Cambridge “The Great Pumpkin Ale” Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Cambridge “The Great Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale is 4.4% ABV.

I poured some of a 22 oz bottle into a “craft beer glass”.

Appearance: I poured this one with some vigor, which tossed up half a finger of thin and bright off-white foam that later dwindled to an opaque cloud atop the beer. This has a beautiful golden yellow color with great clarity. It looks like it has heavy carbonation.

Smell: This smells of some faint vegetal pumpkin, strong banana, and a mellow spice combo that is hard to discern the components of. Maybe cinnamon and nutmeg. The flavors smell really soft. There are some more bright notes of vegetal pumpkin poking through in places, along with some mild citrusy hops, bready malt, vanilla, and tame caramel sweetness. Pretty mild aroma overall, but interesting and pleasant.

Taste: I get some bready malt to start, along with some vegetal squash and slight astringency which is more noticeable on the back end. This has some very smooth malt, along with some mild sweetness like from some starchy fruit. I get a little banana in this, but much less than the aroma suggested. There is also some mild vanilla, which is nice alongside the light bright hops that come through more towards the end. The flavors are also accompanied by some faint and fine white-pepper-like bitterness. This finishes with a lot more astringency and sour notes from the pumpkin, allowing some of these sour notes and very fine-grained bitterness into the aftertaste. Nice refreshing taste.

Feel: This is light to medium bodied, with moderate carbonation. It has a fairly creamy and smooth feel up front, which is then broken up a bit by the slight bitterness and the bright and somewhat sour pumpkin we all know and love. Some of these astringent tones do continue far into the aftertaste. Overall an enjoyable feel.

Drinkability: This is low in ABV, and has a pretty smooth body. This is overall refreshing, though the sometimes strong astringency of it detracts some for drinkability. Otherwise, this does just very well here.

Overall: I think this is certainly a tasty beer. It has a great malt presence, which is subtle and allows for an overall refreshing beverage. The pumpkin in this is of course noticeable, though it isn’t as pronounced as I’d like it to be. The flavors are good for something 4.4%. So overall, it is quite sessionable and crisp. It is a must try for folks who want a sessionable pumpkin ale that actually has pumpkin flavor!

Overall Rating: ***

image (32)About Cambridge and “The Great Pumpkin Ale”: Phil Bannatyne, owner, started Cambridge brewing in 1989 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Phil had been a home-brewer in Northern California, and decided to take some brewing classes at UC Davis. Watching the beginning of the craft beer movement in the U.S., Phil then set out to Cambridge to open his brewery. In addition to winning a number of awards for their craft beer, Cambridge was also a pioneer for craft beer in the U.S. Cambridge was the first commercial brewery in the history of U.S. to produce a Belgian-style beer. This was a Belgian-style tripel brewed in 1990 called “Tripel Threat”. They were also the first in the U.S. to produce a German-style hefeweizen using real German yeast. Cambridge also began their barrel-aging program 14 years ago in 1999, long before that trend became as popular and profitable as it is now. In their first year in 1989, Cambridge produced 500 barrels of beer. For the last 15 years, they’ve hit 2000 barrels a year, and seemed to suggest that that they are happy there.

I spoke with Phil Bannatyne about his “The Great Pumpkin Ale”, which was the second commercially available pumpkin ale in the U.S. (after Buffalo Bill’s). Cambridge has been brewing it since since 1990! They use 150 lbs of fresh and locally grown organic sugar pumpkins to make the beer, and Phil’s original recipe has largely stayed unchanged. It is was intended to be a subtly spiced and relatively low ABV beer to function as a New England harvest beer. It has been Cambridge’s most popular seasonal since day 1, and is only available when the pumpkins are ready. To make the beer they scoop out and shred the pumpkin in an industrial size Robot Coup. They use the flesh in the mash, obviously needing to get the mash temp a little hotter due to the 150 lbs of pumpkin. Traditional “pumpkin pie” spice then goes into the boil. The bottle I got of “The Great Pumpkin” was produced at Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, Massachusetts, which has been producing some of Cambridge’s limited release beers up there for about 2.5 years. If you haven’t had a chance to try one of the original (OG, if you will) pumpkin ales in the U.S., make it happen when you can. There are so many pumpkin ales on the market now, it can be hard to keep in mind that (despite widespread pumpkin ales in Colonial times) pumpkin ale was an idea people weren’t so sure about 25 years ago. A big thanks to Phil for his time.


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