I haven’t formally reviewed anything from Michigan-based Jolly Pumpkin before, which is unfortunate I suppose, as my first one out of the gate isn’t frankly that indicative of a couple other pretty solid offerings I’ve had from them, including Oro de Calabaza (a biere de garde) and La Roja (a wild ale).

I picked this one up at Casanova’s in Hudson. And according to Beer Advocate, Noel de Calabaza is categorized as a Belgian strong dark, which I just don’t get. Like many styles, there’s often a fairly wide degree of latitude in characteristics of aroma and flavor. But when it comes to Belgian strong darks, the general theme across similar stylistic offerings like Chimay Blue, Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre and Unibroue Maudite is a rich malt foundation of caramel, bread and toast accented by a spicy, dark fruit aroma. 

With Jolly Pumpkin’s Christmas seasonal, however, you have to strain to pick up even a hint of these qualities. Instead, whatever malt complexity might actually be there is overshadowed by the two main things this beer does have going on…loads of barnyard funk and an acidic tart flavor, not exactly what I’d call your prototypical Belgian strong dark.

So putting the stylistic shackles aside, was the beer flavorful on its own merits?

They bottle condition the beer, and this one was a bit of a gusher, all kinds of carbonation spewing out of the bottle as I just barely got my glass in place to catch the pour. Color was nice, a deep mahogany with a meringue-like cloud of dense bubbles topping the glass. Brett, brett and more brett in the nose, which I’m a big fan of, laced with an acidic quality. Not much of the dark fruit or sweet candi sugar I’d expect. 

The beer has a fleeting sweetness up front in the taste, which quickly transitions to a potent, dominating lactic sourness. As much as I’ve been getting into sours lately, this one wasn’t really working for me, with not enough nuance or layers of additional flavor there to complement the one-dimensional tartness. Despite the overabundance of carbonation in the initial pour, mouthfeel was surprisingly thin, almost as if the acid took over and cut the texture.        

I really wanted to like this beer. But a lack of malt depth and vinegar-like flavoring make it a tough one for me to recommend.

Rating: C+

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