A pumpkin ale that is more ghostly because of what doesn’t appear.
Rating: 70 points
Stats: Spiced Beer. 5% ABV. Toronto, Ontario.
Size: 500mL bottle
Colour: Light-brown amber
Mouth Feel: Low carbonation; low specific gravity; light end.
Pairing Notes: n/a
First up on the Great Pumpkin Ale Countdown is this traditional sampling from Black Creek Brewing.
This is an interesting brewery because it is truly a throwback to a bygone era, an attempt to maintain a traditional brewing style from a 150 years ago. As you learn on their website:
The equipment at Black Creek Historic Brewery is made mainly of wood and copper, and the beer ferments the way it was done in the old days, with wooden barrels to age the beer. Malted barley is shoveled by hand into the wort tun where it is boiled into a mash. After filtering the solids through a linen cloth, the sugary liquid is boiled and hops are added, both for flavouring and as a natural preservative. Once the boiling is complete, the beer is put in barrels where the yeast is added. A short time later, the beer is ready!
Were pumpkin ales being made 150 years ago, though?
Pop the cap and wisps of yeast quietly creep out of the neck, like the trails of a ghost on a moonlit night. As soon as I started pouring it I knew this was a flat beer and I poured harder … and then harder by lifting the bottle high above the glass like a Turk pouring tea. A head eventually formed, but if it lasted at all, it lasted 10 minutes and was gone like it was never there.
The colour was a beautiful nut amber and is the sort of thing I sort of think a pumpkin ale should look … but I say that without any real benchmark to measure, but that’s why we’re here, right? The smell in the glass was not the kind of spice bombs I’ve been miffed at in the past — and indeed, this one was a bit more like a cold pumpkin pie where the caramels and molasses are more the flavours. This brought some very nice malts into the nose with just a hint of spice at the end. So, the verdict off the nose was balanced: a good start.
That first taste, however, was little less compelling. Hold it long in the mouth and I’ll still challenge you to find taste — and I mean any taste. There is very very little up front, a fact made more troublesome by the fact that this beer has one of the flattest carbonations I’ve tasted in awhile. Not really unpalatable but the natural carbonation only accentuates the emptiness of the first taste. The middle is a lot better which is where this beer really exists: full, on the flat of the tongue where the caramels churn in the flavours of mace, some ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg and just a hint of clove. But really, the mace and cinnamon are the strongest of the spices here. I appreciate this subtlety because while it is a “spiced beer,” it isn’t over-spiced and, as a result, you can unmistakably taste the creaminess of the pumpkin and those sweet, earthy flavours in the middle. As nice as these are, they end too soon before they washed out by the thinness (low specific-gravity) of the beer and finishes with an ending that is a bit of caramel, some nutmeg, and a refreshing bitterness.
All in all, this beer does a lot of things right — the elements are generally there. However, the beer tastes rustic, unrefined, and lacking the structure of a craft beer. This may be what our pioneering forefathers made and drank whilst staring that overflowing pumpkin patch, but if they lived today, this one wouldn’t likely make the modern cut. If this is a beer that follows a traditional brewing method, well, the method sucks. And while this beer may be available for another 2-3 weeks, I wouldn’t bother unless you’re doing research on heritage brewing methods.
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