Well folks, it's that time of year again. The temps are going down, the air is getting crisp, and pumpkins are starting to get the love that they aren't shown in any other season.
To some people this is a great thing, especially the folks who love their pumpkin spice lattes, but there is another group of people who feel that the addition of pumpkin (or pumpkin pie spice) to anything is a great way to ruin it.
When it comes to pumpkin beers, these two sides could not be more polarized. I, for one, reside in the pro-pumpkin beer camp, and have always enjoyed their arrival as a marker that Fall is here (which is the greatest season and not up for debate). But before we get into Elk Valley's pumpkin beer offering, we should talk a little bit about the history of pumpkin beers, because you know I love talking about beer history.
Pumpkin beers are indigenous to America, since the pumpkin itself is a New World plant. The original pumpkin beers were first made by English colonists back in the 18th century, and were only brewed back in England after pumpkins were introduced there. The word "pumpkin" is actually derived from the Greek word pepon (large melon) and in Olde English appeared as pumpion or pompion, and I am assuming that the these old words provided the inspiration for the name of Elk Valley's pumpkin beer. These original pumpkin beers were not very similar to our current styles, whereas the pumpkins were pressed like apples for their juice and fermented without the addition of cereal grains. Technically these would be considered pumpkin wines instead of pumpkin beers.
So now let us fast-forward to today and we have a very wide range of pumpkin beers and the pumpkin itself is used in various different stages during the brewing process. What seems to be the most popular way to add pumpkin to a beer is by adding the pumpkin to the mash (malted grain and water held at a specific temperature). During the mash natural enzymes in malt convert long chain starches into simple fermentable sugars, and luckily enough those same enzymes can help turn the starches in a pumpkin into fermentables.
There is a little secret that needs to be told *whispers* pumpkin really doesn't have much flavor. For all those people who are wrong and say they don't like pumpkin things, like pumpkin beers and PSL's, what they really don't like is pumpkin pie spice. Now, I would say that this is understandable, because there has always seemed to be a trend that if you put something on the label you really want to taste it. This mindset has caused makers of pumpkin beers to use a really heavy hand when they are doing spice additions to their beverages. Also, depending on when the pumpkin spice is added (like during fermentation) there can be an added astringency in the beer that some people can find to be unpleasant. The trick to making these beers sublime is finding the right balance between all the flavors, so lets get to this review to see how well Elk Valley Brewing's Pumpeon turned out.
So first it should be pointed out that this beer has not been produced by Elk Valley for three years. As someone who really enjoyed this beer in the past, I am glad to see it has made a return. This beer comes in at a whopping 14.47 percent ABV which is even a few percentage points over the last iteration of this beer. Just a little PSA here friends, share this beer with someone and don't just drink it by yourself. The style of beer that serves as the base for most pumpkin beers tends to be something along the lines of an English Mild, but this beer probably started out looking like a Barleywine. Elk Valley brewed this behemoth using pumpkin puree, aged it in bourbon barrels for ten months, then added nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla before packaging. I want to add that I love the thoughtfulness and planning that a brewer has to take to make a product like this.
Aroma and Appearance
The nose on this beer is quite an experience. Upfront I get a boozy, bourbon-y, vanilla aroma that fills the nostrils. Hiding around the edges I get little hints of the cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg spices that are definitely not the stars of the show here. There was a little off-white head that dissipates quickly as one would expect from a beer of this strength. The color is deep ruby to dark brown and the beer is hazy. Also I want to add a piece of advice, let the beer warm up a bit. People are so hung up on drinking their beer as cold as the Rockies, but really, with a beer like this, the product changes quite a bit as it gets warmer. Seriously, I've been sitting here sniffing this beer for far longer than I would ever do in public and the aroma of the spices in this beer have become more and more pronounced as the temperature of the beer rises.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
This beer has such a ridiculous amount of flavor all packed into one package. As SNL's Stefon says, "This beer has everything."
I get notes of vanilla and bourbon, molasses like sweetness, light notes of cinnamon and clove, a little pecan pie flavor, a slight coconut-like flavor, hints of banana bread, and a strong booziness spread over everything. This beer is like if you took the dessert table at Thanksgiving and put it all in one pot, boiled it down, and then added a few shots of Maker's Mark. The mouthfeel is medium and the beer is not heavy at all considering the dense layering of flavor going on here.
First off, I want to apologize to everyone who didn't go get this thing when it was released on October 19th. This article will be published after that date (no advanced bottle here) and I don't know how many bottles will be left upon publication, but go by Elk Valley now and see if there are any left. This beer is an amazingly complex beverage that is deep and rich and certainly can warm you up as the nights get colder. I love this beer and I am glad Elk Valley started to produce it again as a fall seasonal. If you have the opportunity to try it, jump on it, because it is very likely you will never get to taste anything like this again.