A few years ago, I wrote a story for Isthmus about pumpkin-based beer. In my careful research (a.k.a. tasting), I discovered my own fondness for these brews. All it takes is a whiff of the spices to take me back to my Aunt Mamie's pumpkin pie that was the centerpiece of our family gatherings. Having grown much older, I've learned the art of sitting back and sipping my pumpkin pie, thanks to Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale from Stevens Point Brewery.
What is it? Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale by Stevens Point Brewery of Stevens Point, Wis.
Style: Pumpkin beers are quite varied in flavor and in how they are made. Most of them commonly begin as ales, which are top-fermented beers. The World Beer Cup places them within a sub-category of vegetable and fruit beers. Recipes for these brews may call for some of the same spices found in pumpkin pie, such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and allspice that reflect a sweet and/or spicy flavor profile.
Background: Stevens Point Brewery's Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale was introduced for the first time last fall. It is made with Munich, caramel, and roasted malts, along with a pumpkin puree, which is added to the mash at the beginning of the brewing process. Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger are added at three different points during the preparation. The Madison area received about 50 cases of the seasonal brew this year, so it's expected to be around through Halloween and Thanksgiving. The brewery says its pumpkin ale was so popular in 2009 that it brewed nearly three times more this time around.
Stevens Point Brewery added 2,700 square feet to its brewery over the summer, allowing expansion of its kegging and refrigeration areas. It also installed three new 200-barrel fermentation tanks. The addition will allow the brewery to increase production by 20%. Spokesperson Julie Birrenkott says that means more styles, including more attention to the Whole Hog line of sbeers.
The series sees the brewers at Point going all out, or "whole hog," on a recipe. These limited-release beers appear in four packs that sell for around $10. Next up in the series is a barleywine, scheduled for release in late autumn.
- Aroma: Very assertive spices of clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.
- Appearance: Clear, deep copper with a medium bubbly tan head.
- Texture: Medium, soft, round.
- Taste: The nutmeg and cinnamon are up front with a big malty background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The spiciness comes back for a warm and sweet ending.
Glassware: The tulip glass will focus this beer's nose and encourage sipping. Drink this beer slowly to allow warming, thereby bringing out the softer, sweeter tones.
Pairs well with: You may want to enjoy the Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale as a pre-dinner appetizer because of its distinctive flavors. It will go well with stews and standard vegetable soups.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale from Stevens Point Brewery has assertive notes of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon that give it a distinguished aromatic character. The aroma of pumpkin pie is enticing and actually blends with the hops for some unique spiciness. Despite that, the beer remains mostly sweet. It has some strength at 7.5% ABV, which comes out with some warmth amid the spices in the finish. Pumpkin beers require more finesse than merely grinding gourds for your glass, and Point has found a nice spicy balance with this ale.