For a beer geek, this is the scariest time of year — not because Halloween is approaching, but because we are on a frightening cusp of seasons for both weather and beer. All the cool kids know Oktoberfest concluded on the October 7, which means the end of great nutty, amber lagers. Just as the fashion world dictates no white after Labour Day, this time of year means counting out summer wheat beers. Also, the Belgian Christmas beers aren’t here yet, which is scary, but not as much as the seasonal selection of spice soup masquerading as pumpkin pie beer, of which there are 14 kinds available this year in Alberta.
Trust me, I am not petrified by pulverized pumpkin in my beer. When done right it can be pleasant. Pumpkins have a long history of being fermented and can add some nice nuance to a pint. What panics me is that brewers seem obsessed with pouring half the fucking spice rack into the brewpot, making the beers all about the pie spices and not the pumpkin’s fermentable pulp. What’s more perplexing is that these pumpkin prizes started appearing in July in some corners, prolonging the horror.
This year, I attempted to taste every pumpkin beer available — and persecuted my palate in the process.
Due to timing I wasn’t able to try them all — some will be arriving daily over the latter part of October — but for those wanting to do their own research, here is a list of the breweries with pumpkin beers in our market: Alley Kat, Brewsters, Brooklyn, Fernie, Grizzly Paw, Howe Sound, McAuslan, Mill Street, Parallel 49, Phillips, Rogue, St-Ambroise, Tree and Yukon.
Now, here are my picks from this year’s plethora of Biere de Gourds, and for the record, none left me pining for more:
• Alley Kat’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Ale — The fact that this beer is brewed in Edmonton is the scariest thing about it. Thankfully it is an amber malt- and pumpkin pulp-forward ale with muted spices, making it one of the more solid offerings.
• Howe Sound Pumpkineater Imperial Ale — This one has the highest alcohol content (eight per cent) of all pumpkin beers. This lightly spiced ale becomes better as you drink down the big one-litre bottle, but that could be the booze talking.
• Parallel 49’s Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest — Super scary packaging sells products this time of year, and this beer has it with a pumpkin-headed scarecrow in lederhosen. It’s also a hint of the two styles of beer this brewer blended — German Oktoberfest with some pumpkin pulp and a little too much nutmeg for me.
• Grizzly Paw Jack O’Lantern Pumpkin Ale — Head brewer Michele Lowney roasted her own pumpkins and there is reportedly more pumpkin pulp in this beer than malt. I didn’t get a chance to try it by press time, but Canmore brews are always a pleasant escape from scary city beer.
• Mill Street’s Nightmare on Mill Street — These guys have fall marketing down pat. What I like most about their Harvest Mix six-pack is they included three palatable pumpkin beers for sharing and three bottles of their solid seasonal Oktoberfest.
Coincidentally, if you’re ready to conclude your battle with the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, but aren’t quite ready to leave the pumpkin patch, the out-there artisan brewery Jolly Pumpkin made its entry into the Alberta market in late September. The Dexter, Michigan brewery barrel ages, sours and blends their beers, making for an interesting array of products that are available in very small quantities. Despite its name, there’s no pumpkin and, more importantly, no pie spice in sight.