Pumpkin Beer Taste Test

Pumpkin can be way more than just pie. It can hit the sweet or savory notes. Bread, desserts, vinegar, sauces, soup, pasta, molasses… the list goes on. But you might be surprised to learn that one of pumpkin’s earliest uses was for beer.

Pumpkin beer is on a short list of styles that originated right here in North America. For the earliest European settlers, good beer malt wasn’t an easy find. So they tried everything they could as a substitute, and finally found a winner: pumpkin.

Love it or hate it, pumpkin beer is a growing trend in the craft world today. Just take a look at the sea of orange labels that washes in each autumn! The most common type is a Pumpkin Ale – usually a brown or pale ale, brewed with the star ingredient itself, and often with added “pumpkin spices” (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, etc.). But pumpkin can be used in almost any variety of beer. 

Pumpkin Beer

To show some of its versatility, we’ve taken a variety of pumpkin beers off our local shelves and put them through a taste test.

Grand River Highballer Pumpkin Ale

Grand River Highballer Pumpkin Ale

On the paler side, the taste and aroma of fresh, raw pumpkin runs right through this brew. Jessica’s immediate reaction: “It tastes like the smell when you carve a jack o’lantern.” Although the flavour of the pumpkin itself was clear and fresh, it lacked an accompaniment that could have brought it to the next level.

Overall: 6/10

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale

This was not the pumpkin ale we were looking for – but that wasn’t not necessarily a bad thing. The pumpkin taste was very subtle, but it focused on the roasty, savory flavour of the pumpkin, instead of the sweet side. Some extra points for going a slightly different route.

Overall: 7/10

St-Ambroise Citrouille (AKA the Great Pumpkin Ale)

St Ambroise Citrouille

This ale is definitely on the darker side of pumpkin beer, similar to an amber or Irish red. Unsurprisingly, the flavour is pleasantly rich, and reminiscent of your grandmother’s pumpkin pie. It’s got the spices, the subtle sweetness, and the mouthwatering tartness of a proper pumpkin treat. We were glad it came in a 4-pack. Great product!

Overall: 9/10

Mill Street Nightmare on Mill Street

Nightmare on Mill Street

We were missing the gourd in this one: it just wasn’t particularly pumpkin-y at all. Some pumpkin spices lifted it out of the general ale category, but it just didn’t have that oomph for us.

Overall: 5/10

Black Creek Pumpkin Ale

Black Creek Pumpkin Ale

We’ve had it twice, once in a recent bottle and another on draft at the Hamilton Beer Festival in August, and it was a vast difference. In the bottle, it had a slightly burnt taste, like when the edges of your pie get blackened. With all the sweet flavours too, that slightly burnt taste seemed a bit syrupy. On draft at the festival though, we found it flavourful and smooth, with a not-too-heavy pumpkin flavour. We’re averaging out our score, on the off-chance that we got a bad batch. 

Overall: 6/10

Beau’s Weiss O’Lantern

Beau's Weiss O'Lantern

Very light with just a little of that weiss-like cloudiness. Had a very distinctive tart pumpkin flavour, along with a sweeter flavour from the wheat. Unfortunately, neither flavour really complemented the other as much as we’d hoped, so we didn’t love this one. 

Overall: 5/10

Great Lakes Saison Dupump

Saison Dupump

A quality saison with a hint of uncooked pumpkin. The tang of the saison with the fresh, vegetal taste of raw pumpkin worked really well together. Like a blend of summer and fall flavours, appropriate for either season. 

Overall: 8/10

*Pumpkin patch photo from: 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bake_these_(pumpkins_in_Toronto).jpg 

Pub Crawl: Brux House, Hamilton

Our “pub crawl” series features beer-focused bars, restaurants, clubs, and pubs around Hamilton, throughout Ontario, and beyond.

THE PLACE

Brux (“brucks”) House is pure industrial chic. It’s all brick walls, bare bulbs, steampunk-esque metal, raw wood, and marquee letters. It’s also a temple to craft beer.

That craft beer vibe works its way in everywhere. The logo has a stylized hop in the form of a wolf. The windows are etched with a pint glass and fork silhouette. Under the Brux House sign, it proudly states: “Craft Beer + Kitchen”.

