Pumpkin Head vs. Crooked Tooth

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Week One: Fernie versus Phillips

This October Bad Rider’s beer section is pitting gourd against gourd in a battle to determine which B.C. beer is king of the pumpkin patch. Welcome to Pumpkindrome, Week One.

The Challengers: Fernie Brewing Co. Pumpkin Head Brown Ale (5 per cent ABV, 650mL) versus Phillips Brewing Co. Crooked Tooth (5 per cent ABV, 650mL)

We begin our epic showdown with a battle of light and dark, sweet and more-sweet, pumpkin and …wait, where’s the pumpkin?

If Pumpkindrome were a battle of smell, Fernie would have the match after one whiff of the pint glass. With a moist pumpkin and spice aroma, Pumpkin Head smells like a slice of pie that’s been lingering on in the fridge a couple days past Canadian Thanksgiving. Crooked tooth, meanwhile, offers a light nutmeggy scent, but none of the pumpkin funk.

But, when it comes to flavour, Fernie’s offering can’t make up to its pre-sip hype.

Where I was hoping for notes of cinnamon, allspice and sweet, cooked pumpkin, all this dark beer had to offer me was sugar. To its credit, it was a rich, brown-sugar, fall-style sweetness — seasonally appropriate, at least. And as far as brown ales go, if you like your brew mid- to very-sweet, you’ll find nothing to complain about here.

You just won’t find any pumpkin.

Phillips, on the flip side, offered me a taste quite like what I would have expected from Fernie, based on smell. Crooked tooth is a pure slice of pumpkin pie, with a slightly sweet pumpkin custard flavour and mellow spicing.

While the Phillips website claims ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in the brew, it’s the latter I noticed most, which actually seemed to work quite well. While your standard pumpkin spice fare can get abrasive and heavy from cloves and cinnamon, a light touch of nutmeg adds some depth to the sweetness without overwhelming the pumpkin.

This time around, it’s no trouble to pick a winner. After all, if your pumpkin beer doesn’t taste of pumpkins, what’s the point?

Phillips moves to round 2.

What the Heck, What the Huck?

What the Huck

Lens flare! The most exciting thing happening in this photograph, alas.

The Specs: Fernie Brewing Company, What the Huck 650 mL; 5 per cent ABV; year-round brew

It started well enough.

Oh, it’s What the Huck, I thought at the liquor store. I’ve been meaning to try that.

The first indication this taste test might not be headed in a great direction came about five minutes after returning home, when I discovered an empty What the Huck bottle at the top of my recycling box. I have no memory of drinking this beer, and yet the evidence was there.

Amnesia beer. Not a good sign.

What the Huck pours slightly pink, which is about as much a concession to its name as I can come up with.

I’m not saying that I want a fruit beer to taste like a wine cooler, but beer with a just a faint hint of Growers Orchard Berry Cider is… not ideal and makes for sad tasting notes:

“It’s fairly sweet — is that the huckleberry?”

“I get a faint taste of something at the back of my tongue — if I lick the roof of my mouth enough times will I determine if that is the huckleberry?”

If you stop trying to psyche yourself into tasting berries and just drink the darn pint, What The Huck is basically a sweet but thinner winter ale, with the usual hints of caramel and vanilla. Not bad, but pretty forgettable. Nice to know it’s the beer and not me.

Props for the name, though. You saw an opportunity and you seized it, Fernie Brewing Co.