(CBS SF) -- While every flavored coffee lover may be asking, "When is the pumpkin spice latte (PSL) available?" the better question might be when is pumpkin beer going to be on store shelves, but at any rate, both are either here now, or starting in days.
Starbuck's #SpotTheSpiceChallenge begins Thursday, August 21st with clues online that will "unlock" the latte by August 26th at your local store. Just follow @theRealPSL on Twitter (yes, they made that account). Get the clues through August 25th, and then on Tuesday, August 26th, give the code to your barista, and you've unlocked the store, and everyone benefits. As the syrup is already stocked, it's likely every store will have it, but if not, September 2nd was the official planned date. (Editor's note: This paragraph previously said the "unlocking" could happen by 8/25. The clues end 8/25, but Starbuck's says it will unlock the PSL on 8/26).
If you love the flavors of coffee and pumpkin spice, though, you can get a different fix at the end of the day. As someone who has sampled every pumpkin beer he's seen, I can tell you there are some amazing brews that combine the smokey, dark-roasted goodness reminiscent of coffee with the fond-memory flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger.
The varieties of beer are far more varied than the varieties of latte.
I spotted Blue Moon's pumpkin offering at Raley's in the East Bay this past weekend. If you like light beer with a little flavor, you'll appreciate this.
BLUE MOON PUMPKIN ALE: ABV 5.7%, and an IBU of 16 makes this a very mildly flavored beer. IBU is a measurement of bitterness, with 100 being very bitter (think IPA). Bud Light, Coor's Light and similar lagers have an IBU of under 10.
For the full beverage-based version of a slice of pumpkin pie with a robust cup of coffee, there is one beer that I can wholeheartedly recommend for the stout-lover.
SAM ADAMS PUMPKIN FAT JACK: It's a thick, porter-like ale, brewed with over 28 pounds of pumpkin per barrel. It's sweet, and strong, but the addition of smoked malts ads that coffee-like flavor for complex layers of flavor and spice. An ABV of 8.5% gives it that warmth and richness you'd expect from a limited availability fall beer. It's not cheap, though.
Other great pumpkin beers include
MCAUSLAN BREWING PUMPKIN ALE: A flavor that's full enough to remind you of pumpkin ice cream, in a red ale.
And, of course, no "Eye on The Beer" update would be complete withohut a local brewery.
21ST AMENDMENT, based in San Francisco, offered two interesting pumpkin beer options in 2013 and one can only hope they'll be back. The "He Said" pack included two beers, in different color cans, including a white Belgian-Style Tripel brewed with pumpkin, tarragon of all things, and galangal. We had to look that last one up--it's similar to ginger, but far more potent. The other option was my favorite, a black Baltic-Style porter "lager" brewed with pumpkin, cinnamon and caraway. Both had that warmth from an ABV of 8.2% that you'd enjoy on a crisp fall night.
Finally, this cider was too wonderful not to mention, for those who like a crisper, juicier flavor, without the coffee-like roasty goodness (yes, I'm biased, but I'm still mentioning this excellent cider!) And, it's a local company.
ACE PUMPKIN CIDER: It's amazingly good, crisp, with subtle pumpkin, but just enough, and solid cider spices. They use cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, with a 5 percent cider. It's wonderfully orange, and available after September 1st, 2014.
ACE Hard Ciders is based in Sebastopol, in Sonoma County.
And of course, you can get your Starbuck's PSL in late August.
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