Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In Search of the Great Pumpkin Ale, Part 3

Yes, my beer review is one day late, but I decided that because it was a holiday there was a good chance that many of you wouldn't be spending your free time in front of a screen. Also, I got home too late and too tired on Sunday, after spending some time in nature, capturing the colours of the autumn leaves, and with family, stuffing our faces, to sit down and bang out a beer review.

If you get a chance, get out soon to enjoy the colours of fall. The Gatineau Hills to the north of Ottawa have exploded in vibrant colours of red, yellow, and orange. This week's Wordless Wednesday will showcase some of the images I captured this weekend.

But I also took the time to enjoy two more pumpkin ales while I absorbed the beauty of the changing leaves in the Gatineaus.

This weekend, being both the Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and with Columbus Day in the United States, I went for a Canadian offering and an American one. And in drinking these seasonal brews, I only had one regret.

That I didn't buy more.

This week's selections are Beau's All Natural Weiss O'Lantern Pumpkin Weiss and Southern Tier Imperial Pumking Beer. I started with Beau's.

Beau's, for me, is a hit-and-miss brewery. I like some of their beer; I dislike others. When Beau's creates something truly special, I want to stock up. Their Bog Water, Festivale, and Beaver River IPA come to mind. Sometimes, they seemingly try too hard (I'm thinking of Mr. Hyde) and for me, it's too much. And, I'm sorry to say, I don't like their flagship brew, Lug Tread (I respect it; I just don't appreciate it).

Their Weiss O'Lantern (LCBO: $7.85/600 ml; 5.6% ABV), I'm happy to say, firmly hits the mark for me. A golden-yellow glow with a hint of orange and a lush-white foamy head catches your eye. Like most weiss-styled wheat ales, there is the murkiness of little filtration. As a result, the light that enters the glass seems to remain captured within.

On the nose, I was immediately hit with intense banana. This is only the third time that I've noticed this fruit in a beer, and it tells me one thing: this beer is going to be good. In the nose, there are also hints of spice, which comes through more clearly on the palate.

In the mouth, I was met with warm clove spice and pumpkin flavour. This is a full-bodied, but not heavy, wheat ale. The fresh yeast comes through in the finish and leaves a beautiful, clean aftertaste.

Sadly, I only picked up two bottles on Saturday. I tend not to purchase more than two bottles of an unknown entity: I buy a second just in case there's something wrong with the first, but I don't buy more just in case I don't like the beer and am then stuck with it. And with my experience with Beau's, my opinion could have gone either way.

I'm happy to say that this seasonal is something I would be happy to drink year-round. It's flavourful, it's refreshing, and it's a hit with me. I am going to hit the liquor store in the next day or two to track down more of this excellent pumpkin ale.

The second selection for this week is a friend of mine from last year. I first experienced Southern Tier's Imperial Pumking Ale (LCBO: $8.95/650 ml; 8.6% ABV) over the Thanksgiving weekend one year ago, and it blew my mind. It was the most-intense pumpkin ale I had ever had, including Perry's Atomic Pumpkin Ale, which I had a couple of years ago at the Volo Cask Days. That cask-conditioned ale, made by my friend, Perry Mason, was pumpkin pie in a glass.

Pumking is pumpkin pie in a glass, followed by a kick in the head. It's massive, eye-opening stuff.

Rich bronze-orange and red in colour, the white foamy head dissipates rather quickly. It's clear, so filtering is well-performed.

On the nose, you are immediately hit with an intense sweetness, like honey, and a warm aroma of fresh-baked banana-nut loaf (my youngest daughter, who loves beer—particularly stouts—picked up the banana bread first; I got the nuts). Some pumpkin fruit also comes through in the nose, but the sweetness overpowers it.

On the palate, there is a big maltiness with spices, sweet honey, and pumpkin. This is not so much a beverage as it is a dessert. Someone at Southern Tier has a sweet tooth: their Crème Brulée Stout is so sweet that I have to share a bottle with at least two other people.

Pumking has a creamy finish and staying power. Hours after finishing my glass, I could still taste it. The day after, I could still recall the flavours.

When I started collecting bottles of pumpkin ale for reviewing, Pumking was at the top of my list. I wanted to have it as the star of my reviews. But as I've tried more and more of these seasonals, Pumking is facing a lot of stiff competition. After tasting the two beers this weekend, I found myself craving more of the Beau's. Perhaps that craving stemmed from the fact that I was out of it, whereas I stocked up on plenty of Pumking—enough to last me the season. But I know that this Thanksgiving, I was thankful that I drank two awesome pumpkin ales.

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