As soon as I flipped my calendar to October, I immediately began to have thoughts of pumpkin beers. The countdown began to the weekend of October 16 and Elysian Brewing Co.’s Great Pumpkin Beer Fest. High profile names were released a couple of weeks before the event- Russian River, Jolly Pumpkin, Avery and Allagash. I could barely contain myself as thoughts of pumpkins danced in my head.
Pumpkin beers are an interesting breed. I find that people are disappointed when the beer doesn’t ooze pumpkin flavor. Although the juice of this large gourd does tickle my taste buds, I find the balance of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and all spice just as tantalizing. Pumpkin beers are experimental and open for innovative interpretation which is why this particular beer fest is one I cannot miss.
Dick Cantwell, head brewer and owner of Elysian Brewing Co. is at the forefront of pumpkin beers. Not only does Dick host this event at his brewery’s Capital Hill location, he brews not one but eight (or more) pumpkin beers for this special weekend.
Elysian Pumpkin beers:
Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, The Great Pumpkin, Dark o’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout, Hansel & Gretel Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner, Kaiser Kurbis Pumpkin Hefeweizen, PK-47 Pumpkin Malt Liquor, Jack-O-Bite and Mr. Yuck Sour Pumpkin Ale
Enough introduction, the time has come and gone. We have enjoyed, tasted and conquered all that is the Great Pumpkin Beer Fest. There were beers to remember, beers that didn’t live up to our expectations, glorious weather and hassles of space. The Good,The Not So Good and The Awesome of Elysian’s 6th Annual Great Pumpkin Beer Fest:
- The event takes place outside and today it was sunny and crisp out. Elysian was decorated with mounds of hay, pumpkins and corn stalks. If this doesn’t put you in a festive autumn mood, then there is something seriously wrong with you. SERIOUSLY.
- The taster glass is a 4 oz (glass) snifter with an evil pumpkin face. This creative glassware is coveted by beer fest goers all around Seattle.
- Beers from all over the country: California, Michigan, Delaware, Massachusetts, Washington and more!
- Silver City’s Punk Rauchen – a pumpkin rauchbier where instead of smoking the barley like a traditional German style rauchbier they smoked pumpkins for 6 hours over apple-wood. This beer tastes like sausage, as most rauchbiers do, but also has an earthy smoothness that I attribute to the pumpkins.
- Snipes Mountain Pumpkin Death Stout- first of all, I am really into Snipes Brewing Co. and think they produce only top-notch beers. This is no exception. I always get excited when I see pumpkin infused stouts because I love stouts and I am always curious to see if the brewer is able to bring the pumpkin flavors and spices to the forefront of a style that is already overwhelmed with roasted malt flavors. Pumpkins do not inherently have a lot of flavor and here, in the Pumpkin Death Stout it is minimal. The beer however is very enjoyable, smooth and creamy.
- Elysian Brewing Co.’s Jack-O-Bite– we were pleasantly surprised by this beer which is a pumpkin ale aged in Jack Daniels barrels. This beer had a bite and lived up to its name. It had warming qualities and the spices were reminiscent of a winter ale. Delicious.
The Not So Good
- Planning a huge event is no easy task. Debriefing is proactive and there is always room for improvement. We hope that the Great Pumpkin Beer Fest will someday celebrate its 25th Annual fest. The Great Pumpkin Fest has outgrown the parking lot of the brewery. Within 30 minutes of opening the flood gates, there was barely room to stand. Problem solver: expand to all three Elysian venues, although this might complicate the logistics, it would spread the crowd. Another option would be to expand to the park across the street or to some other space that is connected to the brewery.
- Long lines-Due to the large number of people, there were very long lines to get your beers. Although these lines moved rather quickly, the lines, no matter what station, were around 30 people deep. A lot of people I spoke to would just get a beer and get back on line for the next one on their list. Problem solver: Instead of having 1 person pouring 2-4 beers, have 2-3 people pouring at each station. People love to volunteer to pour at events- tap into these willing beer lovers.
- Confusion about what line led to what station. Due to the small space, lines crossed each other and merged into the masses. I found myself accidentally waiting on line for the wrong station on a couple of occasions. This would be alleviated by the two suggestions above.
- No food outside. Now, I understand that it would be too much to staff the outside area. Problem Solver: Instead of sending wait staff out to take and deliver orders, hire an outside vendor. Something simple will do, such as a sausage stand or roasted corn. People are there for the beer, not food necessarily. However, it would be nice to stay outside, enjoying the fest while getting something in your stomach, especially because the inside was packed full of people sitting and enjoying their meal.
Besides the Good and the few tiny Not So Goods, there are some AWESOMES! Please note: all of the awesomeness are beer related. I did not get to try all of the beers, as I am only human and not all of the beers were pouring during my visit.
- Elysian’s Great Pumpkin– If you recall earlier in this article when I discuss the average beer drinker’s expectations of pumpkin beers having an easily detected pumpkin flavor, well this is the beer that hits it out of the park. One sip and its as though you are drinking pumpkin juice. It isn’t very sweet, it is slightly bitter, thick in texture and pumpkin to the core. No wonder this festival is named after the beer (or vice versa).
- Iron Hill’s Bruce Camp Ale– their Imperial Pumpkin Ale aged in bourbon barrels was my introduction to this Pennsylvania brewery and man, am I impressed. Caramel in color with a bubble gum, sweet liquor scent. The thick mouth-feel creates a sensation as if there are sugar crystals are melting into your taste buds. As the flavor profile develops, the bourbon sweetness transitions into a slight funk. As the beer warms, the transition become smoother, just like a stiff bourbon drink.
- Russian River’s Pumpkin Sour– As I crossed the threshold into the pouring area, I quickly scanned the signs for Russian River. A quintessential Vinny sour with a citrus scent, it tasted like Temptation infused with spices. The sourness was bold and the spices complemented the citrus tartness.
- Jolly Pumpkin’s La Parcela– this sour beer aged in American oak with added coco was more earthy than tart (I generally expect more tartness from a sour ale. The smell was hypnotic with a combination of cinnamon and apples warming my soul. A smooth body with mellow flavors that begin to intensify as the sip develops. A harvest spice paired with earthy flavors followed by a subtle sweetness.
What a great day– one that will go down in infamy. There were unexpected breweries that produced exemplary beers, weather was on our side (for once) and the love of beer in the air was palpable.