Food & Drink

Pumpkin beer is here

Who doesn’t like pumpkin beer?

Apparently, a lot of people have a disdain for this seasonal beverage. Steve Gauthier, beer judge in training, feels that brewers have a tendency to go over board with the pumpkin spice. Gauthier finds, “the spice mix used is generally unbalanced, often towards the nutmeg/allspice end of things…it seems that most pumpkin beer on the market is as subtle as a ball peen hammer.”

Another beer lover, John Wilson, does not like pumpkin beer; when asked if it was too spicy for him, Wilson said, “nah, just kind of bleargh, pumpkin in beer is gross and campy.”

Others have a certain preference to this style such as Colin Koop who says via twitter, “The best ones are sweet and heavy on the spice. Pumpkin goes missing in dry beer.”

Matt Wolff, head brewer at Fort Garry Brewing, says, “There are so many different methods, ingredients, and variations of this type of brew. It really boils down to what the consumer or drinker wants.  It can be a seasonal that was made with pumpkin, or just a spiced beer for the season.”

Wolff is no stranger to making pumpkin beer. “When we started over a year ago with the first release of Happy Jack, we wanted to take the approach of actually creating basically a pumpkin pie, in a brew. We started by creating the colour, by selecting the malts that would best create the colour, and would also reflect the flavors for the brew, a very “nutty” flavor. Then, we needed to select the quantity of real pumpkin to add to the brew, to give the beer its pumpkin flavor. That was the hard part, we needed a lot of pumpkin…over 650 lbs for our brew! We added some into our mash, and we added a lot into the kettle to get that pumpkin flavor, and aroma. Then we wanted to have the distinctive “pumpkin pie spice” aroma, and taste to it, so we added again, a very high quantity of “pie” spices to get a really nice balance for all the flavors and aromas in the beer. The biggest part of the Happy Jack, was to create the balance between all the flavours and aromas, from the taste of all the malts, pumpkin, and spice. We didn’t want to overpower any aspect with either too much pumpkin, or too much spice. We wanted to make the ‘fresh out of the oven pie.’”

Happy Jack has received favourable reviews and is selling briskly at liquor stores around Winnipeg. Chef Cindy Armstrong, owner of Peppercorn & Co., a personal chef service, really enjoyed Happy Jack, “I didn’t notice any oak, but I really liked the level of spice in the beer. Very yummy.”

When asked what her favourite seasonal pumpkin dish is, Armstrong said it was a Pumpkin Fondue that she makes every year at Halloween, “I prepare it and put it in the oven just before we go out trick and treating with the little ones. When we come home, the house smells delicious and the fondue is ready. This is a very rich meal, but better than gorging ourselves on candy.” I asked her if we could make it with beer, and she said absolutely and so, here it is:

Pumpkin Beer Fondue

  • 1 baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 medium sized orange pumpkin (should fit in your oven)
  • 1 1/2 cups table cream
  • 1 cup Happy Jack Pumpkin Ale
  • 2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère
  • 2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Emmental (6 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in lower third.

Toast baguette slices in 1 layer on a baking sheet in oven for 7 minutes or until tops are crisp. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Remove top of pumpkin by cutting a circle (3 inches in diameter) around stem with a small sharp knife. Scrape out seeds and any loose fibers from inside pumpkin with a spoon. Season inside of pumpkin with 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Whisk together cream, beer, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Mix together cheeses in another bowl.

Put a layer of toasted bread in bottom of pumpkin, then cover with about 1 cup cheese and about 1/2 cup cream mixture.

Continue layering bread, cheese, and cream mixture until pumpkin is filled to about 1/2 inch from top, using all of cream mixture.

Cover pumpkin with top and put in an oiled small roasting pan.

Brush outside of pumpkin all over with olive oil. Bake until pumpkin is tender and filling is puffed, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Adapted from:

Armstrong whipped up this decadent delight for me and I shared it with my wife, Stefanie Borowski, and our friend, Erin Shorten, a wine and beer expert. They both really enjoyed the creamy treat, which was like a dessert and a meal all wrapped up in one. Shorten said that the Happy Jack Pumpkin Ale went very well with the fondue, but noted that it was the cheese that paired the best with the beer. Both Borowski and Shorten liked the beer very much, and thought it had a great balance of spice, malt and pumpkin. It was a great meal and I know if I need to beg forgiveness from my wife, a bottle of Happy Jack Pumpkin Ale would be a good start.

Read more about Chef Cindy’s delicious ideas at

Mark Borowski is a home brewer, and a father, and is looking for a job as a bartender. Follow him on Twitter @oldblackbrew