“Christopher Columbus is a d***** bag.” It was my first year at the University of Connecticut when I read these words. I was on my way to class, and some aviator wearing college hipster had this Sharpied across his Michael Jordon sponsored plain, white Hanes T-Shirt. I was confused at first, then I remember it was early October. In fact, it happened to be Columbus Day. Clearly, this person had some pent up aggression towards Columbus… and with good reason. Columbus was, in part, responsible for the darkest black eye of European history – the start of overseas imperialism. He also took credit for a discovery the Vikings made roughly 500 years earlier and one could argue that he was partly responsible for the slaughtering of millions of natives in South America. It takes some historical perspective, but perhaps Jolly Pumpkin is picking up what I’m putting down. The beer is called Fuego del Otoño (which means autumn fire – symbolic of the downfall of native South American civilization), the language represents the country Columbus sailed for, Chris made his “discovery” in the fall, and adorned on this label looks a pretty sorrowful woman dressed in 1492 garb. Read between the lines here. Or it could just mean that the leaves change a fiery color. I like my theory better. Enough history though, time to do the numbers.
Appearance: For being unfiltered, I am genuinely surprised how clear this beer is. However, this is a 750 mL bottle of beer, and I have about two more pours to go – I suspect that the yeast in the bottom will make its way out on pours 2 and 3. The color of the beer is light amber with a fluffy off white head.
Smell: White wine, lactic acid, wood, with faint hints of caramel and butterscotch.
Taste: First sip, I got a lot of sour notes upfront with a lot of lactic acidity. It sort of shocked my tastes buds, but on the second go around, it was a different story. The malts in the beer do shine through past the initial sour kick with a bready and caramel sweetness to them. I’m not sure if the label is subconsciously making me think about falling leaves, but the best way I can describe the taste is like going outside on a crisp fall afternoon and smelling the air. The taste of falling damp leaves is in the brew past the initial tartness – this is where I think the spices in the beer (mostly nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon) poke through. The beer itself is not sour per sé, but it has a tart kick throughout it with continual funkiness from start to finish (barnyard, hay – the usual suspects in brett beers). The finish on this brew is dry, dry, dry. The aftertaste leaves you wanting to dive back in to satisfy the thirst this beer creates. There is also a definite bitterness on the sides after you swallow, but the taste of the brew itself is not bitter at all; I think the bitterness comes from the tannins in the wood and perhaps from the chestnuts used during the brewing process.
The mouthfeel and carbonation on this beer are really quite nice, especially the mouthfeel. The one knock on Jolly Pumpkin beers for me is that they always seemed a bit too thin, but Autumn Fire’s is certainly appropriate for a fall style ale. More than what you would expect out of a spring seasonal, but not approaching the stout/porter category in any way. For 6.1% ABV, this beer is very drinkable and very unique.
Overall: For a fall seasonal, I think Jolly Pumpkin nailed this. It truly reminds me of the tastes and smells of the northern U.S. fall season. The only gripe I have with the brew is its finish. It could be a little more rounded – some of the sweet breadyness of the malt would have been a nice contrast to the dryness of the oak. The amount of tartness is what you would expect out of any Jolly Pumpkin brew, and I really enjoy it. Overall, I’d give this guy a B+. If you’re a fan of sours but still like your fall seasonals, give this guy a try. If you live in a state that doesn’t distribute brews from Jolly Pumpkin, try finding it at Plum Market online.