Monday, October 29, 2012

In Search of the Great Pumpkin Ale, Part 5

At last, I've reached the end of my pumpkin ales. I am so ready to move on to different styles of beers, there's no way I can describe how relieved I am that we've come to the last remaining bottles in my collection.

I realize that I barely scratched the surface of the number of pumpkin ales available in Ontario, West Québec, New York State, and Delaware (my final tasting), but I hope that I've raised an interest in this interesting style of beer. And I know that some of my beer-loving friends (yes, I'm talking to you, Katy and Scott) have amassed a much greater collection of pumpkin ales, but for me, the number that I had was considerable, seeing that I've never had more than two different pumpkin ales in one season.

I reviewed 12 breweries but I tasted at least a half-dozen more that I decided to leave out of my reviews. And to spare the readers who may not care for pumpkin and spice in their ales, I fear that a dozen was too many.

But I've reached the end with the final three, none of which is available in the LCBO or is made in Canada. This weekend, I went south of the border. And once I've given my review of these beers, I'll give you my top five pumpkin ales and a couple of my least favourite ones.

I spread the final tastings out over three separate sessions. The first one, I had on Thursday night, with dinner. And thankfully, it renewed my love of pumpkin ale.
UFO Pumpkin
Harpoon Bewery, Windsor VT
5.9% ABV
I have my friend, Tom, to thank for this one. My buddy went for a beer run to Vermont and returned with a trunkful of beer. He came straight from the border to our weekly social event, Thursday Pints, and as we headed out he showed me his haul and offered me a bottle of this unfiltered pumpkin ale.

I'm honoured.

A cloudy amber orange with an off-white, foamy head, this ale delivered a nose of baked apple-spice cake. On the palate, I was immediately hit with spices, a hint of orange citrus, and brown sugar. The finish was all pumpkin pie.

This pumpkin ale hit the mark exactly. It was delicious and makes me want to venture down to Windsor next year. UFO is a favourite.

On Friday, I shared another beer with an expert: brewmaster Adam Rader from Mill Street. This one was from my recent trip to Cortland, in the Finger Lakes district of New York State.
Pumpkin Ale
Cortland Beer Company, Cortland NY
I came across the CBC by accident. My family and I were looking for a place for dinner in Cortland, and when we turned down a street off the main road, we passed an old fire station that was converted into a brewery. We pulled over and I hopped out.

I had a small sample of their pumpkin seasonal and decided that I would take some home. It was available only in a growler, so I made the decision right then and there that I would share it. I was hoping that I could share it with my three buddies, but neither Katy, Scott, or Tom were available, so I thought I'd take it to Adam.

Reddish-amber with a thin, off-white head, I caught a buttery nose. Adam pointed out the smell of popcorn, and it all came together. I also smelled pumpkin spice. On the palate, I tasted a toffee spice cake with a slight sweetness that accumulated as I finished my glass; the sweetness became cloying and coated my tongue. The finish seems to get sweeter as the glass emptied. And neither the growler nor the brewery Web site provided the alcohol content, though I couldn't taste anyone.

This is a good pumpkin ale, but I was glad that I shared. For me, it was too much to drink on my own. As it was, I left Adam the growler with half of the ale remaining. But I repeat: it was good.

I saved my final beer for yesterday (Sunday). I loved the beers that I had tried from this Delaware brewery and expected another awesome ale. What I got was not what I expected at all.
Punkin Ale
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Rehoboth Beach DE
7% ABV
I first had Dogfish Head beer this summer, in Charlotte, NC. Then, I had the incredibly intense 90-Minute IPA. Great hops, better flavour. A couple of months ago, I attended a beer tasting and tried several more, and I fell in love with this brewery. So I couldn't wait to try the pumpkin ale.

And thanks go to Katy, who gave me this bottle when I started collecting pumpkin ales.

In the glass, I saw an unfiltered liquid the colour of a pumpkin skin: deep, intense orange. The head was thick and foamy. On the nose, I smelled intense pumpkin and spice with a hint of ginger, almost like ginger beer. In the mouth, I tasted a sweet and sour flavour, and a fruit that reminded me of plums. Throughout my tasting, I had a craving for egg rolls.

There was citrus on the palate, but not much in the way of hops. At least, not the intense hops that I associate with Dogfish Head. The finish was hot, due to the high alcohol content.

Punkin was a nice ale, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed. The love I developed for this brewery didn't continue with this offering. Punkin was not going to fall within my top five beers.

So which pumpkin ales rated as my top five?
  1. Beau's Weiss O'Lantern: incredibly flavourful and well balanced, the combination of pumpkin ale and wheat ale won my heart.
  2. Southern Tier Imperial Pumking Ale: this is an all-time favourite that is a great substitute for actual pumpkin pie.
  3. Harpoon UFO Pumpkin: what can I say? I loved it.
  4. St-Ambroise Citrouille: this offering is crisp, clean, flavourful, and reinforces why this brewery is one of my favourites.
  5. Nightmare on Mill Street: while this beer tastes slightly different in the bottle and on tap, I prefer the draft version, but the bottle is right behind it.
If you can find any of these ales, pick them up. Cherish them. If you can't find them, make sure you get your hands on some next year.

Which pumpkin ales fell short for me? Quite a few of the ones that I reviewed and didn't review fell into that category, but there were two pumpkin ales I will avoid in the future.
  • Black Creek Historic Brewery Pumpkin Ale: not enough flavour, pure and simple. Not worth having again.
  • Brooklyn Post Road: I purchased two bottles of this ale. The one that I reviewed wasn't finished, was dumped down the drain; the second, I gave away.
 So that's it. That's my review of pumpkin ales. Next week, I look forward to sharing something completely different.

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