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?

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.

3edited

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.

4edited

 

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.

5edited

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.

6edited

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.

7edited

Visit Date: June 21, 2015

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!