Yes, the Great Pumpkin is alive and well, and at least on Oct. 19, had taken up residence in beautiful Nashua, NH. Inside a bottle. A number of bottles, actually. That night saw the initial offering from www.beerencounters.com, The Great Pumpkin Ale beer tasting and Halloween Party. That’s how I found myself sipping seasonal brews with Elvis (he’s alive!!), a cross dressing Hugh Hefner and Playmate (eventual winners of the costume contest), a Green Monster (go sox!), and various other vampires, ghosts, ghoulies, soldiers, nurses, and an intriguing Texas Hold’em gal.
As it should be with an event that bills itself as a beer tasting, the beers were the stars of the night. I worked my way through as many of the choices possible, but I’m only human, so I couldn’t try then all. The Magic Hat Brewery (www.magichat.net), one of our favorites, was there with their Circus Boy (an excellent hefeweizen), Jinx (a seasonal English Ale that’s big with hints of peat-smoked whiskey malts) and their ubiquitous No 9. I had a nice chat with Magic Hat’s Melissa about how one goes from being a dissatisfied bartender, to being a very satisfied employee of one of the funkiest and most imaginative breweries around. Next I sampled some of the offerings from Milly’s Tavern (www.millystavern.com) from Manchester, NH. I’m sad to say they don’t sell off premises yet because these were some of the most intriguing beers of the night. Their Pumpkin and Scotch Ales were very popular, but I was most taken with their Burton Ale, a harder to find variety, that knocked my socks off. Big and bold. I had a great chat with Milly’s Head Brewer, Dan Rudy, ranging from beer to eco-friendly brewing, to leaving a “green footprint” to the beauty of New England and Maine, in particular. We should all keep an eye on Dan. I have a feeling he’ll continue to brew imaginative quality beer and garner much attention.
After a break to cruise the chocolate buffet (decked out with appropriately creepy holiday décor) I dove back into the beer…figuratively. Next up was another of our favorites, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (www.dogfish.com), who brought along their Festina Peche, a neo-Berliner Weisse brewed with real peaches and delivering intense tartness. Allen Reitz from Dogfish Head assured me that after three sips I wouldn’t be able to put it down, and he was right. This is a fantastic, fruity, surprisingly refreshing beer. What can I say about the Dogfish Punkin Ale? I love the stuff. A full-bodied ale brewed with real pumpkin (many breweries use pumpkin flavoring. Brewing with real pumpkin is difficult and costly) and brown sugar. They call it the “anti-pumpkin pie ale”. It’s a great autumn, sit-by-the-fire beer. Next I tried the Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale, Anheuser-Busch’s attempt to step into some newer craft-brew inspired styles. It’s really not bad but suffered in comparison to some excellent smaller brews next to it. Still, we should applaud A-B for being willing to give this a shot. It would be easy to sit back, pump out the Bud and Bud Light, and call it a day. I was winding down by now. I’m Irish, but I’m human. However, on I went to the Saranac offerings (www.saranac.com). Here I discovered, much to my surprise, that I enjoyed the Pomegranate Wheat. I’m on record as saying that I never cared for wheat beers. I must have had an early bad experience, because I’m consistently discovering imaginative variations on this style and enjoying them. My thanks to Jeb Moore from Saranac for the nudge toward this beer and all the tips on the Saranac Brewery, I hope we’re able to visit there soon. This unfiltered wheat had a slightly tart finish and a light body. It’s made with real pomegranate juice. Pomegranate is good for you. I suspect that this beer actually extends life expectancy.
Sadly, I missed out on the Stone Cat and John Harvard offerings, most likely because I was chatting too much with Jim Carleton and his wife Maria, brewers for those respective breweries (Stone Cat is produced by Mercury Brewing Co.). However, I did get to close the night with some of Cape Ann Brewing Company’sPumpkin Stout. I’ve been searching for this limited release since Jeremy at Cape Ann told me about it. It is, in a word, fantastic. An imaginative combination of styles and flavors, I’d never had a pumpkin stout before, but the chocolate/coffee notes of the stout work extremely well with the nutmeg/cinnamon of the pumpkin. I hope this reappears next year in even larger quantities. A real winner from Cape Ann and very popular on the night (also a 2007 New England Microbrew champion).
In all, the lads over at beerencounters.com put on a great party. Mike Rego, Jim Messier, Dan Archambault, and Matt Zukowski started the company to bring people together and share their passion for quality beers (one of them is a detective, but I won’t tell you who it is so you’re on your best behavior when you meet them). The smiles on the faces of their guests at the end of the evening were proof that this night was a success. Congratulations, guys, you’re off to a great start. Check out their slick site which is developing even as you read this. Future events will include gatherings for St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. In the growing community of New England brewers and beer enthusiasts, Beer Encounters’ focus on bringing interesting people and excellent beer together bodes well for future success.