2019 Pumpkin Roundup
Another Halloween has come and gone, which means we’ve probably only got a few weeks left with Fall beers on the shelves - and the winter beers are already starting to creep in. As you probably know by now, especially if you follow the @TeamLactose Twitter account, we’re proudly #TeamPumpkin here at BAOS. Pumpkin beers are a divisive style, and we’ve made no secret about which camp we’re in. Fall 2019 has been a bountiful season for pumpkin beers, so with Halloween now behind us, it’s time for a pumpkin roundup, including gems from Ontario, Québec, and a couple treats from out west!
Great Lakes Brewery* - 5.5%
Let’s start with perhaps the most recognizable and widely available pumpkin beer in Ontario, Great Lakes Brewery’s Pumpkin Ale. Released annually in August, it’s most often the first pumpkin ale of the year on LCBO shelves, and it’s become a classic. It’s an orange coloured, malty ale with a biscuity profile accompanied by some mild warming spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice). Mild pumpkin flavour in the finish brings it all together in a pumpkin pie-like mashup. It’s one I look forward to every year, though I’ll generally wait until October to pick it up.
Anderson Craft Ales - 5.0%
I’ve come to expect pretty close to flawless execution of whatever style Anderson chooses to brew, and I was delighted to see that they’ve brewed a pumpkin ale the last couple of years. It’s a brewery-only release so I was very excited to get to try it this year (thanks to their Ottawa rep Scott for the hookup). As I expected, it was right in the pocket of what you might picture a classic pumpkin ale to be. Copper coloured, medium bodied, mild spice on the nose, slightly sweet malt profile giving a very fitting background of brown sugar, pumpkin flavour through the middle with a bit of earthiness and warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and maybe even a bit of a ginger kick at the end. It has many of the same flavours that other pumpkin ales do, but in this they are perfectly balanced and it had just the right body. This was one of my favourites this year.
Half Hours on Earth - Pumpkin Pie Super Gose - 8.0%
This was without a doubt the most original and inventive take on a pumpkin beer I’ve ever seen, which is not at all surprising for Half Hours on Earth. A whopping 8.0% gose with a pantry full of adjuncts including pumpkin spice, brown sugar, marshmallow, madagascar vanilla, pink Himalayan salt, coriander and milk sugar. So not only is it #TeamPumpkin, it’s also #TeamLactose. It’s an intimidating brew to say the least. It pours a hazy golden orange and smells of pumpkin, baking spices and brown sugar. It’s sweet upfront with initial saltiness, and boasts a mouthfeel that is equal parts fluffy and creamy with a lingering stickiness. Vanilla sweetness and smoothness carry all the way through to a bit of pumpkin spice warmth on the finish. Personally, I think I would have preferred this beer as a different kind of sour ale as opposed to a gose, as I found the salt and coriander dominated the flavour profile a bit more than I was hoping for. It’s still delightful and ridiculous, and I love that Half Hours are not afraid to venture into ridiculous territory. They’re probably the best at it.
Lake of Bays Brewing Company* - 6.0%
A widely available LCBO release, this standard style pumpkin ale pours dark brown with a reddish orange tint. It’s probably the most malt forward of the ones I tried this year, with less detectable spice notes. It drinks smooth and a bit creamy, with a brown sugary sweetness and a very prominent sticky maltiness which leaves an aftertaste that I’m not a huge fan of. There is some subtle pumpkin flavour and a hint of spice at the end. It’s not my favourite.
Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery - Imperial Pumpkin Ale* - 10.0%
This is the big beast of the group. A 10% imperial pumpkin ale with what tastes like an entire spice rack added to it. The can lists cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and roasted pumpkin. I first had Paranormal two years ago. It wasn’t in the lineup last year, but this year it made a triumphant return, and it was just as good as I remembered it. With all the added spices it is not remotely subtle. It’s a punch in the mouth of warming and tingly baking spice. Despite its high ABV there is no boozy burn at all, just a nice warming sensation as it goes down. Over the top? Definitely, and I’m here for it. One of my favourites yet again. I’m glad they brought it back.
Tales From the Patch
Big Rig Brewery - Pumpkin Porter* - 5.8%
This was probably the first pumpkin beer I ever tried that wasn’t a standard pumpkin ale, and it’s yet another #TeamPumpkin / #TeamLactose combo! This light-medium bodied porter has a delightful creamy mouthfeel (good ol’ lactose at work!). It doesn’t say which spices are in it but whatever they are, with this style they really give it a vibe of liquified pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Last year’s version had been tasting thinner bodied and less balanced on the spices, but this year its back to what I remember the first time I tried it. The slight bit of porter roastiness is a nice compliment to the other dessert flavours going on in here.
