With winter over and summer drawing nearer, I begin to look at the Pipes Brewery again. They have an open brewery tap day on the first Saturday of the month, and their yard is the perfect suntrap. It’s still a tad chilly right now, so I picked up a few bottles to take home until Mr Sun gets his act together. From their range of six or so beers, I grabbed the Baltic Coffee Porter, the California Pale and the Spiced Punk’n Ale.
Pumpkin beer is an American curiosity I’ve only had a couple of times; in fact, I only recall drinking British takes on this uniquely American style, and the most memorable was Beavertown’s Stingy Jack. That was a full-on Christmas riot, with the whole host of reindeer throwing nuclear spice warheads on the unwary palate. It may sound like excessive hyperbole but I was still tasting Stingy Jack late into the next day. Those spices practically marinade your tongue. So, for better or worse, Stingy Jack is the limited benchmark against which Spiced Punk’n Ale (4.9% abv) is silently judged.
It pours with a hazy amber glow and a modest head of tan foam. There’s little carbonation – in the early stage it’s not a problem, but later down the line the beer suffers from this flatness. It feels as if the subtle spices would have been better delivered riding in on the back of just a few more CO2 bubbles.
Well, I’ve jumped the gun now, haven’t I? Yes, Spiced Punk’n Ale is a far more subtle beast to any of its other cousins, with a rich, sweet and nutty body acting as the base for a very gentle sprinkling of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. A fleshy sort of fruitiness is there in the background; I assume this is the pumpkin but it’s not a vegetable I eat often enough to be certain.
Earlier I referenced Christmas. Pumpkin beers have a more autumnal, harvest time image, but the thick lacing of spices they usually come with (the ones I’ve tried, anyway), puts them firmly in the Christmas market in my mind. That’s no bad thing, I prefer pumpkin beers at Christmas to conventional ‘Christmas’ beers – brewers have a habit of loading both with spices but the presence of pumpkin seems better able to support netmeg and clove than your regular best bitter.
For that reason though, drinking Spiced Punk’n Ale in February seemed odd on a personal level. Either way, a nice introduction to the world of pumpkin beers (better to start off with Pipes’ offering before diving into Beavertown’s) that could just use a little more carbonation and maybe a spoonful more spice.
Pipes also had California Pale (5% abv), which I mistakenly assumed was a rebrand of their American IPA. I was happy to have been proved wrong, wronger, wrongest. The American IPA was a nice beer but looks like a prototype compared to the California Pale.
It has a dark amber body with a thick, voluminous head of tan foam and kicks out classic, north American aromas of pine, resin, pineapple and mango. The body is initially thick and chewy but levels out in time, becoming light enough to be refreshing rather than cloying. The sweet, syrupy foretaste of caramel and brown sugar is quickly met by a burst of pine and hops, followed by a balanced, almost-vanilla like cooldown of flavour.
It’s quenching, juicy and brilliant. An excellent homage to the finest IPAs coming from California and Colorado; without the excessive import price hike, I’d recommend grabbing a crate of these ahead of the summer.
Lastly, despite my misgivings the last time round, I decided to give the Baltic Espresso Porter another shot. It’s improved by a country mile since the last time I had it, with the coffee nicely balanced this time round.