Autumn is when brewers turn from easy-drinking summer session beers and pilsners to roasted malts and boozier beers. While I don’t hold fast to the rule of dark beers for dark months, this season heralds the return of many of my favourite styles.
First up is pumpkin beer. Few styles divide beer lovers so sharply. Those who love pumpkin beer see it as the herald of autumn. Those who don’t… well, who cares? They should simmer down and let the rest of us drink what we enjoy.
Pumpkin Paddler from Schoolhouse Brewery is named for the Windsor, N.S. tradition of paddling person-sized, hollowed out pumpkins across Lake Pisiquid, which runs behind the brewery. Rich amber malts and pumpkin pie spices (with a generous ginger addition) make this taste like a glass of pie without tipping over into the too-sweet zone. It has a creamy mouthfeel like a silky stout.
My favourite pumpkin beer is by far Breton Brewing’s Jack’d Up Pumpkin. Each batch features 45 kg of pumpkin purée. Last year, the brewery changed the recipe to favour the cinnamon more prominently, thanks in part to customer feedback. You’ll find cans at NSLCs across the province from late September until it’s gone, usually just before Halloween. If you order it at the brewery in Coxheath, N.S., taproom staff serve it in a glass rimmed with a pumpkin pie spice and sugar blend to drive home that pie flavour.
Like a lot of spiced beers, let your pumpkin ale warm up a little before you crack open the can the can, suggests Andrew Morrow, Breton’s co-brewer and co-owner. Take it out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter while you drink another beer or pour it in a glass and hold it in your hands for a few minutes before sipping. That way the spice and sweet pumpkin aroma float out of the glass enhancing your experience.
Also on tap this month is Tanner and Co.’s new Barrel-Aged Porter, its first barrel-aged brew. Brewer and co-owner Dan Tanner built the recipe to resemble one of his favourite wines, South African Pinotage. “It is like a great porter and a high end port all in one glass,” he says.
The beer starts with Tanner’s house porter recipe, which is aged in charred rum barrels from Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg, N.S. Raspberry purée, fresh blackberries, and blueberries finish it off. Expect flavours of vanilla, caramel, and a hint of smoke, plus sweet berries. Find it at the brewery in Chester, N.S. at least until the end of the month.
September saw the return of Boxing Rock Brewing’s Triple. The golden-hued Belgian ale weighs in at 9.2% which means you shouldn’t open a 750-ml bottle alone. This year, to please those of us without a partner in craft-beer crime, Boxing Rock released this hefty ale in 355-ml bottles so you can tipple without tripping. It’s sweet and smooth, with just a touch of alcohol heat on the finish. Find it at Local Source Market on Agricola Street.
Cooler months are a great time to stay home, and that means opportunities to break something out of your cellar. If you don’t have one yet, dark, high alcohol beers tend to age best, so fall is the perfect season to start. Visit halifaxmag.com for our primer on starting a beer cellar.
One I’ll break out soon is Unfiltered Brewing’s Commissar 2017, an oak-aged imperial stout. The Halifax brewery brews a new batch every two years. The 2019 version is oak-aged and rum-fortified, in short, the perfect way to christen your new cellar. The 2017 pours black as night with subtle cocoa and rum flavours, plus a finishing burn that spreads slowly through your throat to remind you who is in charge. Find it at the brewery and Bishop’s Cellar.
For those looking to start a cellar on a budget, try Orval Trappist Ale. A 330-ml bottle of this Belgian-made beauty runs $5 at Bishop’s. The beer’s Trappist-monk brewers makes only one commercially available beer. It’s extra dry, and dry-hopped during its second fermentation to craft an intense and funky palate pleaser that ages well.
Correction: A Big Spruce Brewing beer mentioned in the Oct. 2019 print edition was replaced this year with a beer in the same style. Read about that beer in our Oktoberfest blog post. Halifax Magazine regrets the mistake.