Saturday, October 15, 2011

Roundup: Pumpkin Ales 2011

Trying something a little different this week - I sourced all of the seasonal releases of Pumpkin beers that I could find and have undertaken the very "arduous" "task" of trying them all. It was too much work for one person to undertake alone, so I recruited my oldest friend and her partner-in-food-and-life, as well as my own p.i.f.a.l. and we readied ourselves for some epic pumpkin-flavoured alcoholic beverages.

The line up - cooling in the fridge

It is impossible for me to not do things in a systematic way, so all the beers were poured out and put next to a piece of paper to take notes and the appropriate spices were placed near by to assist with placing the flavours. It felt oddly professional, but at least my friends were very entertained by the process. We opted not to do the blind tasting since we are pretty much all equal-opportunity beer lovers. 

Public service announcement: curious to try these beers yourself? There is a blind pumpkin beer tasting coming up on Friday, October 21, 2011 at Liquor Plus. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased from the above link.

The lighting in our living room is lacking
thankfully my friends are never far their trusty headlamp

I will present these from lightest tasting to strongest tasting. All of the selection were actually extremely drinkable and tasty, but there was significant variation between the brews so I will attempt to describe them so you can acquire the one that matches your preference(s) the best!

"Jumpkin Jack Pumpkin Ale"

Tree Brewing • 6.4% • 650mL • Cook St. Liquor Store
This beer had the least flavour of all of our selections - a very neutral, subtle taste. I wish we had sampled this one first, because it was kind of overpowered by its predecessors. Tasting it again the next day on its own, it does have a hint of pumpkin spice flavours but they are extremely, extremely subtle. More pumpkin, way, way less pumpkin spice. On its own, I like it a lot - as part of a sampler it was lost. This was the most "beery" of all of the selections. This was also my favourite packaging! I love the name, I love their logo and the painted labels are so classy. Total simplicity on the labelling - no cute quote or rationale about the pumpkinness.

"Crooked Tooth Pumpkin Ale"

Phillips Brewery • 5% • 650 mL • Widely available at most liquor stores
This year's release of the Crooked Tooth is exceptionally light and smooth, with a creamy aftertaste. The spices were mellow with allspice as the most prominent of the spice flavours. This beer is probably the one that will appeal to the broadest audience, a smart move on Phillips part! The lightness also translated into colour, as it was the clearest and lightest of all of the beers we poured for the evening. We had a bit of a giggle at the note on the packaging, as it claimed it would inspire a wacky halloween costume. Bit of a stretch, Phillips, bit of a stretch.

"Pumpkin Ale"

Granville Island Brewing • 6% • 650mL • Fairfield BCLC (very few bottles released on the island!)
I was excited to try this beer, having read that they had roasted local sugar pumpkins for the roasting process. I'm sure others used a similar process as well, but this one did have the nicest pumpkin flavour of all. It was on the sweeter side with a prominent clove taste. The flavour stayed in your mouth in a nice way afterwards, I think this was a feature of the 'texture' of the beer. This had the most pretentious of all of the packaging, claiming the beer is "a reflection of autum's changing landscape" and even offering pairing suggestions of "roasted meats, winter vegetables and this city's crisp fall weather." Eye-roll. 

"Citrouille - The Great Pumpkin Ale"

St. Ambroise - Brasserie McAuslan Brewing Inc. • 5% • 341 mL • Liquor Plus
This beer is the only one coming from out of province. The St-Ambroise Brasserie McAulan brewery is a Montreal Brewery. It was probably the most easy to drink, simple beer with an understated balance of all of the pumpkin spices. It was extremely similar to the Swan's but with perhaps just a little less intensity to the flavours. I enjoy the name - simple, and cute with a little nod to Peanuts in the subtitle. The packaging had a nice description of the beer on the back that uses the word "bewitch" which I think is a perfect word for a halloweenish beer. 

"Pumpkin Ale"

Swans Buckerfield's Brewery • 5% • 650mL • Swans Liquor Store, Cascadia & probably others
This was the unanimous favourite for the evening although huge caveat: it was in the back of my fridge for several days while I was sourcing the other beers, and when we went to pour it the water had frozen and separated out! I am not sure how much this changed the beer aside from making it stronger. Clearly I will just have to buy some more and test this out! The spices were the most prominent in this beer although less balanced than the St Ambroise, as the nutmeg stood out above all of the rest of the spices. This packaging was the most minimalist which was kind of refreshing after everything else. Pumpkin ale. No cute slogan. No fancy logo. Beer. Bottle. Drink and enjoy (Responsibly).

"Pumpkineater Imperial Pumpkin Ale"

Howe Sound • 8% • 1L • Widely available
This one was quite a bit different than the others, and therefor hard to compare side by side. As an imperial ale, it was strong and bitey with a bit of wineyness to it. The flavours are very heavy and upfront, and this was the only beer which named itself as having star anise in the spice mix (although some of the beers did not disclose all of the spices). The stronger alcohol content means the flavours of the spices are a little bit overpowered, but it helps to cut the sweetness found in some of the less strong beers. The packaging on this is pretty average - not too pretentious, cute name again and it notes it is part of the "John Mitchell, Grand-father of Microbrewing" series of beers.