If I said that most pumpkin ales don’t contain pumpkin, you’d say I was nuts. On the other hand, if I served you a piece of pumpkin pie without any sugar and spice, you’d also say I was nuts: That’s because, all things being equal, pumpkin is a colorful but tasteless gourd that, should it come to the Halloween party, won’t bring much unless its dressed up in a clove cloak and a cinnamon façade
So I won’t go there.
Instead, I’ll go to Plato Beer Company over on Nine Mile and discuss this odd seasonal sup with Tom Costello, a YouTube-able stand-up comic who opened a Ferndale beer shop as an extension of the ‘Tenny Street Boyz Club’.
According to the dreggy drecks of his dramatic diary, Tom and his buddies used to get together for weekly garage ‘beer exchanges’, wherein he’d bring brews he’d collected during cross-country yuk-club tours and flip them for some local stuff. So, I flipped him some dough for some pumpkin beers—the critique follows.
Speaking of ‘Nuts!’: Bastone
Here’s a cool Bastogne reference, for which, if get without Google, you get a free bag of pumpkin gook.
If not, here it is in a nutshell: In December, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge in the town of Bastogne, Belgium, General McAuliffe received a German surrender ultimatum and his first understanding was that the Germans wanted to surrender to us. Apparently, it was the other way around, and when McAuliffe worked this out, he sent his official response:
‘Us surrender? Aw, nuts!’
The best part of the story was that Nazi command, without knowledge of American vernacular, thought at first that we had surrendered.
Rockne Horror Pitcher Show
So, what that vignette has to do with pumpkin ale involves a cool little Royal Oak brewery called Bastone. Although the menu contains traditional Flemish recipes and the brewer—Rockne Van Meter—is of Flemish background, the owners may have figured that dropping the ‘g’ in Bastogne simply made the place easier to pronounce. Or maybe not—nobody has ever told me either way.
In a recent interview, Van Meter—who more Flint than Flanders—offered me a sampling of his both his brew and his brewing philosophy. And his it is—he was not trained by anyone but himself, in his basement. His transition from home brewer to pro began after he (like many of us) fell in love with Kalamazoo’s Bell’s Brewery and realized that people will not only buy—but actually queue up for quality beer.
“I made it my business to know my business,” he says.
Having learned to command various beer styles one by one, Van Meter’s primary goal has been to mimic styles identical to the prototype, believing that beer which is ‘not correct’ is something the world needs less of. He also insists on ‘packing as much flavor as possible into a snifter’—his preferred beer stemware.
Van Meter’s pumpkin porter is deliciously wicked with all those nice spicy pie notes: Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and hemlock.
A dude who loves to cook (he would have pursued a career as a chef, but brewer hours are better and likely, more fun), thinks of beer as food, and as a result, his stouts show chocolate and his ales citrus. As such, he ‘s distanced himself from being overly concerned with alcohol content of his brews, claiming to personally sort of dislike it as a component of the stuff:
“Alcohol keeps me from having more beer, so I’m not crazy about it” he explains, then laughs, “See that; since I started I’ve come full circle.
The Lotus Blooms But Twice—In This Column Anyway
In March of this year, I covered a Clawson microbrewery called Black Lotus owned by brothers-in-law Mark Harper and Michael Allan, raving about the Oatmeal Stout, mostly because I’d been looking for a beer I could drink for breakfast without shame. As you can imagine, I am really looking forward to the release of their Bacon and Eggs With Toast and Orange Juice Amber Ale.
Opened in 2006, Black Lotus loudly banners their motto: ‘Think Global, Drink Local’. I don’t know who thunk that one up, but I like it—the more so when I found out that not only do they walk the walk, they drink the drink, using as many Michigan products as they can find.
Beer, ale, stout, porter and lager—and all styles in between—are handmade by Mark, while Michael is the front-of-the-house guy. Good think that Michael is articulate and informative, because scoring an interview with Mark is tougher than getting a Papal audience: Between his brewing and his Detroit band (Listen Local) Zap Toro, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
But that’s okay; I’m sure Mark would prefer that his brews speak for themselves, and they do. I could go on about Detroit Hip Hops, Funkin A Apricot and Red Tao Amber, but since this is a column on pumpkin ale, I’ll stick to that:
Monster Mash (as bad and clever a pun as I’ve ever come up with) is aromatic, lightly sour and dusted with the usual spices mentioned above, so I won’t repeat them. Though you can add a touch of brown sugar to the flavor profile.
And so, Grasshopper, the lotus blooms but twice and the ale contains no gourd, but there is really no need to dwell upon it. Although remember: After a couple of them, snatching this pebble from my hand is gonna be a real bitch.
And anyway, there’s no rabbit, welsh or otherwise, in Welsh Rabbit, egg cream is not made with eggs or cream and Grape-nuts contains neither grapes nor General McAuliffe-approved nuts.
P.S.: If you get the cool ‘Ichabody’ reference in this column’s title without Google, you get a free bag of pumpkin skin.
(Since most pumpkin ales taste pretty much the same, instead of belaboring the patience of the reader by repeating the same five spices six times, I’ll simply list a half dozen of the best ones out there along with an approximate single-bottle price.)
- Jaw-Jacker Ale (Arcadia Brewing, Battle Creek, MI), about $2
- Jolly Pumpkin (Jolly Pumpkin Brewing Co., Dexter MI), around $2
- Hooligan Hoppy Pumpkin Ale (North Peak, Traverse City, MI), around $2.30
- Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale (Tommyknocker Brewery, Idaho Springs, CO), about $2.50
- Pumpkinhead (Shipyard Brewing Co., Portland, ME), about $2
- Ace Hard Pumpkin Cider (California Cider Company, Sonoma, CA), around $2