By the third week of October, I had enough of pumpkin beers. I was tasting quite a bunch for the tasting that I had done at The Only Cafe. So many of them seemed the same. There were a few bright lights and I was going to share them on the blog but never got around to it. Then last week, my interest was recharged when I found that Chatoe Rogue's Pumpkin Patch Ale was released late to the LCBO. Now, I have been roused from my pumpkin stupor enough to share what I learned about pumpkin beer pairings over the last month.
Every year it is the same thing. I receive too many feeds from the States giving me pumpkin recipes that are too late to use. They are past their best use for Canada. So, to teach those myriad of 'Mericans a lesson, I am publishing my advice after THEIR Thanksgiving so they can see how it feels. So there.
Like I said, neither opening is particularly strong. I have learned some tricks and made some observations regarding pairing pumpkin beers and I will share that with you now. Beerology.ca has some great resources that largely boils down to if it feels good then do it. Much like wine, there are some helpful guidelines out there.
Look at some traditional pairing charts. Weissebier goes well with seafood, porters and stouts go good with dessert and chocolate. That gives you a start. Adding pumpkin gives another challenge but we will get there.
Take a look at the national cuisines where the beer comes from... Belgians have a whole culinary tradition based on cooking with beer. German styles go well with German food palate - altbier with mustards, sausages and sour cabbage. Think about where your dish comes from and see if you can think of a beer from that culture or country.
Now sometimes flavour profiles transcend or inspire a particular eater. I think that Indian cooking and their meat and carb heavy meals with reliance on sauces seem to mirror the traditional American Italian style of cooking. So, I would pair an IPA with a penne arrabiata.
The thing is the pumpkin. Pumpkin beers come in a variety of guises as can be evidenced by some local bloggers Hops and Malt tasting notes. I would characterize the pumpkin beer flavours as roasted, spiced, vegetal or raw pumpkin. Now when you mix these profiles with different styles, you get some great beers that were available this year such as Beau's Weiss O'Lantern, Black Creek Pumpkin Ale, and Great Lakes Brewing Saison du Pump. Most of the pumpkin ales use an amber ale base and so it is important to match the spicing rather than the style when the beer is labelled as an ale with no further designation.
So, if you have a roasted characteristic that is present but not forward such as St. Ambroise's pumpkin ale then you can pair it with an earthy dish that will make the pumpkin jump out. It will also showcase the delicate hand that they have on the spicing. I usually use buckwheat with this beer for that reason.
Let's take the Weisse mentioned above. Weisse goes with fish and seafood. Pumpkin goes with coconut. So, a coconut shrimp soup or chowder would go well. Sometimes, the flavour pairing is the hardest part. If you think of both the beer and the food as one dish, then it helps to figure out what has to be added or taken away from the food to balance or accent the flavours that you want.
The first rule is to taste it. If it is good to you then it is probably good. I hope this blog post has given you a few rules of thumb to take away those first butterflies and allow you to take a leap to try to pair a whole Thanksgiving meal. Seafood appetizer with Weissbier, main meal with a St Ambroise or a saison and pumpkin pie with a chocolate stout. Why not? You can always put the beer away until after the meal if a particular match doesn't work.