September 23, 2019
It’s one of the flavours of fall: fresh-off-the-vine, sun-ripened pumpkin, baked into pies, stirred into soups, added to lattes and yes, even brewed into beer. While some of you out there may think pumpkin beer is a Starbucks rip-off, the truth is, pumpkin beer has been around even longer than the Seattle coffee chain.
“We were one of the pioneers in Canada, in terms of brewing pumpkin beer,” explains David Brophy, Brewmaster at McAuslan Brewing. “We did it for the first time in 1999, but the first pumpkin ales were made in the U.S in the 1980’s. This is actually a lost beer, so to speak. It had originally been made in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s but it was forgotten about for a long time, until a gentleman named Bill Owens started to experiment with it.”
Owens, who founded one of California (and America's) earliest brewpubs, Buffalo Bill’s, is credited with resurrecting this ancient recipe, and it was after a meeting with him at a craft brewing event that the McAuslan team decided to try a version of this for themselves for the Canadian market.
Brophy wants to point out that while the flavour of a pumpkin spice latte is anything but subtle, the way McAuslan is brewing its St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale, is far more delicate. Though you’ll notice hints of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves in the beer, it’s not overwhelming.
“We’ve never been one to hit people over the head with strong, unbalanced flavours. We want you to enjoy a light pumpkin taste with some hints of spice, but not to say, ‘wow, this is too strong’. We aim for a nice balance.”
So great is the demand, particularly from Alberta and B.C., that brewing of St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale begins in late July. (St-Ambroise is the street McAuslan brewery sits on in Montreal) The brewery sources pure pumpkin and organic spices, which are added before fermentation. The spice blend sits in the beer for about an hour, but that’s enough to impart just the right level of flavour and aromatics.
Brophy has spent about three decades in the brewing business. He says he’s seen a lot change when it comes to consumer preferences, and people are becoming more adventurous when it comes to their beer. At the same time, customers have access to amazing beers from all over the world, so their standards are very high.
“From us they get a quality product, and consistently made,” says Brophy. “I want people to get something they’ll enjoy and find interesting. I think for millennials and younger people they're always looking for those new flavours and new tastes and that’s why I think our Pumpkin Ale is really popular right now.”
Find St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale at Calgary-are Co-op Wine Spirits Beer stores throughout the fall season.
St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale tasting notes:
Expect a magical potion that casts a potent spell with its well-crafted blend of blonde and caramelized malts, gentle hop, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and pumpkin. Its delicate malty character and hint of sweetness will quench any creature looking for easy-drinking refreshment.
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