Friday, 24 October 2014

I shout about stouts, but pumpkin ale gets a fail

I love fall.

The colours, the cool nights, my birthday - they all signify change and they all help to make autumn my favourite season.

Except when it comes to beer. Beer has its seasons too, and in the world of beer, fall means pumpkin and pumpkin ales are among the vilest creations to come from a brewmaster's mash tun.

I've tried the Pumpkin Ale from Great Lakes - which churns out winners every other season - I've tried Black Creek Pumpkin Ale - a gift from the lovely and talented Adrianne for watching her awesome kids - and I've sampled several others as well, with the experiences so traumatic I can't even remember the name of the brews.

Something-Something Pumpkin Ale, I imagine.

All these beers left me wondering why brewers continue to ruin perfectly good beer by adding pumpkin pie spices to it.(FYI - I love pumpkin pie.)

The answer to that question is because many people - their taste buds ruined by years of drinking commercial crap perhaps - like the stuff. Or maybe they just expect pumpkin beers each October and buy it by the case when it comes in, taste be damned.

But I do know there are some 40 pumpkin beers rated 95 (of 100) or better on Rate Beer so somebody is producing quality pumpkin beers. I just haven't had any yet.

But despite my aversion to the style (and I'm not the only Musketeer with this problem) there will be two more Pumpkin beers on hand at the Donny's Bar & Grill session tomorrow in Burlington. My last two (I hope) of the season. Jumping Jack India Pumpkin Ale from Tree Brewing in B.C. and Pissed Off Pete Pumpkin Porter from Nickel Brook.

Despite the Jumping Jack beer being an IPA of a sort, I'm not thinking positive thoughts over this one. I am slightly more optimistic, however, about the Pumpkin Porter. I figure the pumpkin spices will go better with a porter, which is a sweet dessert-style beer.

We shall see tomorrow, but I am reminded of the words of Rob Leonard, the owner of New England Brewing in Connecticut, when asked about pumpkin beers. "If pumpkins could make a sound they would offend all five of my senses."

While I'm on the subject of beer styles that made me duck for cover, I must confess that I have been all wrong about stouts.

I used to fear them; all dark and evil looking, with aromas of coffee and chocolate and licorice and other dark and scary things. "You'll come around Glenn," said one Musketeer. "Just give it time," said another. But still I held back, afraid to go over to the dark side.

About a month ago I decided to give stouts another go. On the advice of pal Don ("I absolutely, positively guarantee you will like it," is what he said), I started with a big one: Wellington Imperial Russian Stout out of Guelph, a big, 8 per cent stout that was all dark chocolate, dark fruits, roasted coffee, toasted malts and awesomeness. Why the hell did I wait so long?

Next up was the Stone Coffee Milk Stout from California, a 4.2 per cent session stout. Lots of coffee on the nose for this one and hints of chocolate (milk chocolate, natch). A really smooth beer.

I followed that up with Lost Coast 8 Ball Stout, a 5.8 per cent beer also from California. Black as treacle with a creamy head, this beer brought lots of roasted coffee and bitter chocolate (my fave) to the table. Then more coffee, a little nuttiness and rich caramel malts to finish. Outstanding!

Closer to home, I tried the Sleepy Time Imperial Stout from Beau's All Natural, which uses Belgian yeast before ageing the beer in oak staves. I got chocolate, licorice and black coffee, with some banana bread as well as hints of vanilla. Very smooth for an 8 per cent beer.

Montreal's dark side
I enjoyed Sawdust City's Skinny Dipping Stout on a perfect sunny afternoon on the patio at Buster Rhino's in Oshawa recently, and I was impressed. Dark chocolate and roasted coffee - the perfect fall sipping stout. Who knew?

Finally I got to St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, one of the highest rated beers in Canada. It poured black, like a Montreal back street after midnight and smelled of dark roasted coffee and bittersweet chocolate. It tasted all that too, with some spiciness as well.

Well worth the score.

All I can say is why didn't I try these sooner? At least now I understand why my friends were gushing over Aphrodisiaque, the glorious stout from Montreal's famed Dieu du Ciel Brewery when we visited C'est What in downtown Toronto in the spring. Next time I'll say yes.


Wednesday was my birthday and it was certainly one I will never forget. We've all read and watched many hours of coverage on the tragic shootings that took place in our nation's capital, which left one soldier, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, dead and a country in mourning over his death and over our loss of innocence.

As I write this thousands of people are lining the highway overpasses along the Highway of Heroes as Corporal Cirillo's procession makes its way west towards his hometown of Hamilton; a symbol of the reverence we hold towards those who have died protecting our way of life.

With so much written about the events in Ottawa on Wednesday I will mention just one small thing that resonated with me: the playing of Oh Canada before the Pittsburgh Penguin-Philadelphia Flyers NHL game Thursday night.

That the anthem was played that night did not surprise me: the Penguins are classy organization and I expected no less. But to see so many Americans singing along to our anthem gave me chills, I tell you.

Thank you America. Thank you. We noticed.

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