I have been counting down the days until Steamworks Brewing Company’s Great Pumpkin Ale was finally on tap. Much like Linus I was going out at night looking up at the sky and asking where are you Great Pumpkin (Ale)? Steamworks’ fall seasonal was my favourite beer two years running at the Great Canadian Beer Fest. I loved that it actually tasted like pumpkin pie, the spices were just right, the sweetness bang on and somehow it managed to be a great beer at the foundation of it all. After GCBF 2010 I just missed the last of the pumpkin ale at Steamworks and I was pretty bummed out. This year I vowed to myself and the beer saints (yup all of them …Gambrinus, Arnold, Brigid you name em’ and I invoked them) that I would not make the same mistake twice.
Making good on my idle promises, yesterday I headed to Gastown to pick up my growler and I was good to go or so I thought… Here is the issue, I have been looking forward to this beer for so long that when I finally got it home and poured myself a pint I was a little underwhelmed. Naturally this got the left side of my brain thinking about all the reasons a beer may not live up to my expectations. There are many variables that can affect your drinking experience including beer temperature, glassware, food pairings, pour size, environment, company, state of mind etc. Psychology also obviously comes into play in the sense we often remember things as being better than they actually were; anticipation can be hard to live up to. So what follows are two reviews of the beer, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, in my attempt to account for some of the variables that enter into the drinking experience.
Beer Day 1: Steamworks Great Pumpkin Ale pours an autumnal reddish brown with minimal head. It is very clear and still. I had my pint very cold; the beer elements (hops, malt) immediately come to the forefront but I felt like the spiciness was somewhat lacking. The nose is malty but not overpowering. There is a bit of strength to the ale, not sure of the ABV, which makes it a nice choice a fall seasonal. I tried the ale immediately after a meal, and spicy dessert, and I drank it pretty much in one sitting. Overall a really nice red ale but I am not sure it is remarkable as a flavoured beer. I feel somewhat let down by the lack of complexity.
Re-visiting the Beer Day 2: After thinking too much about all of the reasons the beer was not quite as I remembered I thought I’d give it another go today to see if my opinion had changed. This afternoon I tried a couple more pints of the Great Pumpkin Ale and I have to admit it is starting to win its way back into my heart. I tried the ale on its own, no food accompaniments, and I left it out to warm up (just a bit) on the counter. This definitely helped bring out the pumpkin pie spices and improved the creamy mouthfeel. I drank it intermittently while doing a gazillion other Sunday-type things. As I sit here draining the bottom of my glass, and the end of my growler, I think I am firmly back in the ‘I love Great Pumpkin Ale’ camp but perhaps I am not the fervent right-wing lover I once was.
Overall I would give Steamworks Great Pumpkin Ale 4.5 out of 5