A confession at the start: I had already made up my mind not to like Deep Ellum Brewing's new beer, GOURDzilla (capitalization as per the brewery), before trying it. It's no secret that the seasonal pumpkin fervor that inflames everyone else this time of year does so without me. Not that pumpkins and the related spice flavors disgust me, the taste is just not my preference in a craft beer.
The GOURDzilla is also the first truly original beer created and brewed by Deep Ellum's new team, head brewer Jeremy Hunt and his assistant brewer David Hauptman. Replacing the original brewer Drew Heurter earlier this year, it is only brewing justice that their first attempt should land flat.
Besides, Deep Ellum recently found themselves in the critical crosshairs of an Austin blogger who kicked up an inflammatory media kerfuffle over a mildly blue marketing slogan that had far more life and attention than it ever merited -- no need to rehash all that here. It seemed only right at this time to jump on the critical bandwagon (just kidding, guys), especially as the cartoonish monster mash-up of a mascot made its rounds around Dallas bars.
GOURDzilla's initial release at Craft and Growler last Wednesday was packed with local craft beer fans, blowing through nine full kegs in a little over the first 24 hours. Surely the draw must be more flash and hype than quality, I thought, the Deep Ellum faithful mixed with the morbidly curious. So with a sense of resignation and public obligation, I sought out a pint of this new, strange concept of a beer.
I liked it.
True to DEBC form, this is a beer that trashes preconceived stylistic guidelines for craft beer. To categorize it simply as a "pumpkin ale" would be not only incomplete but incorrect, as it has a lot going on inside the glass. The aforementioned gourd is combined with sweet potatoes that have been smoked over pecan wood instead of smoking the malt, so technically it is difficult to classify as a "smoked beer" either, traditional or not.
I had a second pint.
The cloudy amber GOURDzilla does not have much in the way of aromatics with only dry caramel malt and hints of spice on the nose. The taste is softly malted and slightly sweet with gentle flavors of pumpkin and potatoes detectable but nothing too strong. Low levels of traditional spices such as allspice and nutmeg come through, and maple syrup can be picked up once you read it as an ingredient. A trace of yeasty lemon citrus accompanies just bare hints of smoke on the back end, not building through the glass as you might expect had the malt been smoked. This is a very well balanced beer for this circus of ingredients.
Unlike other pumpkin beers, one should not think of pumpkin pie while drinking this 7.5% ABV spiced "English strong ale," for lack of a better style name. Instead, it captures the Thanksgiving sweet potato dish of marshmallows and brown sugar almost perfectly and, of course, would pair well with anything served at the traditional holiday feast. Not sure I'd recommend it for aging, at least not for too long lest the subtle flavors fade entirely. Three and a half stars.
Availability: Taps are appearing at select beer bars and locations around Dallas, and 22-oz bottles should be showing up shortly, if not already.