It’s that time of year when the temperature begins to drop and the cool, crispness in the air signals the change of season from summer to fall as the leaves begin to turn color and sail to the ground where they wait for us to rake them up into big piles for the children of the neighborhood to jump into.
October in San Diego usually means odd pumpkin patches in the middle of parking lots with straw on the ground. Costume shops in every strip mall that has an unoccupied building and lunatics who try to tell you that cold cider is just as good as hot cider. Savages I tell you!
But what we don’t have in the way of the more iconic definition of the fall season, we more than make up for in our efforts to evoke that fall feeling of cool nights and crisp air with some truly wonderful pumpkin ales made by some of the best craft brewers in San Diego, and for this list, one who is slightly further away.
Much like last week’s post on specialty ingredient hibiscus, pumpkin is something that can easily be done wrong. It’s also easy to look at the absolute flood of pumpkin related items and say that pumpkin beer is simply a gimmick to get money from suckers who worship at the house of gourd.
The question has been asked to me on several occasions; can pumpkin beers be considered a true craft beer? Or do you lose credibility because of the perception that pumpkin beers are merely a fad? It’s a question I like to answer with another question; Is it brewed by a craft brewer? Than the answer is yes, it’s craft beer. However, if you want to delve into the question further, I will happily elaborate. The beer must be carefully crafted to be something unique, not something that is simply allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon added to a fermentor. The design of the beer has to be really strong and showcase what real pumpkin flavor can bring to the world of craft beer.
That being said, allow me to present four craft beer that might make you rethink the way you look at pumpkin beer.
The beer opens with a rich orange/amber color. lightly carbonated. The nose is a mix of pumpkin and nutmeg with a noticeable hint of cinnamon. First taste is a nice blend of natural pumpkin flavor with more sublet notes from the added spices and a light honey sweetness. The beer drinks easy and has all the nice flavors that a fall beer should have. The spices don’t overpower the beer, you can readily taste the natural pumpkin flavor without thinking that you are being force-fed pumpkin pie in a bottle. Plus the brew has a nice 8.0%ABV which you might not suspect as I found it to be a rather subtle. I love the design on the bottle and the name alone kind of makes it an easy sell to me, good thing it is also easy to drink and even easier to recommend.
Another beautiful bottle for a stout that pours at an impressive 7.25%ABV. The color is a dark molasses with a rich foamy head. The aroma is a roasted earthiness mixed with subtle hints of spice. Taste wise, it’s matches well with it’s aroma. This beer is roasted like pumpkin seeds and has an earthy quality like the brew just came out of the ground at a pumpkin patch. This beer drinks very well and gets more complex and enjoyable as it warms up to room temperature. On the front end of your palate, you get all the malty goodness, the pumpkin and spices are more subtle and noticeable on the back end. This is a wonderful beer to sit around on a cool autumn night with to help you stay warm.
Alpine Beer Company: Ichabod Ale.
With the amazing brewers at Alpine using a wheatwine as the base for this ale, you have to know it’s going to have a little something behind it, and at 10%ABV it doesn’t disappoint. The ale pours a golden orange color with a lovely nose of cinnamon and nutmeg but used moderately so as not to over power the beer they have crafted. It tastes as good as it smells and with a sticky wine sweetness that adds to the overall enjoyment of the beer. This isn’t one that should be gulped down in a hurry, this is a much more easy going, take a sip and enjoy the leaves changing color sort of beer. Take your time with this one and you’ll truly appreciate what it has to offer.
Kern River Brewing Company: Pumpkin Ale.
Kern River is not a San Diego brewery, but you’d never know it from the way their “Just Outstanding” IPA tastes. In fact, that beer is the sole reason I was so excited to try out this pumpkin ale. The label is simple yet the tag line says it all, “So good it’s scary!”. The beer pours a healthy orange color with a nice level of carbonation. The nose on this ale is full of fresh pumpkin smell and that’s exactly what you get as the ale touches your tongue. You’ll notice a soft undercurrent of allspice on the backend, but only if you are paying close attention. This pumpkin beer is amazingly drinkable and at only 5%ABV it’s not going to end your night of trick r’ treats early. The restraint from the temptation to over spice this beer is perhaps the most impressive thing of all. It takes true craftsmanship to show that level of restraint and let the fresh pumpkin flavors be the star of the beer. A phenomenal ale and luckily, everyone I’ve shared it with has agreed with that assessment. Highest recommendation you go find this beer right now.
So there are my four favorite pumpkins ales for this Halloween season, did I forget any? Let me know which ones have caught your eye.
Now if we could only get the brewers to make that beer with the turkey/cranberry/gravy/stuffing flavor for Thanksgiving we’d be all set!
Cheers and Happy Halloween!