Sunday, October 2, 2011

Beer style of the week; Pumpkin Ale

Beer style of the week; Pumpkin Ale

Week 34

“Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He's gotta pick this one. He's got to. I don't see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there's not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.” – Linus Van Pelt from, ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ - 1966

Now, finally, here’s a beer that has deep roots as a New England original. Pumpkin Ale goes back to the days of the beer-loving Pilgrims. When barley or wheat grains were depleted, and beer was desired, (actually beer was needed because their water sources weren’t always safe to drink) these crafty brewers turned to other fermentable plants and vegetations. Turnip and bran and pumpkins were commonly used in place of barley malt as a suitable fermentable.

Samuel Stearns, author of ' The American Herbal; or, Materia Medica’ (published in 1801), listed pumpkin beer (among other ales) as especially healthful, noting:

"Different kinds of beer, ale, &c. are often prepared according to the prescriptions of the physicians, all of which, as well as pumpkin and bran beer, partake of the virtues of the ingredients put into such liquors."

A popular song written in the 1600’s paid homage to the pumpkin ale.

Instead of pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies;
We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon;
If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone
... Hey down, down, hey down derry down....
If barley be wanting to make into malt
We must be contented and think it no fault
For we can make liquor, to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips”.

The walnut tree chips, by the way, were used in place of hops as a bittering agent. Cleaver boys, those Puritans!

Not all pumpkin ales are created equal, but most are welcoming the fall-type ales. Pumpkin ales, as of this writing, range in ABV from a mild 4% ABV to 10% ABV for the Imperial versions. They pair nicely with a wide variety of foods, from mellow creamy cheeses, to brats, to root veggies, to turkey dinner with all the trimmings, to (you guessed it, Pumpkin Pie…with pumpkin ice cream). Try drizzling an Imperial Pumpkin over vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. Lovely!

Let’s start with my very favorite mild Pumpkin Ale:

Great Pumpkin Ale - Cambridge Brewing Co. – Brewed at Mercury Brewing, Ipswich, MA – 4.2% ABV

22 oz. brown bottle. Bottled on date and Batch # stamped.

Poured in a nonic tumbler.

It has a shiny, orange-hued copper color with a thin to medium-sized white head along with some lace dotting the glass.

It smells similar to a mild pale ale with caramel malt, dry grass, tea-like hops and whiffs of pumpkin and spice that linger in the background throughout.

The flavors are very balanced. You get the pleasure of seeking the tastes rather than them finding you.

Mellow tastes of fresh doughy pumpkin bread, blend with mild tea and lemon with honey flavors. The spiciness is in check. A little peppery nutmeg, a dose of tart citrus, and then a clean finish.

Wonderful, wonderful creation here by Will Meyers of CBC!

Smutty Nose Pumpkin Ale – Smutty Nose Brewing – Portsmouth, New Hampshire – 6% ABV

This is a Pumpkin Ale our Pilgrim forefathers would surely approve of. Unlike some of the pretender "pumpkin" ales on the market, this one has Real Pumpkin inside!

It pours a hazy goldish amber with a nice off-white head and some trails and webs of sticky lace. The aroma is of pumpkin pie...with beer. A sweet biscuity malty mixes well with mellow pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. A mild lemony citrus offers a nice balance to the malt and spices. A faint flavor reminiscent of eggnog and rum comes to mind. It really goes down easy and was gone before I had the chance to appropriately conclude this review. Yum!

My favorite Imperial Pumpkin:

Smashed Pumpkin – Shipyard Brewing – Portland, Maine – 9% ABV

22oz brown bottle. Served in a Chimay goblet.

It pours an oily, orange-hued amber color with a beige head along with some wisps of trailing lacing.

A strong and delightful whiff of rum-soaked pumpkin pie rises at first pour. I think I can actually smell the crust! The nutmeg spiciness is subdued, but thoughts of Thanksgiving dessert flood my senses. A solid malty smell mingles with some spicy and citrusy hops. Dark rum in the nose never fades.

The flavors are bold and upfront. Very little in the way of subtleties. Big spiced pumpkin taste, Big Doughy Maltiness, Big Ruminess, and not so big, yet noticeable hoppiness.

SO much better than Shipyard's other Pumpkin Ale, and not because it's much bigger. It's big but balanced and wonderfully rich and decadent.

Let's see how it ages...

Others well worth a try:

Punkin Ale – Dog Fish Head – Milton, Delaware – 7%ABV

Post Road Pumpkin Ale – Contract brewed by Brooklyn Brewery – 5% ABV

Wachusett Imperial Pumpkin – Westminster, Massachusetts – 8% ABV


Quote: “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin. – Linus Van Pelt