There are only a bare handful of craft breweries in the U.S. making Belgian styles and Belgian-inspired beers that I feel equal the quality of imports. Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales out of Dexter, Michigan (just outside Ann Arbor), is one of those breweries, and you should pay attention to them.
Many American breweries make Belgian-style beers, which is understandable given their market popularity and that most brewers are finer beer-lovers themselves. To turn out a good Belgian ale is an unacknowledged statement of brewing proficiency, as these styles can be difficult to master and perfect. Unfortunately, competitive quality is rare as American Belgian-style beers can have an “American” taste to them, lacking that ineffable touch by native Belgian brewers, techniques, yeasts and other elements.
However, Ron Jeffries opened Jolly Pumpkin in 2004 with an express purpose of brewing beers of “truly outstanding artisan quality,” and with very few exceptions he has done just that. Adhering to small-batch production, top-quality ingredients and an obsessive dedication to the finer brewing arts, Jolly Pumpkin products would not be out-of-place if found on a retail shelf in Bruges. Even their labels have drawn praise for their artistic nature.
Jolly Pumpkin arrived in North Texas in summer 2014, and now after a year we are seeing their seasonal beers appear on local shelves and taps. Most of what they brew are farmhouse-style ales inoculated with wild yeasts and bottle-conditioned, and are often individual creative works more than adhering strictly to one of the classic Belgian styles (a very Belgian attitude). This fall brings us their La Parcela (“The Plot,” as in pumpkin patch) pumpkin ale brewed with cacao and other spices and then fermented and aged in oak barrels.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of La Parcela is it does not taste like any of its label descriptors. From the tap it pours a muted copper color with a fruity nose and has a moderate tartness just short of sour, characteristic of farmhouse ales. Flavors are gently sweet but not heavy on the palate, bordering on a dry cider with a light aspirin taste. Some caramelized malt comes through, smooth esters with hints of allspice and clove but little pumpkin or cacao. In fact, the most prominent elements are apple and honey with the barest evidence of wood.
The finish in this 5.9% ABV ale is unexpectedly dry and delicate, almost champagne-like. One would be hard-pressed to name it as a pumpkin ale as it shares so many qualities with other fermented beverages, and it really defies stylistic classification. But for a Belgian-styled beer made on American soil, there are few that surpass it.
Availability: Jolly Pumpkin prefers the 750-ml format for packaging, allowing for bottle conditioning. Taps occasionally spring up at the usual craft beer bars or growler fill stations.