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 

Why? Because Beer!

Until very recently, Hamilton wasn’t a craft beer city. Even the Lakeport plant shut down over 5 years ago.

That’s changed, and the craft breweries sprouting up aren’t the only evidence. The second annual Because Beer (July 10-11, 2015) is one of the new local beer festivals. It’s organized by Sonic Unyon – better known as the Supercrawl people. We knew from year one that it would be well put together.

A Collective Arts-y lineup

And yes, the event was a solid performance. We got lucky with the warm, sunny weather two years in a row. But everything else – from the bayfront location at Pier 4, to the shade tents, to the short lines, to the clean and plentiful port-a-potties (a dirty topic, but vital) – were prime examples of good planning.

Muddy York Brewing’s branded burlap

BECAUSE… WHAT? BEER!

In 2015, there were 30 breweries, up from last year’s 23. The signature glass steins are already on our keeper shelf, and since they match last year’s, we’ve got a nice little set. The entry fee also included 4 sample tokens, with the opportunity to buy more as the day progressed. Each sample was 4 oz, but many breweries were giving a little extra – great for those coming for a few samples, but making it nearly impossible for those trying to fill out their “beer passports”.

Because Beer steins 2015

 

Standout Beers of the Event

Our winner was, strangely, a combination of two of Flying Monkeys beers (yes, actually mixed together), recommended by the guy behind the taps. Those were 12 Minutes to Destiny – a hibiscus/raspberry lager, and Chocolate Manifesto Stout – a sweet-and-bitter triple chocolate milk stout. “Like a Viva Puff,” he said. We agreed! They’re both good on their own, but even better together. Like us.

The navigable crowd, early in the day

 

Garden Brewers is one of Hamilton’s new craft breweries. We’ve been following them since last year’s Because Beer, so we knew we had to try their new Petal Pusher, an elderflower lager. Josh described it as one of the best lagers he’s ever had, and the elderflower gives it a floral, vaguely fruity, kind of citrusy…almost indefinable taste. Pure summer. We tried both cask and draught versions, finding the cask stronger but more mellow, with the draught version having more carbonation and a sharp tang at the end.

Yeah, we did pretty well.

 

We were into the ginger flavours going on this year. Jessica particularly liked Mill Street’s Ginger Cat, a Belgian Witbier that would make the ideal, flavourful session beer: candied ginger! Orange peel! Unfiltered hazy deliciousness!

Josh’s ginger pick was Double Trouble’s Revenge of the Ginger – Kickin’ Ginger Red IPA (oddly described as an Australian Pale Ale on Untappd). The Double Trouble guys described it to Josh as a gingerbread IPA. He found it had the kick of ginger without the extreme hoppiness found in some IPAs. Even Jessica enjoyed her sip, and she’s not one for the ultra-hoppy brews.

THE FOOD

The Hamilton food truck scene is no slouch, and they were out in full force, in great variety, many with beer-matching menus or beer puns, which delighted us (though our many beer samples may have helped).

Good one, Southern Smoke truck

All in all? We’ll be back next year!