AKA, the nightmare before Christmas…
There’s a chill in the air and our annual frigid monsoon season has begun in earnest, which means one thing: pumpkin spice everything.
There are pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice Cheerios, pumpkin spice Triscuits, even pumpkin spice tortilla chips. I’ve heard people even make pies out of the stuff. (Sadly, pumpkin spice-flavoured condoms are not a real thing, however. Not yet, anyways.)
Predictably, some craft breweries have jumped on the pumpkin spice bandwagon and have come up with their own seasonal brews. And also predictably, the results have largely been less than impressive.
Subtlety is a lost art with some brewers, and never is this more obvious than with pumpkin spiced beers. More often than not, sickly sweet dark malts are paired with fistfuls of clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and caramelized pumpkin (because it’s not sweet enough already, right?) for an ill-conceived concoction that bears only a passing resemblance to beer.
Good beer is all about balance, and pumpkin spice beers, almost by definition, are extremely unbalanced: typically, they end up overly sweet and under-hopped. Bold flavours are great, but not if they are overpowering and linger like that friend that crashed at your place last night but just won’t leave even though it’s, like, two in the afternoon. (Seriously. I’m vacuuming the living room Dave*. Take a hint. I’ve got shit to do today.)
Some brewers are bucking the pumpkin trend, and I say good for them. Kettle River Brewing Co. in Kelowna has done more than 100 batches of beer since it opened in July – but pumpkin spice ale is not one of them.
“I’ve never had one I liked,” says co-owner Chris Dedinsky. “I’ll leave it to Starbucks to ruin perfectly good drinks with pumpkin spice.”
Dedinsky is not alone. Beer lovers have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #NoPumpkin to express their disdain for this autumnal infestation. Callister Brewing in East Vancouver even declared its tasting room a “Pumpkin Free Zone.”
I’m definitely in the #NoPumpkin camp (surprise!), and like Dedinsky, I’ve never tried a pumpkin beer I’ve enjoyed, let alone could finish. But if you like pumpkin spice beers, that’s fine; I’m not going to tell you you’re a terrible person (even though you totally are). What I’m going to do instead is suggest some alternatives. Because life is too short for bad beer.
So with the weather cooling down, it’s the perfect time for dark, toasty malts with high ABVs to warm your bones. Here are some full-flavoured beers that, unlike everything pumpkin spiced, are also exceptionally well-balanced.
Saltspring Island Ales Dry Porter • 5.5% ABV, 650mL • $5.79, BC Liquor Stores
This extraordinary porter offers rich coffee and toasted malt aromas without overwhelming your palate. Caramel notes are balanced perfectly by the hop bitterness, resulting in an endlessly drinkable autumn pint. The only downside is that it can be difficult to find on the mainland.
Swans Coconut Porter • 6.0% ABV, 650mL • $8.00, private liquor stores
Don’t let the fancy new packaging fool you; Swans Coconut Porter has been around for years, and for good reason. This easy drinking porter is a perennial favourite, offering delicious chocolate and coconut flavours without hitting you over the head with them. Once again, the sweetness of the malt is kept in check by a mildly hoppy finish. Are you noticing a pattern here?
Dageraad Anno 2015 • 8.5% ABV, 650mL • $8.99, private liquor stores
So maybe you want a little fruit and spice in your beer – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Dageraad’s annual special release is a big beer with a ton of flavour. Made with Keremeos pears and coriander, it’s bottle-conditioned with Belgian yeast resulting in spicy esters that, along with the high ABV, help take the edge off the sweetness. Try this and you’ll never touch pumpkin beer ever again. Bad news: You’re probably not going to find any of the 2015s, as they sell out almost instantly. Good news: The 2016s will be hitting shelves in early December, so keep an eye out!
*Any resemblance to real-life Daves, living or dead, is purely coincidental.