I’m normally not crazy about pumpkin beers that come out at this time of year, as they tend to just be ales overwhelmed by pumpkin pie spices. However, when I saw that Big Rig Brewing’s Tales from the Patch was billed as a “spiced pumpkin porter”, I couldn’t resist. After all, my love of darker beers -- particularly stouts and porters -- is well documented.
I decided to have it with my Thanksgiving dinner alongside the Clockwatching Tart’s amazing spatchcocked turkey and was immediately intrigued and impressed. The maltier, more robust backbone of the porter stood up to the pumpkin spices well and the mouthfeel was silky smooth and beguiling. It was even better than advertised and a quick check back to the can revealed that it wasn’t just a spiced porter, but a spiced MILK porter, which uses lactose (aka milk sugar) to impart a lovely, milky smoothness.
Clearly, I needed to talk to the brewmaster responsible.
“It’s become a tradition that started when I was still working at a brewery out west. Every year, I’d make a different pumpkin beer for my wife, so I’ve tried quite a few variations. I’m happy to say she likes this one,” says Big Rig Brewery brewmaster and co-owner Lon Ladell, who was kind enough to answer my geeky questions about his beer.
According to Lon, the idea behind Tales from the Patch was to create a beer that emulated the flavors of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, hence the lactose.
“Porter is a style of beer that already lends itself to some of the flavours that we wanted. We used crystal malt to give it a bit of a sweet, caramel kind of note and then added some chocolate and biscuit malt to give it that kind of graham cracker crust layer,” says Lon.
As for the spices and the pumpkin itself, Lon and the Big Rig team didn’t treat it much differently than anyone else making homemade pumpkin pie.
“We used a couple of local farms. We go and actually pick some of the pumpkins ourselves and then buy the rest. It was a lot of fun. Once we got them, we broke them apart and scooped out all the innards, cut them into four or five pieces, then we put cinnamon, cloves, allspice and brown sugar on them and then roast them in our ovens at one of our restaurants. It’s exactly how you make pumpkin pie,” says Lon.
Between the roasted maltiness of the porter, the spices used on the pumpkin and the finishing touch of the lactose, Tales from the Patch is nicely balanced, unique, and -- most of all -- delicious. It definitely goes down as an absolute Halloween treat and something I hope to find again next year (even if Lon has to brew a different pumpkin beer for his wife).
P.S. If you happen to get a little caramel square this Halloween, you could do worse things than pairing it with Tales from the Patch, assuming you can track some down at the LCBO.