Steamworks vs. Shock Top

photo 3

The final week of round one — Shock Top vs. Steamworks

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.

For the final week of Round One, our challengers are: Steamworks Pumpkin (6.5 per cent ABV, 650mL)  vs. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat (5.2 per cent ABV, 12-pack or seasonal mingler)


Well, this is embarrassing.

If the bracket had ended up differently, this wouldn’t be happening. Were our one big-box, conglomerate owned, only-in-there-as-a-control beer up against Parallel 49 or Nelson or Howe Sound or even Fernie, I wouldn’t have to do this. (Were it up against Prohibition, maybe. Not every craft beer is blameless.)

In case you haven’t guessed, Riders, what I’m saying is Shock Top Pumpkin is headed to round two.

Here’s why:

The thing to understand is this was Steamworks’ round to lose. Shock Top is high sweet, not much spice, but a pronounced and fairly realistic pumpkin taste. It’s not a bad beer, but every flavoured Shock Top offering makes me feel like I’m drinking alcopop and this is no exception. The sweetness is more pronounced, with a refined-white-sugar flavour. The mouthfeel is thinner. The flavours are more laboratory-crafted.

All Steamworks had to do to triumph was give me some pumpkin and spice flavours, any of them, and I’d take its natural sweetness and smoother feel any day of the week.

Instead, what I got is a beer that I would never have expected from that brewery.

Typically, Steamworks beers are idiosyncratic. Lots of bold notes. Sometimes (oftentimes) too many bold notes for my tastes. If anything, I would have expected something too assertive. But this beer suffers from the same problem as many of the challengers — neither spice not pumpkin makes the appearance one expects.

There is something there, a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg on the back of the sip. But it’s not enough to impress, and certainly not enough for round two.

Anyway, if you need me I’m gonna crawl into a hole now and hide my snobby, snobby shame.

A message to you, Frambozen


For some reason Frambozen only photographed colour-true on my oven. Go figure.

The Specs: Steamworks Brewery (Burnaby), Frambozen
650 mL; 7 per cent ABV; seasonal

Steamworks, I don’t know if it’s you or me, but this relationship isn’t working.

I like so much about you in theory. Your beautifully designed bottles, your intriguing and varied seasonal choices, but there’s always something… off. We don’t fit together, Steamworks. It’s not you, it’s me. Unless it’s you.

Frambozen, the company’s summer brew, is a pretty good case in point. Raspberry ale is an old standby for me — the first craft brew I ever drank, as a barely-legal 18 year old in Alberta.

With its gorgeous gemstone hue and a prominent, but not-overpowering berry scent, and less carbonation than some of the more commercial B.C. breweries (a plus to me — beers that fizz like soda wig me out a little), Frambozen seems like the ideal beer.

And it’s not bad. The raspberry is nice and centred in the sip, with a flavour that is recognizably found in nature. The beer is not too sweet, another death trap for berry beers.

But, like every Steamworks beer I’ve tried, this one has some odd, overly-assertive notes.

While the bitterness up front is fairly pleasant once you’re acclimated to the brew, the tart — no, sour finish of the beer never seems to get less jarring.

Even most of the way through the bottle, every sip ended with a jolt to the tastebuds. Though the fruit flavour in Frambozen is far, far superior, I couldn’t help but think of the Sour Puss Raspberry concoctions of my misspent youth, which finished with a similar zing.

I enjoy a challenging beer… to a point. But 650 mL of strong beer that keeps smacking me in the mouth is too much.

This is how I feel about every Steamworks beer, alas, whether it’s bitter notes in the wheat ale or soapy hops in the Pilsner. It’s just not meant to be.

Bottom line: If you like berry beer and want something to wake up your taste buds, this ought to do the trick.

As for Steamworks and me, it’s time we tried seeing other people.