Brux House

Brux House is like a new version of fine dining. Classy service and a finely crafted menu, but with the comfort of a neighbourhood pub.

THE BEER

Brux Flight 1
L to R: Rosée d’Hibiscus – Dieu du Ciel, Spirit of the Woods – Revel Cider, Maredsous Brown – Duvel

Brux has a long, carefully curated list of beers and ciders. With a local brewer as a co-owner, they’ve got the local beer connections downpat. They have a wide assortment of Ontario craft, including a good number of unique brews that may never make it to the LCBO.

Beyond Ontario brews, their list has a good picture of European styles both classic and modern. Belgium seemed to have been particularly well-represented each time we visited.

Beer List
Chalkboard Beer List on July 30, 2015

The beer comes by the pint, but you can also go with our favourite option: a three-beer flight. It’s a good way to try a batch of specialty brews and still make it home in one piece. Plus, it’s always fun trying to match each drink to a course.

Brux Flight 2
L to R: Sour Cherry – Oast House, Rodenbach Grand Cru – Brouwerij Rodenbach, Aphrodisiaque – Dieu du Ciel

THE FOOD

In terms of ingredients, planning, and service, Brux might qualify as “gourmet”. But the European comfort food theme makes it very accessible. German, Belgian, and French seem to be the primary food influences.

Menu options are inspired by local produce, and chalkboard specials pop up. Some of our favourite dishes include mussels, schnitzel, and Belgian waffles. Heck, even their deep fried broccoli was a stand-out dish.

Pretzels

THE EXTRAS

Brux House has two floors and a patio, but it’s all very cozy. A number of locals seem to have caught on to its appeal, so if you’re visiting at a popular dining time, you probably want to make a reservation.

They’re also up for Air Canada’s best new restaurant award. Check out their description, or vote for them here: http://eatandvote.com/en/restaurants/brux-house/

Best Fruit Beers You Can Find Locally

We’ve been drinking all the faux-juice beers so you don’t have to. Instead, here’s our top picks for great-tasting fruit beers you can find throughout Ontario – fruit by fruit.

Grapefruit

Our three grapefruit hits were all radlers. The word “radler”, if you’re not familiar, is generally used interchangeably with “shandy” (the British word). It’s a half juice / half beer combo, with the low alcohol percentage to match. The word “Radler” is actually German for cyclist – so yep, it’s the beer where you can still drink and bike (not that we recommend it).

The winners, which can all be found at Southern Ontario LCBOs:

  • Stiegl Radler – this Austrian brew has to be the king of grapefruit Radlers today – tangy, hazy, sparkling grapefruit juice mixed with crisp pale beer.
  • Waterloo Grapefruit Radler – very similar to Stiegl, with the same fizz, tang, and flavour profile, but brewed locally.
  • Schofferhoffer Grapefruit Hefeweizen – not actually billed as a Radler, this one has more of a wheat beer profile that the others, but still the grapefruit is strong with this one.

Blueberry

Pump House Blueberry Ale

Jess in particular went into this one with reservations, since she loves fresh blueberries, but generally hates anything “blueberry” flavoured. But no worries! Pump House Blueberry Ale out of Moncton, NB is far from fake. Instead, this full flavour ale has a tart blueberry bite to it. Mixed with the hop overtone, Josh even described it as tasting almost “imperial” (one of his favourite styles).

Watermelon

There’s some scary-fake watermelon beer and coolers hanging around out there. We’d love to see more good offerings, but so far our sole winner is Kensington Brewery’s Fruit Stand Watermelon Wheat. It’s a wheat beer first, with that soft, sweetly clean watermelon flavour creeping in as you drink it. It’s a seasonal, so it’s gotten to the point where Jess starts asking our local pub (Hamilton’s Winking Judge) in the spring if they have it in yet. And it turns out we aren’t the only ones that ask.

Red Berry

Liefmans Fruitesse

Yes, “red berry”, because there’s some excellent combos out there. Both of our winners in this category come out of Belgium, but can be found in LCBOs and pubs around Ontario.

