It’s that time of the year when pumpkin beers start arriving in tap rooms and store shelves, and San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing Co.’s seasonal pumpkin ale is one of the only South Bay brewers to offer a unique pumpkin flavor for the season.
It’s rare for a pumpkin beer to be brewed without any spices—cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc., are often used to create a taste similar to pumpkin pie in beer form—but Hermitage has been doing just that in recent years, reflecting the brewery’s mission to make small-batch, experimental brews. The brewery’s seasonal Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale was recently brewed with about 1,800 pounds of roasted California-grown heritage pumpkins, a very labor-intensive endeavor. The pumpkins came from Pajaro Valley and are grown on a local farm by the same family that operates Hermitage.
Tapped last week at the Hermitage Tap Room, my wife and I made the visit to try the beer at its freshest stage. While she observed subtle spicy notes in the aftertaste, I noticed that this year’s batch was missing the pumpkin rind taste that I found interesting and prominent in last year’s freshly tapped batch. With a malty brown ale as the base beer, this year’s version still pours a gorgeous dark amber and the pumpkins add both a distinct smoothness and complexity to the beer. It’s a very tasty, malty brown ale balanced by the hops.
Any pumpkin flavor itself is subtle, and that’s putting it liberally, which is no surprise to Hermitage brewmaster Peter Licht.
“When we first brewed this beer, we used about a couple hundred pounds of pumpkin,” Licht says. “Now we use almost a ton of ripe pumpkins and add them throughout the brewing process: in the mash tun, kettle and fermenter. It’s apparent that pumpkin is subtle. It’s evocative more than flavorful. But there’s a silky texture—that’s how it’s different, it’s in the mouthfeel.”
Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale will be around for a limited time for those wanting to see for themselves what a beer brewed with about a ton of pumpkins tastes like. It’s available on tap and in bottles at the Hermitage Tap Room. You can also find bottles at many of the local shops that carry craft beer.