There are certain sign posts that mark the passage of the seasons. The first smoke billowing forth from the chimneys, the first leaf you see falling from the trees, the first flower you see resiliently climbing forth from the sidewalk cracks on 12th street, or the first snowflake you see falling from the sky, silhouetted by a street light.
For me, one of my favorite bookmarks of time, one of those indicators that you know the page is about to turn, are pumpkin beers. (To be honest, though, its frickin August 12th! Should these quintessential beers be hitting the shelfs NOW?! Is the beer industry making a statement on global weather change?).
But come they have. Last week, I looked on bewildered by what I was seeing: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale was on the shelf at my local grocery. Today, I bought a six-pack.
Pumpkin Ales are tricky (for those long-time readers of my blog, you may recall I first wrote about them when I brewed my own: Praise the Gourd). To get the balance right between capturing the flavor of the pumpkin while finding harmony with the fall spices is crucial. This year, I can’t say I love Smuttynose’s latest release, though, a few years ago, they were my favorite. (Each year I seek out as many as I can; I feel it tells us a lot about the brewer). Smuttynose’s 2011 is good, and I’m confident it will be in my top 10, but it leaves something lacking in the malt department.
Beautiful on the nose, with an intoxicating aroma of clove, cinnamon and gingerbread, the beer hits very upfront with its bitterness, yet doesn’t have the body or the sweetness of the malt to balance. These beers are tricky. And with that much spice, you gotta have a big, malty backbone. Last year, I found myself leaning towards the Imperial, jacked-up versions to perform that balancing act. We’ll see where I end up this year.
In the meantime, I’m sticking my head in the sand until I see another sign of Fall. I’ll get back on the wagon in September…unless the Headless Horseman catches me first.