Liefmans Fruitesse bills itself as an appetizer beer. It’s a deep red, cranberry juice colour, sparkling, and oh-so-juicy. It also tastes something like cranberry juice,  with a bit more sweetness, and a nice alcoholic kick. Like how you (or at least Jess) wish wine would taste. There’s no cranberry involved though; it’s actually cherry, raspberry, elderberry, strawberry, and bilberry.

Lindemans is another Belgian brewery, family owned since the 19th Century. They specialize in lambics, a style of sour beer, often brewed with fruit, made using spontaneous fermentation with local wild yeasts. Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic is a real punch of sweet and sour raspberry, with a sparkling dessert beer feel. It rings in at only 2.5% alcohol, so it’s more guilt-free.

Apricot

St Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale

Apricot seems like a strange flavour to combine with beer, but St Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale is one you shouldn’t miss. If you were to juice a fresh apricot, it would likely taste a lot like this brew – pleasantly sweet with a familiar tartness to finish it off. It’s worth noting that Josh, who is less excited about fruit beers, is a big fan of this one.

Rhubarb & Friends

There’s a few local winners in the rhubarb field (pun intended). Two of our offerings come paired with strawberry, and the other is a saison.

  • Wellington Brewery’s Farmer’s Market Rhubarb Saison – It’s a bit sour, lambic-style, with the rhubarb coming in as a light second note. The rhubarb itself is locally sourced from the Aberfoyle Farmer’s Market. However, this beer was a 2014 “Welly One-Off”, and is currently out of production. It’s still pouring here and there  though, so get it if you see it!
  • Oast House’s Gramma’s Strawberry Rhubarb – Hazy and wonderful. You get the strawberry. You get the rhubarb. You get the caramel undertones of the beer. It’s the whole kit and caboodle, as gramma might say.
  • Church Key’s That’s My Jam Strawberry Rhubarb – Another fruity delight, with the rhubarb and strawberry flavours coming in on top. It’s not overly sweet, and even a bit dry, but it has that definite jam feel.
That's My Jam
Yes, we often drink on patios at night.

So the verdict is in: there’s a lot more to easy-accessible fruit beers than faux-juice flavours. And there’s more we still need to find! What else are we missing out on?

Beer Touring in Burlington, Vermont

When people think craft beer, it might be Colorado or Oregon springing to mind. But you might be surprised to learn that it’s Vermont that has the distinction of having the most craft breweries per capita.

Burlington, Vermont, the state’s largest city, is a student town with a hippie vibe. The downtown is extremely walkable, particularly the pedestrian-only Church Street Marketplace, lined with shops and twinkle lights, the big white church steeple overlooking it all. The sun sets over Lake Champlain. And the craft beer culture is hopping.

THE BREWERIES

In a brief trip to Vermont, we visited 10 breweries in and around Burlington. Due to our short timeline, we had to miss some great breweries around the state. But we’ll just have to save them for another trip.  Here are our top 5 of the ones we made it to:

  1. Zero Gravity Craft Brewery, 115 St Paul St, Burlington

Downtown, but hard to spot – it’s inside American Flatbread, a wood-fired pizza restaurant. It has an extensive beer list, inspired by all sorts of Old World styles. There was a special push for IPAs, though there was enough beyond that for the non-IPA-lovers. We went home with a growler of Whole Lotta Lov, a cream stout. And by the way, the pizza is outrageously good.

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Lake Champlain Waterfront in Downtown Burlington, VT
  1. Fiddlehead Brewing, 6305 Shelburne Rd, Shelburne

They had just two brews on tap: their flagship Fiddlehead IPA, and our favourite, Hodad, a porter with chocolate, toasted coconut, and vanilla bean. You can actually taste each flavour in the porter, and we both fell in love with it. We didn’t stop by the attached pizzeria, but it smelled delicious.

  1. Citizen Cider, 316 Pine St, Burlington

A hip little bar with food and a friendly buzz. Jess was in cider heaven, as she’s a fruit fiend. We ended up trucking three ciders home with us: Unified Press (their flagship, quite dry), The Dirty Mayor (a ginger cider, named for the mayor of Fort Ethan Allen), and Americran (a cran-apple).

