Beer: Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Brewery: Boston Beer Company
Style: Pumpkin beer
ABV: 5.7 percent
Well, Pumpkin Month is at an end. It's been four weeks filled with pumpkin pie spiciness and every shade of orange here at Craft Beer of the Week, and the mob of pumpkin brews that crowded local shelves just a few short weeks ago is finally starting to disperse. It seems that everyone else in the Valley loves this style as much as I do -- I actually had trouble finding a bottle to feature this week. But like I've found at many a visit to a non-craft bar: When things look their bleakest, there's always Sam Adams.
Boston Beer Co. isn't only one of the oldest craft breweries around; it's also the largest. In fact, the amount of production of the Sam Adams line caused a minor controversy earlier this year. The Brewer's Association, the national promotional and lobbying organization for craft breweries, used to define a "craft" brewery as one that is -- among other things -- "small," meaning "under 2 million barrels" in yearly beer production. The problem was that Boston Beer Co. blazed right past this milepost without stopping to wave goodbye. Reluctant to lose the influence and market share provided by the brewery, the BA upped its production ceiling to 6 million barrels, making Sam Adams an "official" craft beer -- at least for a few more years.
Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin is brewed with more than 11 pounds of real pumpkin per barrel, which is added to the mash to meld with the malt flavors. Clove, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg are thrown in as trimmings once the wort hits the kettle. The brew premiered in 2010 and has been a hit at the brewery's annual Halloween party (and with customers) ever since.
As you sit down to carve your Jack-o-Lantern this week, pop open on of these bottles and marvel at the brew's beautiful carmine hue. With nearly perfect clarity, the brew almost looks more like cranberry juice than a pumpkin beer, but I'll take it. Half a finger of airy tan head caps the liquid, then soon becomes a moderately-sized ring of dense bubbles. Set your nose above them and you'll find that this here's a pumpkin ale that relies on the spices. Aromatics of spicy nutmeg and sharp cinnamon provide the excitement, while subtle roasted pumpkin rind blends with the sweet caramel and soft nuttiness of the amber ale base.
Cinnamon is the major spice contributor to the flavor, and pumpkin is pretty much nonexistent. This isn't a huge deal, though, as the malts lend plenty of complexity -- breadiness from Two-row Harrington, sweet caramel from Caramel 60 and Special B, a touch of smoke from smoked malt. At only 18 IBUs, there isn't much bitterness -- just a trace of earthy English hop flavor, courtesy of East Kent Goldings and Fuggles. Carbonation is placid,adding just a bit of tingle to the gossamer body as it moves about. Sam Adams' proprietary ale yeast hasn't completely scarfed the residual sugars, so the finish has the perfect balance of sweetness and crisp dryness.
Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin isn't the most pumpkiny of pumpkin beers, but it's packed with spice and the flavors of the season and is super-duper drinkable. It's available in Sam Adams' Harvest Collection variety packs (which also contain the brewery's Octoberfest, Black Lager, Irish Red, Boston Lager, and the new Bonfire Rauchbier). Get it while there's still some pumpkin to go around.
Food pairing suggestions:
The cinnamon and caramel sweetness in Harvest Pumpkin Ale will reverberate with the same in a slice of apple pie. Use the beer's crisp finish to clean the pie's sugars from the mouth between bites.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a beer guide akin to a sommelier.