[An Avenue] is back to celebrate the great beer month of October, a period of 31 days fondly indexed inside my malt-addled brain as the Beer Advent -- an anthology of festivities ranging from the beer-Carnivál known as Oktoberfest, to the SXSW-like, Beer-di-Gras of GABF -- then mercifully ending with the fraudiest-of-children's-holidays distorted to be a massive carousal of adult excess and dumbfuckery. Typically, that involves feasting on trial-sized Kit Kats and reveling in bombers of chocolate stout while passing out the shittiest of leftovers from my bowl.
And, yes, even in between those heavyweight events are loads of beer festivals, beer weeks, and pre-planned benders designed to create an assemblage of two-or-more neckbeards within a reasonably close proximity in the name of great beer and troublesome abdominal fat.
The Fall season is essentially beer Christmas, and October serves as the equinox from summer's wheats, pilsners, and saisons to the Autumnal flavors of spiced ales, porters, and stouts.
[An Avenue] will commemorate The Great Beer Month by discussing Pumpkin Ales -- a polarizing style in the world of craft, undone by the carelessness of particulates handled in bulk by the Big Brewers and their chicanery.
The offices of [AA] remain squarely neutral on the style until further potable research can be attained and carefully dissected by our bloodstreams and metabolized by our livers. Any preconceivences will be dispelled in the name of standardization -- however, our prior stance on the style is that Pumpkin beers rely far too heavily on the properties of baked pumpkin goods, like pie or quick bread, and feature characteristics such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, instead of the natural, mealy, earthy deliciousness of the pumpkin marrow itself.
So, welcome to [AA]'s multi-part series called Pumps in a Bump: Ignis Fatuus Drinkus
Being a very, very recent liquid-gourd enthusiast, one of only two pumpkin beers that I was typically able to enjoy in the past was Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale. I have given Punkin a good rodgering in the fall months going back several years, and it has largely averted my disappointment with the style entirely.
Superfans of the brilliant Dogfish Head founder and brewer, Sam Calagione, will likely have seen the meticulous process by which this particular beer is governed by the brewery in the short lived series, Brew Masters, where in one episode of Punkin brewing, the brewery voluntarily destroyed several palettes of Punkin that had not met their quality standards. Given that -- at the time of filming -- Punkin Ale was Dogfish Head's 6th-best-selling beer, despite only being available on the market for two Fall months; it was an extraordinary account of best-practice by the brewery. Dogfish Head just doesn't mess around without benchmarks, criterion, or self-efficacy.
One may have also seen in the documentary film, Beer Wars -- in which Sam is heavily featured -- the brewery's litigious battle with A-B InBev (that's right, Budweiser, the largest brewer in the world by more than double their closest competitors, MillerCoors) over rights to use the name "Punkin", despite Dogfish Head's origination of the name. A-B InBev threw their massively intimidating and heavily-lawyer'd weight around Milton, Deleware in an attempt to caustically dissolve the brewery under the guise of fair use practice. Why? Because Dogfish Head -- along with the 2,000 other U.S. microbreweries COMBINED -- cut into 3% of A-B InBev's potential earnings beyond their $36 billion revenue. What A-B InBev spends on attorney retainers alone, Dogfish Head probably spends on their entire production, labor, and distribution costs altogether.
But, hey, I'm digressing. The Punkin Ale, remember?
Yes, the Punkin Ale continues to be available under its original monicker, and continues to be distributed to a fortunate few set of grocery and liquor stores. But if you can happen across it, it is definitely not to be missed.
Straight away, Punkin Ale gets off to a GREAT start, and my theory is because the base beer itself is a clever little pallet-friendly brown ale; one which makes several cameos in Dogfish Head's catalog of similarly creative, medium-bodied beers.
In fact, Dogfish Head almost features the base beer along with nuanced, mild-but-savvy pumpkin notes, making Punkin Ale a HUGE departure from the typically over-spiced, baked-pumpkin-pie beer that I was discussing previously.
Yes, the gourd's marrow in Punkin Ale is subtle for a typically strong-flavored fruit, but its like an acoustic set of Mötley Crüe, or scrunched footsteps in the snow -- if you listen intently enough, the chords and the tread become more concentrated as it evolves, making it altogether MUCH more prevalent and enjoyable by ounces 11 and 12. There is no palatal fatigue because its so thoughtfully attenuated throughout.
The fall spices of nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, and allspice are merely backing vocalists to the harmony of Punkin Ale. And its lightly-malted, bready-yeast plays a nice auxiliary pie-crust percussion to keep the beer on tempo.
It seems as though this series is off to a very positive start.
Musical Pairing: Gomez | Liquid Skin (1999)