Growlers from Queen City & Burlington Beer Co.
Growlers from Queen City & Burlington Beer Co.
  1. Burlington Beer Co., 25 Omega Dr, Williston

It’s in the back of a loading dock, with mis-matched couches, ping pong tables, and a bar. And it was overflowing with patrons. We’d hang out there too if we lived nearby! Beer styles – and names – are creative, and it was good stuff. We ended up with Mason Jar Mild (brown ale), Chasing Rabbits (American pale wheat ale), and Barista (coffee porter).

  1. Queen City Brewery, 703B Pine St, Burlington

There’s a pub-style atmosphere where you can see right into the brew works, and a beer list that focuses on English and German styles. We went home with one of their English bitters – 7 Oaks, plus a smoky Rauchbier, and the Munich Dunkel (classic Bavarian-style dark lager).

MORE DRINKING IN BURLINGTON, VT

There’s Drink, an aptly named place on St Paul in downtown Burlington, with excellent cheap pint deals and in-shop infused liquors. Small and simple, but exactly what you’re looking for in a casual bar.

And there’s Three Needs Tap Room’s “Duff Hour” weekdays at 4pm, where they open their doors and there’s $1 pints of some mysterious light beer until the keg is kicked, then $1 pizza slices for an hour. We made sure to be there at 3:50, and stood in line with a bunch of university students, feeling like we were in on a local secret.

EATING IN BURLINGTON

Penny Cluse Cafe was our breakfast winner, using fresh, local ingredients to make themed breakfast plates from across the United States. These ranged from  Cajun (the “Zydeco breakfast”),  huevos rancheros, biscuits and gravy, and New England-style sourdough French toast with Vermont maple syrup

The Farmhouse Tap & Grill was Josh’s favourite dinner spot, with farm-to-table fine dining in a casual setting, and a giant beer list with a comfortable beer garden out back.

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Skinny Pancake was Jess’s winner, a creperie right on the waterfront to satisfy all crepe cravings. Sweet crepes. Savory crepes. All the crepes. Holy crepe!

We were thrilled with how the craft beer culture was so integrated into Vermont society. And we intend to go back as soon as we can, to visit all those breweries we missed!

A Visit to Beau’s Brewery

Beau’s Brewery is just outside the little town of Vankleek Hill, Ontario, which is about an hour from Ottawa and even closer to the Quebec border.

It was one of our further afield brewery visits, so we were excited to have the chance to wander in during our travels. It wasn’t until we saw the place that the significance of Beau’s tractor logo quite dawned on us – this is a country brewery.

THE PLACE

Beau’s brand is totally countrified, and they aren’t shy about it. From the tractor on each bottle of Lug Tread, to the rustic wooden accents in their tasting room/shop, even to the corrugated metal dividers in the washroom, this is a fully themed experience.

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THE TOUR

The tour was free; brief but satisfying. We took a few steps into the brewing area, got a run-down of their process, a look at their beer going out for sale, and some info about their machinery, like the big, shiny “RE-BIER” machine for re-bottling empties. It ended in a session where we could check out the extra ingredients they add to their varied beers – like sweet gale and yarrow for the Kissmeyer Nordic Pale Ale – most of which are locally sourced.

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THE BEER

Beau’s had a solid selection of 10 beers on tap, with free samples and $5 pints. However, they’re also really good at distributing their beers to the LCBO, so we’d already had most of them, like the Tom Green Beer (a Milk Stout and one of our favourites). We went for the new-to-us brews:

  • Festivale is a decent summer seasonal in the style of a German Altbier.
  • Channel Ocho was a special “back from the vault” Winter Ale, rich and deep with festive flavour notes. We’d have bought some of that if we could!
  • The Beaver River I. P. Eh is,as you may have guessed, an IPA. Josh thought the hoppiness and maltiness were well balanced, though Jessica avoided it because she’s not usually an IPA fan.

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THE EXTRAS

Beau’s has a nice selection of their beers, including the special members-only row we drooled over. And they’ve got a great little gift shop, including a whole bunch of items that match their countrified brand, ranging from the ordinary to the quirky. We decided to take home a Beau’s Mason jar glass and a handful of Ontario Craft Beer buttons.

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Out front, there’s a rustic, wooden, hop bine-covered patio with a bar and a few things on the food menu. And, of course, the trademark tractor is out front! It would be a nice place to spend a few afternoon hours.

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Visit Date: June 21, 2015