy Verstynen.

A couple of beer release parties coincide with the holiday, like the Nightmare on Shelby at Indiana City for the barrel-aged 666 release (and three other barrel aged beers) and MashCraft’s release of Elvira at all their locations. There are straight Halloween parties with music, costumes, and beer Guggman Haus (lots of decorations), Backstep Brewing in Crawfordsville, ZwanzigZ in Columbus, and Wasser Brewing in Greencastle. Finally there are straight dance parties as well, one with Black Circle and Dead Ed on Friday at Black Circle and another with Daredevil Brewing and Spellbound Indy on Saturday.

Like I said, check out the calendar for all the events across the state and go celebrate the history of beer with Halloween. I might even put on long pants as my costume – no one would recognize me.

banner image credit: Big Think

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