Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's the Great Pumpkin (Beer), Charlie Brown!

Well, fall is upon us. Well, actually, that's a lie; it's already snowed here, and most of the fall foliage has abandoned their posts, so we're really into the dregs of fall. Liquor is really the only cure the fall blahs (save, perhaps, for straightening up and flying right. Like hell that'll happen), so it's time to delve into the wonderful selection of seasonal beers our province has to offer!

Seasonal beers (i.e., brews only produced at a specific time of year, usually with a specific purpose in mind and to utilize seasonal ingredients) are awesome! The changing of the seasons provide a great opportunity for the brewer to really experiment with his craft, to try new ingredients and new methods to see what works and what doesn't. When you drink them, it's something special, because you know it's something you can only try a few times a year, like Christmas baking, and will appreciate it all the more when you do. The fall season usually provides a spate of harvest offerings, using typical Thanksgiving foods like apples and pumpkins, to produce hearty, spicy fare. When they get it right, the taste is best summed up "it tastes like fall"! The nose of the beer becomes like a fall kitchen, with a smorgasbord of spices and fruits. When it doesn't work, just get fermented pumpkin juice, which benefits no one.

So, fresh after a soul-crushingly long drive on the 401, I decided to get the season rolling with a truly local offering: Highballer Pumpkin Ale from Grand River Brewing in Cambridge. We used to have this on tap last year at the Grad House, and I seem to remember liking it. Like the scientific method demands, repeat experiments are key to success,

Poured this one into an ale glass (your typical, run of the mill short and squat beer glass). Colour is sort of an off orange. Only leaves a little bit of head, however, which doesn't bode well.

The smell is simply terrific. It's like pumpkin pie, I can detect fresh pumpkin, spices and the crust itself.

The taste is not too far off. In addition to fresh pumpkin (and not Jolly Rancher Pumpkin), I get cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other spices. The finish is very smooth and bready like a pie crust. Yet somehow, the malty base of the ale is enough to ensure that the taste is that of beer, and not pumpkin pie drink. Everything just sort here.

About the only thing that does this beer in is the taste itself. To be honest, how often do I really want to drink pumpkin pie beer, as good as they can be? Probably only once or twice, tops. But that's the beauty about seasonals; they're brewed in small batches and are specifically designed to be consumed only during one time of year. Brewers stop selling them after the season is over, leaving us with (hopefully) fond memories and anticipation for next years' offering.

I certainly recommend you give this offering from one of Ontario's best truly craft brewers a try; it may not be what you're looking for, but it's well worth sampling just to experience how a good seasonal beer can taste. (Grade: A-)

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