La Grande Bière À La Citrouille / The Great Pumpkin Beer
Brasserie McAuslan - St. Ambroise* - 5.0%
Now we move over to Québec, where pumpkin beers are notably less common. We’re starting with one of the province’s larger semi-independent breweries. Since they are one of the larger brewers in Québec, their reach extends across the province and into Ontario as well so this can also be found on LCBO shelves. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering the large production and wide distribution, not to mention the general style of McAuslan’s offerings, this is a pretty standard pumpkin ale. It’s dark amber in colour and on the lighter bodied side. The malt character is bready and not quite as sweet as some of the others. Overall the flavour profile is quite mild. The pumpkin flavour comes out in the middle with a very mellow touch of spice. Like the Lake of Bays pumpkin ale, it’s got a similar sticky maltiness that lingers on the palate which I don’t love. I personally prefer pumpkin beers to have a more pronounced pumpkin spice flavour, which you could argue is a different subset of the style, and I wouldn’t dispute that.
Microbrasserie 4 Origines - Pumpkin Porter - 5.7%
With McAuslan arguably in a different category, 4 Origines are one of the few (maybe even the only?) fully independent Québec craft brewers I came across that actually had a pumpkin beer out this year, and they even had two! With their series of Pumpkin Fest events that took place throughout October, they started with the return of their spiced pumpkin porter, Knightmare. I was already a fan of the style deviation from the typical pumpkin ale. Knightmare was brewed with dehydrated pumpkin, oats, maple syrup, honey, lactose (big points again for the pumpkin/lactose combo!), and an unspecified blend of spices. It is lighter bodied, appropriately to style for a porter, but it gives up nothing in mouthfeel. It is smooth, creamy and sweet, but not cloyingly so despite the blend of sweetening adjuncts. In fact the honey and maple add a nice depth of flavour rather than just tasting sugary. Its roasty quality gives it a coffee like bitterness and there’s a spicy warmth from what tastes like nutmeg and cloves. This really just tastes like a great dessert porter with a fall twist. I love it!
Microbrasserie 4 Origines - Pumpkin Ale - 6.1%
Along with Knightmare making the return, 4 Origines also introduced Bon Jack, a pumpkin ale made with “several spices”. It pours a cloudy copper colour with an earthy nose, medium malt bill, thin to medium body and an earthy backbone. That earthy nose has been described by Noah Forrest of Beerism as that of the “quintessential 4 Origines yeast”. The unspecified spice mix is definitely the dominant flavour, tasting very much like a pumpkin pie spice melange with some subtle sweetness. A few sips in, the flavour combination of the malt and the spices start to give it an almost banana bread-like feel with an interesting touch of fruitiness. Of the “standard pumpkin ales” I’ve had this year, this is definitely one of the more interesting ones. Thanks to Keegan for hooking me up with these two pumpkin treats!
And now we head west for a couple of surprise additions to this year’s roundup thanks to my beer buddy and one of my early beer trade pals, Arky!
Torque Brewing - Dark Pumpkin Ale - 6.5%
From Winnipeg’s Torque Brewing we have the dark pumpkin ale, Witching Hour. It pours an almost opaque dark brown. It’s one of the more malt forward ales but I don’t mind it as much in this with the slightly creamy mouthfeel and the warming tingle of spices. The spices are unspecified but I think I’m tasting cinnamon, nutmeg and a subtle warming kick which is again making me think ginger. I think it works for the style. It has a good body and solid delivery of flavour.
Parallel 49 Brewing Company - Chocolate Pumpkin Porter - 6.5%
Wrapping things up on the west coast with another porter! Lost Souls is a robust porter base with a malt bill giving it some great dark and milk chocolate flavour. A pleasant roastiness carries through along with a slight earthy hint to the aroma and some very subtle warming notes of spice coming through at the end. However, the flavours are so subtle that if I hadn’t known there was pumpkin and spice in it I don’t know that I would have picked it out. It’s a very enjoyable chocolate porter, though.
So there you have it! Unquestionably a hell of a year for pumpkin ales, and there were even some more I didn’t get around to this year including Stray Dog’s Boo-Ya!, Calabogie’s Mashing Pumpkins, and a whole series of “Pumpkin-Palooza” brews from 5 Paddles! If you’re on #TeamPumpkin and are still able to find any of these beers, get on it quick cause those Christmas beers are already starting to come in and edge them off the shelves.
#TeamPumpkin for life!
Photography by Nathan Does Beer.
*LCBO available at time of writing