155 Mata Way #104, San Marcos
It’s pumpkin beer season, which means breweries around the country will offer their spins on autumnal harvest-themed brews. Because pumpkin is such a popular and familiar ingredient, these beers are easy to love. They envelop the palate like a long-lost friend an imbiber hasn’t had contact with in nine months. Adding to both the appeal of and disdain of pumpkin beers is the fact most simply taste like pumpkin pie. Pumpkin itself isn’t all that flavorful and contributes very little to a finished beer, thus, it’s the spices a brewery uses—often cinnamon and nutmeg—that come through in the end. Add in some residual sweetness from caramely malts and all one needs is some Cool Whip to complete the liquid incarnation of their annual Thanksgiving meal closer. Some are way into the pumpkin pie thing, but a significant portion of the craft beer-drinking population crave more. And that’s just what provided by legendary North County brewing company, The Lost Abbey’s Avant Gourde Ale.
Nearly everything about this 7.25% ABV pumpkin beer (the legend of which was first foretold of last August) is different from its ubiquitous standard-issue cousins. For starters, it’s a Belgian-style brew; a biere de garde to be exact. The Lost Abbey references its year-round biere de garde, Avant Garde Ale, but this is more than that beer with some fall produce crammed in for kicks. Seventy-five pounds of pumpkin puree per 30-barrel batch was added plus additional pumpkin during primary fermentation. Post fermentation, specially trained yeast, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, crushed nutmeg, whole cloves, allspice, and dried orange peel, both sweet and bitter, were added. All of those, especially the more volatile cinnamon and cloves smack one in the face as they bring a fresh, garnet-hued pint of this beer in for a sip. As one would expect, the spices are similarly potent on the palate. But wait, there’s more.
Avant Gourde is made even more outlandish by pumpkin beer standards thanks to Brettanomyces (you remember this form of wild yeast, right?). Fresh from the bright tanks, the Brett brought on a subtle tartness that works with the orange peel and fruity Belgian yeast esters to provide a nice contrasting element to the otherwise semisweet beer. As time goes by, the Brett will continue to alter the beer in new and interesting ways. It would be a great beer to cellar, but this year, it’s a draft-only creation that is currently on tap at Port Brewing Company / The Lost Abbey’s San Marcos tasting room, and should make its way out to key keg accounts by next weekend. The company says it will likely bottle the beer next year and, in doing so, change the points at which certain spices are added during the brewing process to make the beer even better. Even as a first draft, it’s extremely tasty and, like an award-winning Jack O’ Lantern, truly a cut above.