So I was at rehearsals yesterday for my new play,The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden. One of the actors, the amazingly talented and one of Chicago’s funniest comedians, Catherine Povinelli, or Povs, as friends call her, considers herself a connoisseur of Pumpkin beer, which I like, but which is thankfully also a seasonal offering. So, I threw together a sampling of three currently on the market, whipped together a food pairing and headed off to rehearsal.
We’re reading and working the script, a satirical swipe at the security state, out of Eddie Marks’ Uptown Apartment. Eddie plays my hapless NSA agent’s, a disillusioned company man who realizes that he’s been set up for failure by the agency and falls for Catherine, the sexy KGB agent babysitting Snowden.
The Pumpkin Beers are just making an appearance on shelves, though it is still a bit early. There are really cool weather beers, with the bite of expectant winter cold in the air and the scent of turning autumn leaves. I brought three to the rehearsal, Pov’s eyes lighting up when she spotted the telltale black and orange label of the first, Pumking, from Southern Tier Brewing out of New York, sporting a hefty 8.6% ABV. It poured to a really nice deep copper color and an off white head. This was one of the richest of the pumpkin beers I’ve tasted, coming off sweet and almost thick in flavor, with ample notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Povs loved it, and was somewhat taken aback by the flavor, in a good way.
Guy Wicke, local actor and proprietor of Wicke International performing arts promotion had never before tasted Pumpkin beers. He was tasting a can of Pumpkin Ale from The Wild Onion Brewing company out of suburban Lake Barrington, a small but solid craft brewer. “
“It was like tasting a pumpkin pie in a can…with a kick,” he offered. At 5.4% ABV, this didn’t pack the kick of Pumking, and was lighter in flavor. It poured to a lighter copper color as well, with a thin off-white head. Across the room, my co-director, Erik Parsons, was working his way through a long neck bottle of Arcadia Ales Jaw-jacker spiced Ale. Again, not as rich as Pumking, the added spice of nutmeg, cinnamon and All Spice was muted and lighter in flavor. At 6%ABV, it made for a comfortable brew.
I poured Povs and Nick Haugland, my Snowden, the last of the Pumking as Ed marks dove into a line. “The Agency, as we like to call it, enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties. Okay, we just threw in that last part to cover our ass…Let me break it down this way, some 12 year old will come along sooner rather than later and render every spying capability we have obsolete, and he’ll do it from the back of his mom’s Volvo on the way to soccer practice. Our job at the NSA is to stay one step ahead of that 12 year old. That 12 year old only has to be right once. The NSA has to be right every time…”
Pumpkin beer is perfect for those late autumn hearty meals with spice and depth and character. This night I paired it with my take on a traditional German favorite called Flamkuchen. It’s a sort of a German pizza of sorts, served on a cracker this crust, with a cream cheese-like sauce traditionally topped with bacon and caramelized onion. To pull it together with the beer, I topped the Flamkucken with a mix of shredded sweet potato, chopped onion, mint and a touch of brown sugar. Lightly browned bits of bacon were added, and the whole thing placed in an oven preheated to 380 F, for about 12 minutes, or until the edges of the crust had browned nicely. Cut into wedges, I garnished with chopped parsley. I made two that night. They were gone in an instant.
Generally I am of two minds on Pumpkin beers, which have grown in popularity over the last several years. First, I believe that they should not over power the palette. Pumking comes right up to that line without crossing it. I enjoy a bit bolder flavors, though there are times a lighter brew works in the absence of meal in helping to capture that autumnal character of the season. More to come on other Pumpkin beers soon…
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