I don’t do pumpkin beer. Not because it’s too trendy. Barrel aged stouts are trendy and they’re delicious. Sometimes popularity is well-deserved. No, I don’t do pumpkin beer because I hate pumpkins. Have ever since I was a kid
I ate pumpkin pie precisely once: the first time I met future mother-in-law. And even then I couldn’t finish the whole piece. That’s the kind of commitment it takes for me to consume anything pumpkin related. Seriously. No pumpkin spiced latte, no pumpkin muffins, not even a pumpkin scented candle.
But lately I’ve been thinking about pushing my boundaries, at least where beer is concerned. Especially as I’ve undertaken my quest to explore Milwaukee’s craft beer revolution, I found myself asking why I was eschewing certain styles of beer.
Similarly, as an aspiring cicerone, I realized I had to become familiar with every style of beer I could get my hands on. I started seeking out lagers like the Gossamer I had at Cedarburg’s The Fermentorium, or like Third Space’s That’s Gold Kolsch, yet still I could not bring myself to buy a single pumpkin beer.
Like a good Barleywine, this was a question I had to mull over and consider. I wanted to be open-minded and I felt ashamed of my fear to try something new — even if I knew I didn’t like pumpkins. I hated the idea of being narrow-minded, of denying myself the chance to challenge my palate and my rethink my opinions.
So I did what I always do when I try something new: research. (I’m a book-loving beer geek, what can I say?) My first read was The Oxford Companion to Beer, which is delightful in it’s barely-restrained disdain for the style: “Variations in flavor are wide: many pumpkin ales are sweet and heavily spiced, straining for the pie associations.” While I enjoyed the Oxford Companion’s subtle tone, it mostly reaffirmed my desire to avoid pumpkin beers.
That was when this Chicago Tribune ranking of pumpkin beers came down my Facebook feed. I clicked through, noting Lakefront Brewery’s Pumpkin Lager and their Brandy Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Enough was enough. Two solid examples of the style from the same brewery in my hometown. I resolved then that I was going to drink one of Lakefront’s pumpkin beers.
One of the best things right now about Milwaukee’s beer scene is that when a brewery does a limited bottle release, you can pretty much find it. Such was the case with Lakefront’s Brandy Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale. I found it at the second liquor store I tried, brought it home, and waited for the right moment.
Finally, in the light and warmth of a wood fire, I cracked the cap on my first ever pumpkin beer. I was immediately struck by the nose. Warming notes of brandy, oak, cinnamon, and perhaps a dash of clove. The stark white head faded quickly, which combined with a 13.4% ABV to create the sensation that I was holding a snifter of spiced brandy. My heart and mouth were immediately warmed.
I savored flavors of chewy caramel, dark fruit stone fruits baked with only a dash of cinnamon, a sprinkle of clove, and enough vanilla to satisfy. And yes, behind it all was this mellow, pumpkin-y sweetness that rounded out the beer. The alcohol was enough to leaven the body of this beer, leaving a fairly dry, yet satisfying finish.
I was immediately in love. This beer wasn’t just good, it was good enough that it converted a pumpkin-beer-hater. Not that I’m going to go for the pumpkin pie any time soon, but I will certainly try a pumpkin beer next time one comes my way.
Ultimately I was reminded of the christmas versions of abby style or Trappist beers. Boozy and balanced, spiced and complex. And like these beers, Lakefront Brewery’s Brandy Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale is a beer for sharing with family and close friends. Something Special to save until someone you love comes back home to Milwaukee.
I think we all have beers and beer styles we avoid or even totally skip. But I think beer is a journey, one every bit as complex and intriguing as wine. I don’t know where your beer journey will take you, but I do know this: with beers like Lakefront Brewery’s Brandy Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin made right here in Milwaukee you don’t to travel to find great beer. It’s right here in at home.