A couple of nights ago was Halloween. I know this because Facebook inundated me with pics of scantily clad girls and boys with bullet holes apparently gushing blood out their foreheads. I confess I don’t think I would have known, if not for this ‘tell-tal’e sign, because the holy-land doesn’t tend to make much of a to-do out of it thankfully. I say ‘thankfully’ because I loath this holiday and always have. Scary outfits and candle lit pumpkins…I mean, whats the point? Avoid all related festivities like the plague is my motto. Give me a Guy Fawkes night, the Xmas market or even Hannukah, where the festivities involve outdoor affairs forcing you to happily huddle together to keep warm and nurse a good ale.
So you can imagine my delight when I remembered that the Galil Brewery brewed a pumpkin ale. The only brewery in Israel to do so in fact. Perhaps finally Halloween wouldn’t be all gloom and misery, after all, isn’t moral of the above that everything looks all round brighter with an ale in hand? Undoubtedly, so I tottered off to one of the very few places you can get your hands on it, The Beer Market, to secure myself a bottle.
Once home again and all set to take notes to judge this brew when it hits me like heavy pumpkin has been dropped on my head (before some child took a knife to it to carve out the facial essentials); I had no idea what a pumpkin ale should even taste like! Assuming that any decent reviewer should be basing his or her thoughts on some sort of comparison to other beers in the same class or a pre- agreed definition by other wiser men/women, then I was completely out in the cold. What I am saying is, that I badly needed educating myself. Where better to turn than Galil Brewery’s master brewer himself, Mr Alon Riftin, for some tasting pointers.
“Most important to remember when drinking a Pumpkin Ale, is not to be mistaken, this is foremost a beer before anything else. Following this you can clearly define the other taste characteristics such as Cinnamon and Caramel Pumpkin.”
So there you have it, don’t get carried away and forget its a beer – ok. Noted. But I was also interested in how he made it, because obligatory research had let me to believe that a great deal of pumpkin ales were actually taking shortcuts with flavouring rather than using the real deal. But Alon assures me that his ale is absolutely the real thing. “We use fresh pumpkin. Cut it and bake in the oven.
While baking the juices run from the pumpkin and caremalise up. We use this caramel and the pumpkin pieces and add it to the mashing process.”
Really getting into the research swing by this point, I further read that a good Pumpkin ale could be defined more by a ‘Pumpkin Pie’ resemblance on the taste buds than simply roasted pumpkin. Alon seemed to confirm this when telling me to look out for the background scale flavours of Ginger, nutmeg and allspice.
With all the preliminary research and notes from the main man himself now all stored away somewhere in my own pumpkin head, it was time to put my study into practice.
Dark copper with light orange tint in the light – as expected, silky medium head, low noticeable carbonation
Aroma wise I got some sweet hoppyness, a pleasing start. I also got that familiar light caramelised malt nose, but it was a bit different than usual. I am not sure how to explain it, but it is as if it goes only halfway up your nose and you register the familiarity, but then it seems to stop and give way to a flat mild nutty spice. This is hardly noticeable actually and it took me a while to place it, so take your time and enjoy small sniffs.
Firstly, the mouth-feel (as us snobby experts like to call it) has a medium metallic quality. If you don’t know what that is – you will when you try this beer and repeat these words over in your head “Medium Mouth Metallic Mash”. The taste actually follows the same pattern as the aroma, first sweet, then a little bitter and again the risk of it stopping short unless you pay attention and sip patiently. Then you can get the slight cinnamon and nutty spices. Exhale, and those spices become more prominent as an after taste. Its really quite complex and delightful.
Pumpkin Ales are quite new as a brewing style and I wondered if the Israeli public, whom I see as still in the early days of a grass routes beer revolution, would be ‘ready’ to appreciate this brew? After all, My experience is as written above, is that all the defining flavours of this style are all very subtle and you can miss them unless you tune in your tongue to high alert. I could easy have downed half of this glass, enjoyed a good sweet and bitter balanced ale and missed the other flavours completely.
But Alon points out, that the recent exposure Israeli’s are being treated to of hoppy ales is compatible, and in that case seems to be going down a treat so far. “Not everyone is ready for it, but we are beginning to see a changing trend” – I hope so, but in the meantime joining me in wishing Galil Brewery congratulations in taking the plunge…long may it continue!
Galil Brewery produces at least 5 more types of beers one of which beerisrael.com has already reviewed the ‘Saison’. Good as they have been so far, I’m still looking forward to taking the long trip up and ordering it straight from the tap in their cosey gastro-pub surrounded by breathtaking scenery. I wont be worrying about the drive home, Kibutz Moran even has some charming B&B’s for me to sleep it off in.