Well, it’s pumpkin beer season. Time to grab a stout, pilsner, or IPA, pull the covers over your head, and stay hidden until Halloween has passed. Or to reevaluate what a pumpkin beer ought to be. As Augie Carton, owner of Carton Brewery in New Jersey tells Michael in an upcoming Season Three episode of Beer Geeks, most pumpkin beer isn’t about the taste of pumpkin, but rather the taste of the spices used in pumpkin pie, like cinnamon and clove. And to me anyway, that combo has no place in my beer. Augie says, done right, a pumpkin beer – or any gourd beer for that matter – should use the taste of the gourd itself.
In fact, pumpkin beer – without the spices – has a long and storied history in America. In ‘the Beer Bible,” Jeff Alworth explains,"The humble pumpkin, totem of Halloween ... was used by American colonists to make rough beer for those who could not afford the good imported stuff. ... Finding suitable sugars for yeast to digest into beer was always a chore for those early colonists."
Detroit Free Press columnist Robert Allen recently went looking for drinkable pumpkin ales and found several that emphasized the pumpkin itself. His notes:
La Parcela from Jolly Pumpkin. Great sour approach to pumpkin beer grapefruit on the back end.
Hooligan Hoppy Pumpkin Ale by North Peak Brewing:Tastes like a floral, piney pale ale; can barely taste pumpkin.
Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin by Boston Beer: Heavy, complex with tastes of toast, coffee, vanilla and only the slightest hints of spice and maybe pumpkin.
When Pastemagazine.com rated pumpkin beers, they found several that emphasized the real taste of the fruit, including:
Cigar City Good Gourd. Cigar City treats the pumpkin as a vegetable, finding sweetness from the ever-present malts in beer. The result is a very pumpkin-and-spice-forward beer that doesn’t taste like candy or pumpkin pie. It tastes first and foremost like a big, complex malty beer with strong enough of a backbone to carry the pumpkin and fall spice flavors. This is pumpkin beer done right.
Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus. This is a lambic without the fruity sweetness … a wonderfully unique take on pumpkin beer. Subtle and refreshing.
Chatoe Rogue First Growth Pumpkin Ale Tastes like Fresh pumpkin rind. Very pumpkin-forward without the cloying sweetness that other very pumpkiny beers have. Rogue grows its own pumpkins and the beer is surprisingly light and fresh.
Augie Carton brews a beer called RAV, using butternut squash, which replicates the flavors of a pumpkin filled ravioli from a meal he and his wife shared in Italy. It’s about as far from pumpkin pie as you can get – and it’s fabulous.
And there are other unique pumpkin and gourd beers hidden among the hundreds of standard pumpkin-pies-in-a bottle on sale this season. All it takes is some looking, for gourd’s sake.
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