If you’re someone who thinks that pumpkins and yams end with October, clearly you’ve never been sucked into a Yankee Candle, Bath & Body Works, or any other purveyor of autumnal scents. This is bigger than a can of gourd slathered into a pie dish, or the sweet potato biscuit recipe my very own mother has refused to share with me even 30 years after I became addicted to them. It’s also bigger than that whole spiced coffee bit dominating even your workplace pantry’s Keurig, and the indefensibly questionable notion that pumpkins are fruity enough to go into ice creams or milkshakes.
Seriously: WHEN WILL THE PUMPKIN SPICE MADNESS END?!?!
At the 2018 Beer Blogger & Writer’s Conference (held here in our very own Commonwealth), I asked Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione the one thing he was too afraid to put in a beer. After having experimented with scrapple, snails (for an “Escar-gose”), and fruits I can’t even pronounce, we about had him. He almost dared himself on stage to do it when he finally had an answer. Referencing a music album with the band’s blood lodged in the vinyl, Sam lamented that “bodily fluids” terrify him too much to put in a beer. So we may never get a true “Blood Orange” brew, but we also found the one place brewers won’t go with adjuncts in beer, from the man who basically led the adjunct revolution in American brewing.
Which brings us to Isley Brewing, and the manner of outrageous infusions and blends that have put them on the map. Peanut Butter Porter do it for you? How about a Blueberry Wit? Heck with all ya’ll, let’s mix ’em together and call it a PB&J! With all the absurdity of pumpkin and yam infusions in beer over the past few years, whether you like yours spicy or gourdy, it seemed we as a craft culture would try anything just for the sake of novelty, oftentimes with grisly results. I’m not someone who will dignify my palate’s corruption to a “pumpkin pie milkshake IPA,” even if both of those are currently a thing some mad brewer will put in a sixtel to see if it sells. I like my pumpkin a tad on the spicier side, and mostly relegated to the nose. I think it plays well with darker malts and other blended spices. But I also trust Isley, which is why when my LHBS happened to have a keg of their Pumpkin Spice Dubbel, I put my pretensions aside.
Stunt Dubbel, Isley Brewing Co. (Richmond, VA)
Pumpkin Belgian Dubbel, 7% ABV, 22 IBU
Presentation: Crowler pour into a Pilsen glass.
Appearance: Muddy and rusty, but turns more caramel and ruby in indirect light. On early pours the head is also more tinted towards a caramel beige. Overall, the beer is surprisingly hazy.
Flavor: The nose is a nice mix of pumpkin gourd and spice, with a sweet malt background that you can tease out with a gentle swirl and sniff. It’s my favorite part of the beer, and what had me thinking of those candle shops as I sat down to write this review. What’s a little different here is that Isley used roasted pumpkins, which I think is a superb idea for a Belgian style that lends itself more to malt than fruit or tartness. The body becomes more spice-oriented with some solid biscuit and bread impressions. It does finish dry and fruity, but it’s more of a fleshy fruitiness than a sweet or acidic effect.
Mouth Feel: This is a thick-bodied brew with a warm alcoholic heft throughout. Isley says they achieved this effect through lowering the carbonation, and I like how this ends up as more of a gullet beer that settles well. You do get some strong sweet impressions on the tip of the tongue, but you’re left with a pretty clean palate in the end.
Overall: Pumpkin pie this is not, thanks be to the Pagan Gods of All Hallow’s Eve. Instead, you get a sort of boozy pumpkin muffin. Stunt Dubbel has good warmth and is versatile enough to either pair with your main course or reserve as a dessert beer. It’s a good reminder of the depth of autumn flavors, but more importantly that we don’t have to succumb to our inner mad scientists when we just start chucking pureed fruits in our beers. Roasted pumpkin + roasted malts? Done. Lower carbonation + mix of spices to add heft to the mouthfeel? Sold. That’s pure beer science from the folks at Isley, and I’ll continue to trust them above most others when it comes to adjuncts in my beer.