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+



I’ve had a few offerings from Brooklyn Brewery before, mainly through my brief work trips out to The Big Apple. Their East India Pale Ale? Yeah, serviceable. Pennant Ale ’55? A pretty average pale ale, but OK. At least I got a decent story out of procuring it. But when my buddy Aaron over at the Vice Blog sent me a nice trade package a while back, I knew I was in for a treat when I opened the box and discovered a bomber of Local 2 staring back at me. 

I have a lot of respect for Garrett Oliver, head brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery. He seems to approach craft beer not solely from the magnified perspective of “this is a great craft beer and I’m going to tell you why,” but rather from the broader holistic sense of how the beer contributes to the experience of food enjoyment, mirth and life. It’s a great way to think about craft beer, in my opinion, and prevents one from getting too siloed with what can sometimes become a harlequin romance novel of bathetically poetic beer description and granular conversation that may turn off some non-craft drinkers to the whole phenomenon. Granted, I’m as guilty as the rest of them, particularly through this blog. But I’d generally like to think my enjoyment and advocacy for craft beer, whether that includes hanging out with friends and family on the patio during a summer evening or at the local brewpub, is more about connecting, learning, and appreciating the company of those around me versus beating someone over the head with knowledge of malt characteristics. Regardless of whether or not this is an accurate interpretation of Garrett’s beer philosophy, one thing is certain — the guy knows how to brew a damn good beer.

Local 2 kicked off with a resounding pop of the cork exploding from the bomber. Quite a gusher. Once I cleaned up the unfortunate spillage on the kitchen floor, Local 2 poured with a nice chocolatey brown coloring and big fizzy head. Hazy appearance from the abundance of yeast. Big Belgian nose with its yeast and candi sugar notes, almost dubbel-ish in the way it sang dark fruits. Taste is sweet up front, migrating to a dry fruitiness in the finish, I’m sure partially due to the honey used in the brewing process. Also a tad bit too boozey for me, which is the only real drawback in my mind. But overall a very nice, lively beer. 

 Rating: A-