Style: Pumpkin Ale
As some of you may know, pumpkin beers were the style that first got me into craft beer — way back when I turned 21 and could casually explore the many options offered by a good beer store. Fall has always been by far my favorite season, and pumpkin happens to be one of my favorite "flavors." But my obsession with the style has faded considerably since then, and I had planned on giving pumpkin beers a pass this fall. Then I saw Elysian's The Great Pumpkin at The Hop. You see, I tried this beer once (maybe twice?) before, at a big pumpkin beer tasting. That one experience alone shot it to the top of my list of pumpkin beers, and I've been looking for it again ever since. I thought it would never be, but today, we are reunited. I was extremely curious to see how it'd fair, what with my taste for the style on the wane... but good beer is good beer, and the weather outside is perfect pumpkin beer weather.
The Great Pumpkin isn't as decadent as Southern Tier's Pumking (my favorite in past years); it's not coiled and ready to blow me away with fireworks and pizzazz, but happily, it does justice to my memory. I don't think it's actually possible for me to be as impressed with a pumpkin beer as I once was — my beer-seeking tastebuds crave other beer flavors. But for a dose of fall, this hits the spot. In fact, with my tastes having shifted toward drier beers, it gets to me probably the only way a pumpkin beer could right now.
The secret? It's not bombed with sweet malt like just about every other pumpkin beer — even Pumking is extremely sweet, although its lighter body and pure-pumpkin-pie focus allows it to get away with it. The Great Pumpkin is like that, light bodied and focused, but dry, earthy, almost vegetative. It dodges right around caramel malts and instead lands a biscuity, graham-cracker-crust flavor that's right at home among the heavy dose of pumpkin pie spices. The spices are particularly potent in the aroma, with focus on clove and nutmeg, and again in the aftertaste. Sometimes I start to feel they verge on overbearing, and in a heavier beer they would be. But the mouthfeel of the Great Pumpkin is right where it should be, medium-bodied and slightly creamy, and it goes down easy, spice fading into something natural and earthy tasting. Even at 8.1% ABV, a pumpkin beer couldn't possibly be more balanced than this. Unlike other pumpkin beers, this actually tastes like it was made from something that grew in the ground. I like that.
In fact, I like this a lot. It's a shame it's such a ghost, because The Great Pumpkin would be the one I turn to at the bar when I'm in the mood for something autumny, a balanced and drinkable beer that tastes like actual pumpkin, yet not so overwhelming as Pumking. Even at 8.1%, I could imagine having more than one glass of this in a night. Because it's cold outside now — the booze is good for you.
Availability: Who knows? It took me four years to find this again, but maybe Elysian is finally expanding their distribution. It's definitely a step up from Night Owl, their other, commonly-available pumpkin beer.