Monday, 31 October 2016

Pumpkin Beer Hallowe'en Spooktacular

October is almost done. Samhuinn fires are lit to burn us into November as the Skeleton Summer draws to a close. Three offerings to the great pumpkin sit on this reporter's table. Three pumpkin beers to lead us into the cold months and maybe make a few people say "ugh, pumpkin, nah" and hit the "back" button.

The Fear, from Flying Dog, is first up. The strongest of the three at 9% abv, it promises pumpkin-spice devastation with label art that showcases perfectly Ralph Steadman's ability to illustrate fear and, indeed, loathing.

Smoke crawls from the bottle neck like a ghost girl from a TV screen. The spices with which this Imperial ale are brewed are present here, strong and musty. There is a cigar-box acridity, a mysterious buzz that sits perfectly with the outhouse paranoia sounds of Tom Waits' "What's He Building In There?". It looks at home in a skull-shaped glass, dark brown with a thin tan head. The first mouthful is an eruption of heat and glorious herbal stank and I wolf down three mouthfuls with the gusto of an ancient king about to face the sacrificial threefold death of wounding, drowning and burning. The alcoholic heat is reined in after this, the malty basslines and the keening choir of spices (loudest among them being cinnamon) drowning it out.

The beer is sticky, clingy, cloying and tacks itself to the tongue, sizzling there and numbing the buds with a faint aftertaste of bubblegum. Late-teens Jaegermeister memories return, and the bottle of Baba Jaga herbal liquor I still haven't finished after a decade broods at me from its shelf in my kitchen. 

The final slug contains a strong hit of liquor and liquorice, a medicinal suckerpunch to an open, glakey mouth. I jerk my head to the right, convinced I've seen something move in the hallway. It's just my hair. They don't call it The Fear for nothing, I guess.

There's a lot going on down at the bottom of Roadsmary's Baby, a rum-cask-aged 6.8% abv pumpkin beer from 2 Roads Brewing. A field of sediment, 3mm deep, sits at the bottom of the bottle. I crack my knuckles, limbering up to pour without filling my glass with murk. Steady. Steady.

The scent from the neck is led by the vanilla beans mentioned on the label, with squash and malt following thereafter and the rum scent holding a faint rearguard. 

The little glass skull this time takes on the hazy colour of a brass boiler plate, and a strong inhale from the glass brings out the rum cask scent. Another bottle on my kitchen shelf silently calls out to me, the ruinous bottle of Guyanan Rhum Agricole that a guy on my stag weekend gave me. I'm saving the last few mouthfuls for if I get married again or need to launch a rocket into space.

The carbonation is surprisingly strong on the first mouthful, a smokescreen under which the rum flavour advances and makes gains in the mouth, lips and tongue regions. While this all goes on, the scent within the glass shifts in favour of the pumpkin-spice aroma, and it's worth a good few minutes of steady inhalation, the kind of behaviour that might get you weird looks at a pub but is totally acceptable in your kitchen. Another few mouthfuls and a hazelnutty taste appears, and the alcoholic heat builds to solid "winter warmer" levels. 

For such a layered beer, with its strata of rum cask flavours, squash tastes and spicy buzz, Roadsmary's Baby leaves little lingering aftertaste after the glass is empty, leaving little palate-cleansing to be done before the final beer.

I have to underline the fact that Gary, the man behind Newcastle microbrewery Grid Brewing, is a mate of mine. I was just at his house last weekend taking part in the destruction of a lot of box-fresh American IPAs and DIPAs when I told him I was excited to drink Fall, Grid's pumpkin beer, and mentioned that my girlfriend Emma is a big fan of pumpkins and spice (I think she causes a blip on Starbucks' takings every October) and he was more than happy to sort me out with a bottle. In the interests of ethics, and because I've already had two pretty heavy hitting beers tonight, the bottle of Fall will be split between Emma and I, and she's going to give her opinions on it at the end of this post. 

Beneath a banner of heavy Gothic typeface, Fall makes its appearance, The crown cap is popped off and the beer within clamours to escape, foam adding a snowy mountain-top to the open neck. A smoky, clovey, spicy scent rises and I pour our glasses. A misty copper-gold with a little more haze than that which fills Emma's glass (mine was the second glass poured) turns to amber with a light behind it.

From the glass the scent remains a warming, fulfilling roasted spice, with the squashy pumpkin filling out on subsequent breaths. Smooth, spiced, and holding its own following two powerful beers, Fall has a cleaner, less herbal, less medicinal taste to it than The Fear and Roadsmary's Baby. At 4.8% it is almost-too-easily sessionable and its aftertaste lingers excellently, quietly upending the pumpkin cart and getting squash everywhere. The weakest in terms of alcoholic volume of tonight's beers, Fall's flavour still stands up after this reporter's head-holes have been smashed about by Flying Dog and Two Roads' tasty offerings. 

To end this entry, here's Emma's take on Fall. She's had more pumpkin spice lattes than anyone I've ever met, and she knows her pumpkins.


Hey, I'm Emma and I know nothing about beer, craft or otherwise. Time to share my much awaited taste experience!

Ok so first off I tried to smell it from the bottle but, I shit you not, it literally spooged foamy-ass bubbles right up my nose. So clearly it was very pleased to see me!

Forgive me if my writing seems a bit weird, above all else I went through two pens before having to resort to using a pencil to take my notes like a caveman. And I'm reading them off of my pizza box because too lazy to find a notebook. Although considering I'm using my phone's notes app to write this drivel up, I could have used it to write my notes down in. But this is what a sensible person would have done. God help us all.

I got to drink out of the pumpkin glass. An honour probably not deserving of this novice. But it's my glass so nyah nyah.

Anyway, when I finally could smell the bastard without inhaling beer head, I picked up faint notes of cinnamon and (obviously) pumpkin, the flavours some of us PSL loving people have come to associate with Autumn and the colder months. The colour in the glass made me think of a deep orange tea. Is pumpkin tea a thing, does anyone know? It should be. If it isn't.

After snorting it for what I assumed was an acceptable and professional amount of time, it was bottoms up time. I was surprised that it wasn't bitter as most of my experience with a lot of beers is a bitter aftertaste that drowns out whatever is meant to accompany it, but that could just be my taste buds not knowing what the hell is going on. It was quite thin and smooth, no leftover residue or anything like that, it went down lovely. 
Of course, the more I drank it, the more it tasted mostly of beer. But that's ok, since it's beer.

All in all, a satisfying seasonal beverage, would absolutely drink again. Maybe with Chinese food. That would be nice. 

Now Ruari, stop pissing about with this, your pizza's stone cold now.

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