Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Most Joyous Autumnal Equinox to All!

To all you wonderful people out there, I wish you a happy autumnal equinox, a solemn and dignified Mabon for my Wiccan friends, and most importantly, a most splendid birthday to Frodo and Bilbo Baggins!  Happy Hobbit Day to all!  (Seriously, look it up: September 22nd is Frodo and Bilbo's birthday!)

In the past couple of years I have grown more and more fond of autumn.  It's cooler (and after this brutal summer, not a moment too soon), I can wear jackets, blazers, and dress shirts again without roasting alive, and all the best holidays are within the next three months, which means plenty of seasonal brews ahead.  Most of us have already embraced the changing of the season, whether it be by hitting up the local Starbucks to get your seventh Pumpkin Spiced Latte, prepping your Hallowe'en costume (either Captain Malcolm Reynolds or Jake Blues for me this year), or hitting up the grocery stores for more fall-ish ingredients.   For me, in addition to the preceding autumn activities, I am of course super-jazzed because it's the start of pumpkin beer season, and there's already several old favorites - and a few new ones - on the shelves.   Of course, the first new pumpkin brew I'll show you is not something one can pick up in Ontario.  Oh no, Big Brother would never allow that.   It really is unfortunate that I have to keep supplementing my cellar through the occasional US beer run, but until something changes in Ontario, I'm either going to have to continue doing so, or be satisfied with the LCBO's selection.  This year, it's not too shabby - there are a few good pumpkin ales on the horizon - so those who don't feel like making the trek cross the border won't be without their pumpkin fix for the season.  But if you so happen to be down America-way, check out this pumpkin ale from Smuttynose, appropriately named: "Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale."

Beer: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
Brewery: Smuttynose (Portsmouth, NH)
ABV: 5.8

Simplicity is in the name as well as in the label; it's like the designer of the label decided "it's a pumpkin beer, so here's a stock photo of a pumpkin."  Oh well, stock photos are generally Smutty's way of doing things, and it usually works pretty well, and of course, it's what's inside that counts.  Still, I do like a crazy fall themed label, but since this was my first pumpkin beer of the season, I didn't really mind so much.  Let's crack one open!

Picked up a sixer of these guys at Consumer Beverages in Orchard Park, NY about three weeks ago.  It didn't feel right to open them just yet, but I knew I would eventually want one, so I've been waiting patiently until today!

Poured into a Bell's glass, because sadly, I do not as of yet have a Smuttynose glass.   Caramel-amber in colour, like the baked maple squash I'll be making in two weeks for Canuckian Thanksgiving.  Somewhat murky, and with a thin head of foam that displays terrific retention.  Lots of lacing as well.  Great looking brew.

Nose is pumpkin puree, a bit of sugar and cinnamon (though the overall sensation is far from sweet), clove and mild citrus hops.

Tasty autumn brew indeed, though I must say that the pumpkin flavour is a bit more subdued than in the nose.  No matter; the brew is unmistakably suitable for the season, with pumpkin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a nice hop bitterness to cleanse the palate.  Really wish I was sitting in a deckchair with a picturesque New England fall vista in front of me and a strong nip in the air, but on my couch watching Premier League highlights works equally well.  Medium bodied, slightly creamy, mild carbonation.

One of the issues I have with pumpkin beer - like I do with many holiday foods and beverages - is that I go crazy for them as soon as the season begins, only to find that as we get even closer to Hallowe'en and those cold, unforgiving late autumn nights, I tend to get a bit tired of pumpkin ales and will probably be craving something Christmas/winter related.  For this reason, Smuttynose will be a welcome addition to the pumpkin lineup, because although it certainly has pumpkin qualities to it, it is more of a "fall beer" for me, so it will be a welcome change from all the other pumpkin ales I'll be drinking.  Liiiiiiiike this one:

Beer: Black Creek Pumpkin Ale
Brewery: Black Creek Historic Brewery (Toronto)
ABV: 5%

Black Creek is a brewery that is very near and dear to me, and so I might be accused of swaying my opinion a little too much their way.  But hey: beer is an intensely personal thing, at least for me, and I'll experience it precisely the way I want to.  The brewery is located at Black Creek Pioneer Village in northwestern Toronto, and is an awesome place to visit for a look at life in early-mid 19th century Ontario.  Reenactments, horse-drawn buggies, you name it.  It also happens to be the site of my parent's wedding way back when, on a cold January day.  They held their reception in the Halfway House, which is now a candle-lit restaurant, with the brewery located just down the stairs.  I've been to the brewery recently, and got to chat with the brewmaster about his current offerings.  Because the brewery is geared specifically towards the creation of historic ales - using the ingredients and methods available at the time of the original settlers - I tend to give special credit for the effort, considering the fact that the result is probably going to differ from what we are used to drinking today.  The stuff that gets sent out to the LCBO is, if memory serves, produced off-site, with the carbonation levels we are used to.   Their latest release is a pumpkin ale, pumpkins being a popular brewing ingredient for early European settlers in the Northeast.

Poured into a nonic glass.  Dark caramel-amber.  Quite dark for a pumpkin ale, almost hitting Southern Tier Pumking levels.  A thin head of foam that dissolves into a thin ring.

Nose is sweeter than the Smuttynose, with the pumpkin hitting you alongside some burnt brown sugar and caramel.  Cinnamon and nutmeg as well.  Not bad.

Good pumpkin flavour, not much depth here, but certainly drinkable.  The spice flavour is a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Maybe a bit of maple syrup as well.  Thinner bodied than I'd like, and the carbonation is quite low.

Not bad, actually, although I doubt it will become my go-to pumpkin ale for the season, I certainly wouldn't turn it down.   Nothing special, but it has all the standard elements of the pumpkin ale style so you should be satisfied.

Looking forward to some more fall-themed brews as we head into that most joyous of seasons: autumn!  Happy first day of fall everyone!

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