What do you get when you put a bunch of beer geeks in a room together and ask if anyone wants a pumpkin beer? Perhaps the biggest, most heated argument ever. Indeed, it seems as though nothing so divides beer-drinking men across the nation as the Great Pumpkin Beer Debate. One side claims that the style is akin to a trendy, pumpkin-flavored Zima. The other side lobs accusations of snobbery and says pumpkin beer is the quintessential way to sip your way through the fall season.
Around here, we're somewhere in the middle. Sure, there are a lot of really bad, overly sweet pumpkin beers out there. But there's also Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, which is first and foremost a beer, and a damn good one at that.
"We started brewing our pumpkin beer back in 2003, before the style was so popular," says J.T. Thompson, of Smuttynose Brewing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. "We wanted to make a beer drinker's pumpkin ale." To that end, Smuttynose created an ale that's righteously hopped with cascade and liberty hops, and then added actual pumpkin meat, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. That's it. No chemical pumpkin flavoring. No other spices.
It pours an orange hue and hits your nose with some spice. Take a sip and there's a whole lot going on – but it's a completely balanced complexity. First, you'll get some bitter herbal hop notes, then you'll probably detect mellow malt, spices, and pumpkin meat. It finishes devoid of sweetness and leaves some hop flavor on your tongue. Its 5.8 percent alcohol makes it a beer you can have a couple of, too. And take our word for it, this is a pumpkin beer that you'll actually want to have more than one of – something hardly any other takes on the style can say.
The result is a beer that taps into the true spirit and flavor of fall in New England. "Pumpkins are closely tied to New England both historically and seasonally," says Thompson. "So it only made sense for us to make a traditional pumpkin ale." Indeed, when the British jacked up malt tariffs, colonists in the region often extended the life of the costly grain by adding pumpkin meat to the brewing process, or even brewing with pumpkins entirely.
"This year is actually this beer's 10th anniversary," says Thompson. "You know what we did to commemorate it? Absolutely nothing." So, dear readers, go ahead and hold your own, private commemoration by saying cheers to Smuttynose Pumpkin. [smuttynose.com]