Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Beer O'Clock: In Search of the Great Pumpkin Ale, Part 2

This is so much fun.

Pumpkin ale is still coming out and I'm still collecting. And I'm loving finally getting to it, trying new ales that I never had before, becoming reacquainted with some that I haven't had since last year—this time, paying closer attention and taking notes.

This week, I looked at three ales: two from Toronto and one from the Ottawa area.

The first beer is one that I tried a couple of times: the first time, at the brewery; the second time, at this weekend's Oktoberfest Ottawa... um... fest.

Ashton Brewing Company opened only a year ago, and already they're making great brews. I first tried their brown ale at the National Capital Craft Beer Week, and since then I've tried their blueberry wheat ale, their vanilla bean stout, and now their pumpkin ale (5% ABV).

From the moment you see it, you know that this is no ordinary pumpkin ale. Bright, golden-yellow in colour with a white foamy head, this ale looks more like a summer weiss than an autumn pumpkin. The cloudiness tells you right away that it's unfiltered.

What also grabbed me when I first smelled it was the intense fruit aromas: primarily, banana, but with traces of pear. I held the pint glass to my nose for at least five minutes before I took my first sip. I would have held this pose for longer, but my friend was already tasting his pint, making sounds of approval, and looking at me to get into it.

I could drink this ale all day long. On the palate, there are wonderful tones of spice and generous flavours of fruit. I detected pineapple with the pumpkin. And the finish lingered, allowing me to savour the flavour.

Awesome stuff.

The one downside to this pumpkin ale (known as Lederhoser Pumpkin Ale at Oktoberfest Ottawa) is that it is available in very limited quantities. It is on tap at the Old Mill at Ashton English Style Pub and other pubs in Ottawa (go to Ashton Brew Company's site for more information). It sold out early at this weekend's festival, so I don't expect it to stick around in the city. You can also buy growlers at ABC.

Another great pumpkin ale gets right into the Hallowe'en spirit. Mill Street offers its Nightmare on Mill Street Pumpkin Ale (5% ABV) in a seasonal pack that also includes an Oktoberfest ale. I'm not reviewing that beer here.

Nightmare pours a clear copper brown to brick colour with a tan foam head that dissipates quickly after a lively effervescence. There were lots of large bubbles with the initial pour, but they settled down to almost nothing. I have also had the draft version of this pumpkin ale at the Mill Street Brew Pub. The carbonation is greater from the keg and the head changes to a nice lace top. There are other differences that I'll outline as I go.

On the nose, Nightmare presents toasty spices with fleshy fruit. This is pumpkin pie in a glass. In the mouth, I immediately taste caramel and true pumpkin-pie flavours. The keg version seems less sweet and more creamy, with more carbonation.

I enjoy them both. And because this ale is at the LCBO, it's readily available. For another month or so, at least.

Finally, I delved into another Toronto beer, the second pumpkin ale that I ever tried (the first was a cask-conditioned, one-off that my friend, Perry, made a couple of years ago for Volo Cask Days, and is one of the best pumpkin ales I've ever had).

The first time that I had Great Lakes Brewery Pumpkin Ale, I wasn't crazy about it. To me, the pumpkin flavours didn't taste genuine. They tasted artificial.

Last year, I tried this pumpkin ale again, and I developed a better appreciation for it. But, in truth, I did try it after I had another pumpkin ale that knocked my socks off, whose flavours overpowered my taste buds.

(I think Coors Light would have tasted decent after this other, as-yet-unnamed pumpkin ale, which I'll be reviewing in another week or two: it's probably my favourite one so far. But I still have more to try.)

So, on my third tasting of Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale, I paid closer attention, and this is what I found:

In the glass, the colour is a golden orange with a pale foam that lasts through the better half of the glass. On the nose, I found citrus scents with nice spice and a hint of honey. The nose, I found, is the best aspect of the beer.

On the palate, I tasted bold hops but not much in the way of pumpkin. Though this ale isn't particularly high in alcohol (5.5% ABV), those flavours come through in the finish. 

It's a decent pumpkin ale, but for me it's not a favourite. For me, it doesn't compare with Mill Street's and doesn't even come close to the atypical offering from Ashton.

But one thing's certain: I'm going to love October, when I review many more pumpkin ales. Cheers!

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