Urban Chestnut “Count Orlok” Black Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Urban Chestnut “Count Orlok” Black Pumpkin Ale is 5.4% ABV.

I poured some of a 500 ml bottle into a porter glass.

Appearance: A steady pour gave me a finger of tan head, which left after about 2 minutes, leaving just a bold ring around the sides of the glass at the surface of the beer. The color is a very dark and murky reddish brown. This looks to have moderate to heavy carbonation.

Smell: I get some dark and roasty malt, some definite wheat, and some fruit of delicate banana and vegetal pumpkin. This definitely has a (dark and) wheat-beer nose to it, which is really interesting alongside the fruit aromas. This also has some dark spicing of what seems like clove and allspice. The aroma with this beer is really interesting, and seems to slip away from me just as I try to describe it. Is this Count Orlok evading me?

Taste: Up front I get a really interesting and complex flavor profile. This has some soft wheat, real vegetal pumpkin, sweet banana, and some dark spicing of (I think) clove and allspice, perhaps with some nutmeg too. There are also some nice juicy dark fruit notes that are strong at times. These dark fruit flavors bring some sweet and a touch of tart to the flavor profile. I’d compare these “notes” to plum and mild dark cherry. This delicious and complex beer finishes with the dark fruit and wheat, letting the banana fade, and leaving a mild earthy and dark fruit aftertaste.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate carbonation. The feel is mostly very smooth, though not boring. The fruit notes and the dark spicing add some depth and movement. This has a great feel.

Drinkability: This beer is pretty complex, especially for something in the 5-6% ABV range. So it is not something that I would want to drink fast. It is not a hot-afternoon-mowing-the-grass beer. It is also not a bold high gravity beer. It does drink very well, however. Some of the tart from the dark fruit does hang a little bit on my palate.

Overall: This has a really nice, rich, and complex flavor profile. It is interesting. The flavors are dynamic, and the feel is great. I love the dark spicing and fruit, the wheat and banana, and the vegetal pumpkin. The sweetness in this is also just perfect: restrained, there when you need it, and in the background when the soloist is doing her thing. (Who is the soloist here?) The more I drink this, the more the banana and pumpkin come out. There is that bit of sourness that hangs on here and there; but this is nothing, really. I do wish that the pumpkin flavors were a little stronger, to kind of hold some of the other flavors together more. The pumpkin that is there is quite nice, though. This beer reminds me quite a bit of O’Connor’s Punkleweisse: their Pumpkin Dunkelweisse that came out last year (which I hope to review in a week or so). Heck, maybe I’ll do a side by side comparison of these two sometime in the next week or so! In any case, this Count Orlok has great complex flavors, has just wonderful balance, and is a really good beer for the upcoming fall and pumpkin seasons.

Overall Rating: ***1/2

DSC03408About Urban Chestnut and Count Orlok: David Wolfe, co-founder and marketing mastermind, and Florian Kuplent, co-founder and brewmaster, met while working at one of the big companies beer folk sometimes don’t mention. Having worked on projects for particular beer lines, and for a yeast culture-plant, they ventured off about two and a half years ago to form Urban Chestnut in St. Louis. They wanted Urban Chestnut to make both new styles with unusual ingredients or with traditional ingredients implemented in unusual ways, as well as traditional German, English, Belgian and other European styles. They describe this as a “new world meets old world” brewing philosophy, that they put into action with their two separate beer lines: their Revolution Series, and their Reverent Series. Their Revolution Series does the new styles or the new takes on traditional methods and ingredients, while their Reverent series pays homage to many of the classic styles. Within their Reverent Series is their most popular beer: Zwickel, an unfiltered Helles-style lager.

Currently, Urban Chestnut is at capacity, producing about 7,000 barrels of beer a year from their 20 barrel brewhouse. Their brewhouse has a fantastic adjoined beer garden that, in the style of a German beer garden replete with benches imported from Europe, can seat 400 happy beer drinkers. They are looking to soon expand to a second brewery location in St. Louis, giving them a 60 barrel brewhouse, though with a more industrial feel for the patrons in the tap room. I spoke with Florian about their great beer garden, and he noted that soon Urban Chestnut will use this beer garden to play Nosferatu on a big screen for their tap release of Count Orlok.

For the brewing of Count Orlock, they use Oregon-grown Golden Delicious pumpkins, making up what amounts to 5% of the “grain” bill. They boil the pumpkin in the kettle, add some spices towards the end of the boil, and tweak the beer a bit at the end with some dry spicing. I asked Florian what motivated them to make a pumpkin ale. He explained that many people had been asking them to come up with a pumpkin offering. So he drew from his experiences growing up east of Munich, and his experiences brewing beer both in Germany and in the U.S. to come up with a beer to join their Revolution series. Count Orlok  is a black wheat pumpkin beer, fermented with Bavarian wheat beer yeast. It is named after the fictional (we hope) character from the 1922 film, Nosferatu. Orlok is a vampire from Transylvania. I really wish I could be in St. Louis for the tap release of this beer as they show Nosferatu. So creepy. Incredible beer, though!

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