Ah, is there anything better than the smell of baking pumpkin pie to say “It’s fall”? The sweet earthy aromas of the squash we love to carve, the warm aromatic spices, like clove, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, and the sweet biscuity crust make for what is (clearly) one of my favourite parts of the season. So it is surprising that it wasn’t until recently that I really started to appreciate good pumpkin beers. For a long time, these rich complex beers only got, at best, a “meh” from my palate. But whether due to better availability, or a more refined palate, I now regularly indulge in pumpkin beers through the fall months. If you haven’t, and perhaps didn’t even know about pumpkin beers, allow me a moment to explain: These are not some new trend in brewing, using a perceived “extreme” ingredient. Rather, pumpkin brewing dates back to the original brewers in Colonial North America. Remembering that our forebears didn’t move west to the plains for some time, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of barley on the eastern seaboard when they arrived (incidentally, Plymouth Rock wasn’t so much a target, as an escape route; the pilgrims were wary of the sea, and worse, were running dangerously low on beer. Serious, look it up). As many of you fine readers will know, you need fermentable sugar to make beer. This is normally found in the form of barley, wheat, and sometimes other grains such as rye, millet, and God forbid, corn and rice. But, as I said, the original brewers of the west weren’t exactly drowning in grain. In fact, most of the initial crops of grain they harvested were from seeds they had brought from Europe, and were not exactly suited to our climate. Crops were tenuous at best. Enter the pumpkin. Related to zucchini and other squashes, the pumpkin is native to North America, and was (literally) foreign to the early settlers. They quickly learned it was fairly drought-hardy, and had both flesh and seeds which were not only edible, but tasty. The sweet flesh obviously presented itself to some enterprising brewer (probably a woman) and became part of the mash, as it was cheap accessible fermentable sugar. And so pumpkin ale was born. In fact, one of the earliest recipes for pumpkin “beer” would actually be better classified as wine; there was no grains in it at all. So it was, that many an early American and (I’m guessing perhaps) Canadian enjoyed pumpkin beer. These days, due to the main source of pumpkin in our diet being pie-related, brewers generally spice the brew with the usual suspects of pie: cloves, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Regardless, when you sip a hardy, rich pumpkin beer, you are partaking in a piece of North American brewing history; something we did first, and still do best. I can raise a glass to that; heck, I’ll raise this one.
From a 625ml bottle with no freshness date, Shipyard Brewing’s Smashed Pumpkin pours a slightly hazy golden orange with about one inch of head that stays through most of the glass, due to the very active carbonation. Aroma is clearly pumpkin, some carmelly malts, and pie spices, mainly nutmeg and ginger. Though I always worry I loose my objectivity when it comes to pie spice, because I just “know” what it’s going to smell like. Still, a classic fall-pumpkin aroma, but with a nice malt presence as well. Taste is quite sharp and big. Immediately boozy and sweet with malts, the pumpkin is very clear and fresh, earthy and sweet. I’m guessing there’s some wheat in the grain bill, as I’m getting a touch of citrusy hints that go nicely with the pumpkin. The spices at first seem a bit too aggressive, especially with a fairly noticeable hop bitterness (a lot of pumpkin ales use minimal hopping). It’s a bit too nutmeg and clove-y, with tannin-like bitterness from the hops, but as the beer warms and gets a bit more sweet and boozey, it falls into better balance. Definitely let this one warm up a bit out of the icebox. The mouth feel is a bit betraying, I think. The weight of the beer is being cut nicely by that high carbonation I mentioned, but it’s clearly medium to heavy bodied. It might be a bit cloying in a cask format, but out of the bottle, it is smooth, a little creamy and rich, with a prickly bubbly carbonation to add interest. A perfect compliment to the pumpkin and spices which most of us relate to creamy rich pies. It also hides it’s 9% abv quite well; it certainly drinks like a big beer, but not at all like the average 9%. A great beer for the cooler fall days that are blowing in to Toronto this weekend. Pick up a few of these at your LCBO, in readiness for thanksgiving, and toast those quick-thinking pioneers, of both brewing and colonization.
About the Brewery:
Since 1994, Shipyard Brewing Company has been brewing fine quality products with a wide range of style profiles. We use only top quality ingredients and pride ourselves on the consistency and freshness of our products. All our beer is hand crafted from recipes developed by master brewer Alan Pugsley, one of the most influential people in the craft brewing movement in North America.
We are the 19th largest craft brewery and 28th largest brewery in the country.
Award-winning Shipyard beer is available in 38 states and markets for our freshly brewed, hand-crafted ales continue to expand.
The Shipyard Brewing Company was founded by master brewer Alan Pugsley and entrepreneur Fred Forsley. Shipyard first began in 1992 at Federal Jack’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in Kennebunk, which is one of Maine’s original brew pubs and working breweries. Within two years, demand for Shipyard beer outpaced the small operation and, in April 1994, Forsley and Pugsley opened the Shipyard Brewing Company in the heart of the waterfront in Portland, Maine on the site of the former Crosby Laughlin Foundry.