Grand River “Highballer” Pumpkin Ale is 5.2% ABV.
I poured some of a 500 ml bottle into a Belgian-ale glass.
Appearance: A hard pour bubbled up a finger or so of off-white and thin foam. This didn’t last long, but did manage to just barely cover the surface of the beer after about 5 minutes. The color is an iced tea orange/amber that has a a moderate haze to it. It also looks to have moderate carbonation.
Smell: At first I notice soft vegetal pumpkin, as well as some restrained and delicate spicing with a touch of brown sugar. The more I smell this, the more the spices come out: cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger are what I get. There is also a great soft malt presence to the aroma, and a layer of sweet vanilla. This smells savory, and I have to say, quite a bit like pumpkin pie. Great aroma.
Taste: This has tame vegetal pumpkin, and a restrained spice profile: cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. It also has a delicate and sweet layer of vanilla, as well as some velvety malt to it. The slightly toasty malt flavors in this are really nice. This is the most delicately flavored pumpkin ale I’ve ever had. And the pumpkin is not lost. This finishes to bring in a little bit more delicate and citrusy hop on the end. The aftertaste has a little bit of citrus from some hops, and some spicing. Really nice flavors. Great marks here.
Feel: This is light bodied, with moderate carbonation. The feel is very smooth, and light and enjoyable on the palate. It manages to have some really nice flavors, still be pretty light. The spices add a little texture, and the hops a little citrus. But overall, this is very smooth.
Drinkability: This might be the most easy-drinking pumpkin ale I’ve had. The flavors are pronounced but on the light side. This beer is also well-done and not so light that it gains points in drinkability trivially. Great marks here.
Overall: This is the first Canadian pumpkin beer on the blog! And it is a nice pumpkin ale. If you want something light, but still with nice flavor, this is exactly what you want. Well, it’s what I’d want. It is still in the pumpkin pie style of pumpkin ales, but doesn’t assault you. In fact, part of what is so impressive about this is that you get some wonderful subtlety in flavors that are put forth in such a delicate way. You get a light body, and still good solid flavor. The pumpkin, slight toasty malt, tender spices, and soft sweetness of brown sugar and vanilla make this well-rounded beer quite a success. The malt presence is just so nice. Many of the lighter pumpkin ales are artificial with spice, or just have no pumpkin flavor. This is the anomaly, folks. If you see it, try it for yourself. It is quite nice.
Overall Rating: ***1/2
About Grand River and the “Highballer”: Grand River Brewing is located in Cambridge, Ontario, and runs out of an early 1900’s red brick building that used to function as a knife factory. The Galt Knife Company, for which Grand River’s pre-prohibition-style “Galt Knife Old Style Lager” is named after, featured many large windows and great high ceilings. Though not without substantial renovation, this space has enabled Grand River to easily showcase their fermentation room to folks passing by. Their plan was to use this historic site for local beer drinkers to call their own. Grand River is fairly new to the scene there, having started in 2007. Since then they have brewed a couple dozen different beers, doing both year-rounds and seasonals. For their beer lineup, Grand River has put an emphasis on developing “full-flavored beers” that are less than 5% ABV. They certainly succeeded with this for their Highballer Pumpkin.
The Highballer pumpkin ale is brewed with real pumpkins, vanilla, and a spice bill of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. Grand River notes that the grain bill is a pale ale malt base that is accented by amarillo and liberty hops. This delicately flavored beer is fairly simple in terms of ingredients; but it is so carefully crafted, even to the details of the local pumpkin, which owner Bob Hannenberg grows in his garden. I spoke over the phone some with the people at Grand River Brewing. Bob and the other folks up there were so helpful and generous. I’d definitely make the 90 minute drive if I found myself in the Buffalo area with some free time. I’m particularly interested in trying their “Russian Gun” Imperial Stout. Grand River is another great brewery with fun history.