I wasn’t always a huge fan of pumpkin. For years my mother pushed it on me; “Stephane, come try this sugar pie I made”, I’d answer “It’s not sugar, mom it’s pumpkin pie. I know.” Still, she’d put it in meals, stews, whatever she could find, but I knew it wasn’t turnip or sweet potatoes. It’s only until a few years ago that my wife, Lisa, re-introduced me to pumpkin. My wife had an advantage over my mom, Lisa had herself a middle age man who, like most, was driven by pride and courage, and so she used it against me. “What’s the matter honey? You’re afraid of a little pumpkin?” What was I to do? I had to eat it. The same thing happened with rhubarb. But she won’t get me to enjoy beets, blood pudding or liver. That’s where I draw the line. “Call me a pussy, I don’t care!” That stuff tastes like twigs, iron and dirt. Hmmm, you know what just happened right now, live, as I write this blog; I hopped over to my browser and goggled beet beer. Sure enough there’s a few, which I guess I’ll have to try one day. God dam it, I hate beets! Some smartass better never brew a blood-pudding beer. I’ll kill him.
And so it’s Pumpkin beer time… why now? Because it’s before Halloween and all the brewing has been done. Already you ask? Well, yes. You see folks, Pumpkin beer is very sexy up to Halloween night but then, a strange thing happens; when all the kids have filled their pillow cases with candy and razor-bladed apples, and when the adults wake up the next day hung over and with left over make-up and tarnished costumes, Halloween is done and so is pumpkin beer season. So when you’re done reading this blog, get in your car, drive to a beer store, get a sampling of pumpkin beers and enjoy their delicious taste while it lasts because on November 1st, it’s Christmas season baby!
Why pumpkin is another question. Why not, I suppose. But if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that pumpkin beer originates from brewers trying to add natural products to the mix to make up for malt shortage. Pumpkin flesh ferments well given its sugar content and best of all, when roasted, they taste great.
The problem with pumpkin beer is that, pumpkin was initially used to fill a shortage of malt and probably at the time, brewers didn’t advertise the use of pumpkin as much as today. If anything, they probably tried to limit the mention of such all together. Thing is, like Garrison’s Spruce Beer which I reviewed back in February, ingredients that were once upon a time substitutions have become featured. This means that when pumpkin is added to beer, it MUST taste like pumpkin otherwise, you’ve got a beer that was made with substitute ingredients, nothing more. In all honesty, I think pumpkin has a very subtle taste and if it wasn’t for its notorious spice mix (usually a mix of all spice –and/or- cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove.) it wouldn’t taste much on its own. A good pumpkin has to be well prepared, seasoned right and roasted perfect otherwise, it’s a stringy watery meal. That being said, preparing pumpkin beer is a challenge and although my judgments are severe, hats off to those who try. Because at the end of the day, I’m just some guy drinking them; brewing them is the challenge.
Black Creek Pumpkin Ale
Black Creek’s Pumpkin ale is the first of its kind I tried this year and I’m happy my summer beer mode ended with this one. Not because it’s my favorite, which it wasn’t, but because it scored somewhere safe, in the middle, and that’s probably what you want for a beer when engaging in a review of several others like it. The pour was that of an orangey gold, a little hazy but not too bad. Little head with almost no lacing left me somewhat disappointed but still, eager to taste it. The smell was that of a pumpkin pie; allspice, pumpkin, biscuit, dough, malt and caramel. In fact, it’s the only one that hinted caramel.
Honestly, I’ve had my share of Black creek beers and although this one isn’t an absolute failure, it was pretty average; Black Creek is better than this. The taste was malty, and that of a “saison” with some nice hints of caramel but the pumpkin wasn’t very present. The carbonation was okay but the beer felt a little thin.
Price: 3.50$ / 500ml
Beer type: Ale
Country / Region: Black Creek Brewery, Ontario, Canada
Grand River HighBaller Pumpkin Ale
The Grand River Brewery has put together a great pumpkin beer but like their label, which I refuse to find appealing, it poured quite weak. Although it has a nice amber / gold color, it gave little head which to make matters worse, disappeared immediately. I was however, looking forward to write my review on this one because the taste was quite generous with pumpkin. In fact, in all the beers I tried this year, this is the one that lived up to its name best. Grown in the owner’s backyard (Ron Hannenberg), the pumpkins are very present in the taste. Some hints of malt and hops are present as well but pumpkin and the usual pumpkin spice mix shines. It was low on carbonation and quite frankly felt like a cask beer although it was bottled. Look, if you like a well carbonated beer with good head, you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re looking for what a pumpkin beer (as a featured ingredient) should taste like, that’s the one that did it best in 2012.
Price: 3.85 / 500ml
Beer type: Ale
Country / Region: Grand River Brewery, Ontario, Canada
Great Lakes Saison Pump
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I first had Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale almost 2 years ago and I remembered loving it. It was my first pumpkin beer ever. Yes, I was, not too long ago, a pumpkin beer virgin. This year I had it again but this time at Castro’s Lounge in a cask format.
The beer poured a nice hazy amber color and gave off a good blend of clover, tobacco, some dried fruit, yeast and pepper. No head, you know I like head. The beer tasted good, I enjoyed it, but after a short while, I found it was citrusy-bitter and quite frankly not very much of a pumpkin beer. A good spice mix, good malt and not too much yeast still, it didn’t leave me wanting another glass. Overall, I found it a little too thin and not pumpkin enough. It’s not easy making a beer with pumpkin when all the ingredients lead a brewery down a path of oktober fest and saison, but if you’re going to call it a pumpkin beer, you best be ready to live up to the promise of a pumpkin taste.
Price: 7.00$ retail / 1 pint
Beer type: Saison
Post Road Pumpkin Ale
First things first; why is it the Brooklyn Brewery logo nowhere to be found on this beer bottle? This started off as a beautiful beer. It poured deliciously amber with a copper hue. Unlike most pumpkin beers this year, this one had better head. I’ll give this beer credit for retaining a nice snowfall of head for the entire session. It also laced very nicely.
The aroma was however weak. It lacked pumpkin beer spices. Little hops, some nutmeg and sour dough bread were dominant. The first sip was a nice creamy surprise. It tasted more like a harvest beer with a hint of nutmeg and malts. By the third sip I began to taste some pumpkin but it never was enough. It left a little bit of an after taste like cough syrup but better. I don’t know that I would repeat it but it was enjoyable enough to recommend, especially if pumpkin beer is not really your thing. The carbonation was perfect, even up to the very last sip but not the best as far as pumpkin beer goes.
Price: 2.65$ / 355 ml
Beer type: Ale
Country / Region: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Folks, I’m not going to lie to you, pumpkin beer in Ontario has let me down a little this year. It’s not that Ontario breweries failed to please, because they scored okay, but gems like Weyerbacher, Dogfish head and Avery Brewery Pumpkin beers were nowhere to be found, so it seems. One gem that I thought I bought but never found once home, is Southern Tier’s Pumpkin Ale. This one is available at the LCBO and scored quite high on beer rating sites, so if you’re looking for a pumpking beer, Southern Tier seems to be the one to go for. Meanwhile, I’ll go back to the store and buy another one, I guess. I’ll confirm it soon.