I said I wasn't disappointed with Pendle Witches Brew yesterday and, well, maybe I wasn't. It is still a great brew and I still like it, nothing has changed there. But it wasn't the brew I was hoping for when I cracked it open and I was hoping to have something a wee bit special with which to end the half term break. To that end I purchased Pumpkin King by brewdog mostly on a whim on Saturday and intended to keep it from prying eyes, having it either that day or the Sunday when round at friends or afterwards. Alas, it was not to be, one thing and another and the hint of stress about going back to work all conspired to prevent my drinking of it.
Now, now the first day back has happened. The world did not explode. My marking is mostly on track, my lessons mostly made (and what isn't will be soon) and so there's an element of peace. Add to that the fact that a comedy of errors at the end of the day bring me home, with a relatively quiet house and no actual work begging for my attention. It's time to drink some ale!
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The bottle promises a great deal, as does the reputation of the brewers, and so I approach this with not a little expectation. Add in the number of good beer drinking folk who have tried this and have pronounced themselves enjoying it and there are big shoes to fill here. The aroma on opening is, indeed, distinctive and there's nothing that I have smelled recently that is quite like it. Willow opined that there were plenty of hops and I shall be honest and declare I could not pick them out. However, to be fair, the bottle did say that there ought to be a cacophony of hops 'pon the tasting - I am not one to doubt Willow's nose, so I must concede she has spotted what I could not. However nor did I smell the promised sweet caramel overtones. There's a definite pumpkin tang, the sort I smell when people have raw pumpkin, and that is different enough from the more spicy efforts out there who try to bring some taste to a more Americanised palate than mine. A sparkling head forms atop an almost chestnut brew that is shot through with bubbles and rays of red and orange - making this considerably lighter than most of the bitters and ambers I have tried but far darker than the pales and goldens I've been on over the summer.
There is something playful on the nose though, I can't quite place it but it brings to mind the kind of feelings I can remember when younger and visiting my great aunts and uncles - something about their houses and the smell of their carpet. Even those relatives that had youngish families of their own had this quality and, whatever it is, I get that impression here. It feeds directly into the first hit on the tongue. Nothing of the cacophony for me, but then my blog stands as testament to the fact that I'm not really that much of a hop head, but there are definitely hops at play. There's a sweetness, of the almost savoury variety, and a softness follows on the initial hit. Are there hops? Yes. Are they citrus based and a bit on the bitter side? Yes. But that opening aroma doesn't go away and pervades the start of the taste totally so that it is hard for me to separate the two. Thence to the middle of the taste where the bubbles take the load and the malt continues to soften and dance, here there be no such thing as dragons but there is a nice drinkable quality to it.
And here is the danger. Each taste draws you further into the whole affair, promising that just one more mouthful will allow you to make sense of the flavours if only you'd have it. And I suspect that this will continue long after the end of the bottle. In that sense they've done a good job here of producing an ale that performs well and will sell well. But they've made it 5.5% ABV which is a touch on the strong side and I am breaking with tradition by having a beer on a school night! At any rate there is a burst of hop citrus flavour as the mouthful recedes and a thin quality that prevents it being the sort of soft fruity mouthful you get on other ales. This is no stout or deep and full porter, nor is it a golden light hued ale that drifts wispily through the leaves - this is direct and wears that 5.5% ABV proudly. By the end of the taste you're left with a distinct alcohol impression softened by the memory of the malt, lightened by the memory of the hops and confused by that opening aroma that I can't quite place but almost certainly isn't the sort of caramel I remember from when I was young.
I like it. I can say that. It was worth paying a bit extra for in the local supermarket and buying it on a whim. I am glad that I am drinking it and likely will remain so. However, I shan't be seeking more of it immediately. Maybe next year I may get in a brace of them rather than, say, Pumpking (see here) but it's not going to replace any of my stalwarts any time soon nor join them. I still think that the best Hallowe'en ale is, actually, Spooks Ale from Shepherd Neame this year - see that review here.
Enjoy this best on Hallowe'en, when the moon is fat and the night is dark and full of terrors. Have it with or after high flavoured food like curry or mascarpone cheese sauce over pasta with vegetables and vegetarian nut roast. Then let that confusion of hops and malt confuddle and bemuse until you simply kick back, stop concentrating so hard, and let the ale guide you through the evening. If you can avoid being 'in' for trick or treaters then all's well and good but, equally, if they are yours then you can fortify yourself 'gainst the cold before going out and not be too inebriated.