Beer: Smashed Pumpkin
Brewery: Shipyard Brewing Co.
Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 9 percent
We at Chow Bella spent some time last week talking about pumpkin fatigue -- how pumpkins and things flavored with pumpkin, much like premature Christmas decorations, have started sneaking into stores before they're welcome. As noted, the world of beer is unfortunately not immune to the same trigger-happy sentiment that makes pumpkin-spiced lattes, muffins, smoothies and air-fresheners ubiquitous before their time.
Observant readers will point out that I reviewed Four Peaks' Pumpkin Porter a few weeks back, to which I can only say that sometimes exceptions must be made and I loves me some Pumpkin Porter so get off my ass. But I am usually a firm believer in season-appropriate drinking, and now that we've officially reached October, it's officially time to fill up your fridge with pumpkin beer. I'm henceforward declaring October the month of the pumpkin ale -- you heard it here first.
We start with Smashed Pumpkin, which comes to Arizona shelves all the way from Shipyard Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine. The beer's part of Shipyard's line of bigger brews termed Pugsley's Signature Series after founder and brewmaster Alan Pugsley.
Poured into a tulip glass, the beer flickers in the bright, pale orange of a young pumpkin. The head, dense and creamy, is like a dollop of off-white whipped cream. Constantly replenished from below by rising carbonation, the bubbles look soft and silky enough to take a spoon to.
Surprising floral notes and wheat provide a base for the nose. It's a bit short on the pie spices that make these ales great, however. With effort, you can get some fresh pumpkin rind, nutmeg and roasted walnuts, but the "pumpkin" portion of this pumpkin ale is pretty subdued here.
On the upside, the flavor's clean and familiar, like a slice of pumpkin pie that's had all its sweetness sucked out. Adjunct-beer graininess tops pumpkin; nutmeg lends spice; Willamette and Hallertau hops provide bitterness and the slightest earthy notes. The finish brings everything together with grain alcohol and lingering cream soda flavors. Smashed Pumpkin's crowning achievement, however, is its mouthfeel -- medium-full and smooth as liquid suede. The booze is unhindered, providing some heat as the carbonation softly massages the tongue.
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Smashed Pumpkin isn't the greatest example of the style out there, but it makes for a good introduction. If you're new to pumpkin ales, start with this one and make your way into the more intense interpretations.
Food pairing suggestions:
Smash Pumpkin's subtle nuttiness can be brought out with a snack of walnuts or toasted pumpkin seeds. If you want to try it with a meal, the fruity but not overwhelmingly sweet brew will pair beautifully with a hearty beef stew. Allow the beer's subtle spicing and clean finish to contrast the meal's savory qualities and soak in the bounty of pumpkin season.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized beer specialist.