Restaurant News & Reviews

First Draught: Pumpkin beer is a graveyard smash at Whatcom breweries

Caleb Hutton
Caleb Hutton The Bellingham Herald

So far autumn has been the best time of year to love beer in Bellingham, thanks to fresh hop IPAs, early-bird cold weather brews and a fine crop of local pumpkin-flavored ales.

Let’s talk about those pumpkin beers.

PumpFest, Wander Brewing Co. This crisp, clear deep orange jewel of a beer took the People’s Choice award at Bellingham Beer Week’s Oktoberfest. It’s an instant local classic. It’s so well loved locally, in fact, that it was gone before the calendar flipped to November. For those who didn’t get a chance to try it, remember the first time you heard that pumpkin beer is a thing? Well, maybe this is how you dreamed it would taste: sweet, balanced and chock full of ripe, fruity pumpkin flavor. Often it’s the spices, not the squash, that do most of the legwork in a pumpkin ale. Here, the cinnamon notes in the body are distinct but subtle, relatively, as they gracefully complement a rich flavor profile. Can’t wait until next year. A-

Monster Mash, Menace Brewing. Menace’s one-off pumpkin ale brims with spices: cloves, cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean, nutmeg, pumpkin meat. Tasting the, um, beer beneath all of the frills isn’t exactly easy. But if you’re into that, and the end result is good, it’s good, right? And it’s good. Monster Mash retains a loose, fluffy head, a dark brown-orange body, and layer after overt layer of spice. There’s a strong undercurrent of roasted bitterness — a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and patent malt — that will either distract you or endear you. On Halloween it was poured through a pumpkin cask; it should be on tap at The Local until Thanksgiving time, unless it goes quick. B+

Horseman’s Head, Unspiced, Kulshan Brewing Co. Pours a deep shade of purplish orange, with — aptonym alert — a milky, one-finger’s-width head. It goes down like a Scotch ale: bittersweet, rich, warming and slightly nutty. Something seemed just slightly uneven in the body, to my palate, but only slightly. Sans spices, notes of toasted pumpkin seeds come out in the open, and fare just fine. B

Horseman’s Head, Spiced, Kulshan Brewing Co. Try it side by side with the unspiced ale, and it becomes a game of Spot the Differences. Very cool. Some of the malty heftiness mellows with a dash of allspice and cinnamon, though it’s not a dramatic, Jekyll and Hyde contrast. There’s the same Scotch body base and the same warmth. It’s a little easier going down, and a little less subtle on the tongue. Both editions are worth a taste. B

In other brews

Last month’s column, “ On Second Take, Aslan beer still a work in progress,” stirred strong reactions from readers for unfavorable reviews of three beers made by Aslan Brewing Co. So, to be clear: I’m rooting for Aslan to succeed and to make good beer, and I’ll certainly give the brewery another chance soon. In the meantime, check out Aslan’s brews for yourself, and feel free to send your thoughts my way. Another day, another new and intriguing beer on tap at Chuckanut Brewery, 601 W. Holly St. This time it’s a Schankbier, a golden, low alcohol-by-volume German-style brew. It’s a collaboration from former Chuckanut brewer Kevin Davey (now of Gordon Biersch) and current Chuckanut head brewer Bryan Caldwell. Chat with the brewers when it’s tapped at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7.