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.
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
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.
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.
St-Ambroise Citrouille (AKA the Great Pumpkin Ale)
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!
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.
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.
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.
Great Lakes 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.
*Pumpkin patch photo from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bake_these_(pumpkins_in_Toronto).jpg