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Beer Reviews

Oro de Calabaza

Jolly Pumpkin
Dexter, MI

Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 8.0%

Eddie’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

If you were to put a gun to my head (and who wouldn’t want to?) and make me pick a world style that American craft brewers have not yet perfected and seized as their own, I would probably say the Belgian golden ale, known in more casual circles simply as the triple. My argument is pretty easy to make. How many American brews can you favorably compare to Delirium Tremens, Gouden Carolus, Triple Karmeliet, Westmalle Trappist Triple and, last but not least, Duval? (Yes, it is pronounced DOO-vl, and no, it’s not French, but a Flemish corruption of the word “devil.”) These are some of the best beers on Earth, regardless of style. And topping them ain’t no easy feat: the brewing processes to create these beers are hideously complex and have been perfected by the world’s brewing masters sometimes over a period of centuries.

Enter Dexter, Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin and their take on the Belgian golden ale, Oro de Calabaza (literally, “pumpkin’s gold”). With their wonderfully named beer they aren’t trying to surpass or even match the Belgians, but instead put their own twist on the style. All of Jolly Pumpkin’s brews are aged in oak barrels, which adds a completely new level of complexity to a beer that is normally aged in stainless steel or copper. For one, barrel-aged beer takes on the flavors of whatever was in the barrel before it—in many cases brewers use old bourbon barrels, sometimes wine. Also, because these oak barrels are unsanitized, there’re little beasties such as bacteria and wild yeast living in the cracks. These critters are hungry little bastards, and they compete with the yeast already present for the remaining sugars in the beer. This usually lends a distinct sourness to the brew, along the lines of an authentic lambic or Flemish sour.

The Oro de Calabaza pours just like its distant golden cousins: bright and straw-colored with a tall, extremely fine-bubbled head. It leaves a lacing on the glass that is really more like a sheet of thin foam. Impressive. Its aroma is vaguely coriander, almost champagne-like—similar to but much less intense than a typical high-end Belgian. The taste is complex, but not quite as mind-boggling as you would expect from my above ramblings. Initially it is extremely dry, followed by a faint but unmistakable shot of tartness. Certainly far less than the onslaught of sourness you’d get from a lambic. Not the mountains of complex flavors I was expecting. More like … rolling hills. A solid, innovative entry. But the Devil still sits on his throne.

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on January 11, 2007.
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