BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse Pumpkin Ale

bjpumpkin.jpg
Zach Fowle

Beer: Pumpkin Ale
Brewery: BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse - Chandler
Style: Pumpkin beer
ABV: 4.7 percent

This week's player in the Month of Pumpkin Beers is a real winner. Pumpkin Ale (no doubt buoyed by its super-creative name) took home hardware at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, held just a few weeks ago. The brew won in the "Field Beer or Pumpkin Beer" category, beating out 35 other entries for second place, and brewers are happy for the win.

"We feel lucky," says Derek Osborne, Director of Brewery R&D for BJ's. "It's a subjective category -- no one's really decided what a pumpkin ale has to taste like. We're just glad the judges liked what they tasted that day."

Made with pumpkin puree, BJ's Pumpkin Ale is orange like a ... like a ... hmm. Can't think of anything orange at the moment. Anyway, it's got perfect clarity. Half a finger of airy, khaki-colored head fizzles away after just a few seconds, and the bubbles rising from below can do nothing to keep it around.

Subtle, sweet, smooth aroma. An amber ale base gives this beer sweet, malty notes of baked bread with a bit of nuttiness. Roast pumpkin is nearly as strong as the backup spices: nutmeg, clove, allspice.

The usual spice suspects -- cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice -- made their way into the boil for this brew alongside pumpkin puree. The resulting initial flavor, however, is all fresh pumpkin, with just hints of clove and lightly toasted bread. The swallow brings a bright burst of pumpkin rind, brown sugar and cinnamon, with lingering spice esters. It also delivers a sharp, tangy flavor that grips the tongue through the finish and is a little distracting. Osborne says brewers add clove and caraway to increase the savory aspects of the beer and avoid a cider quality, but it seems they haven't completely eradicated it. The finish would be clean otherwise. The brew's medium body is like fleece -- soft but not heavy, and perfectly viscous.

Judges at the Great American Beer Festival are fond of beers that stick to fundamentals. For pumpkin ales, what's required is that the adjunct fruit and spices don't overpower the underlying beer. It's easy to see why Pumpkin Ale won -- the drinkable brew shines through and balances the pumpkin and spice, and in that regard it's stylistically sound.

Pumpkin! Orange like a pumpkin! Knew I'd think of something eventually.

Food pairing suggestions:
This beer's lightness and snappy flavors make it a great pair for spinach and pumpkin salad. The crisp leaves provide contrast to the beer's texture while the pumpkin or squash mimics its flavors. The beer's tang can even find a mate in the salad's red wine vinegar dressing.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone.

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