It’s Pumpkin (Beer) Season!

In case you haven’t been to a grocery store/Starbucks/shopping mall or on the internet recently, it’s officially pumpkin season! With Halloween right around the corner, so many foods are now available in pumpkin flavors: coffee, chocolate, crackers, ice cream, tea, pastries, pasta sauce, breakfast cereal, etc. I’m here to tell you about just one: beer. Yes, I tried all the pumpkin beers so that you can try the best. You should’ve seen my roommates’ faces when I came home from the Beer Cellar, my arms full of deliciousness.

First, a little background on my preferences: I prefer complex, flavorful beers, especially if those flavors include hoppy, sour, or malty. I’d pick ambers and IPAs over scotch ales and lagers. Additionally, I don’t feel high levels of sweetness really belong in beers- if you want something sweet, just eat a chocolate bar! Anyway, if you do like sweet beers, take my opinions with a grain of salt (see what I did there?). Here are the beers, in alphabetical order:

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Photo courtesy of Blue Moon Brewing Co.

The Beer: Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Brewery: Blue Moon Brewing Company – Golden, CO
Alcohol Content: 5.7%
My Rating: ∗∗
Description: An enjoyable beer with the crisp sweetness you’ve come to expect from Blue Moon. Solid pumpkin spice flavor, but a little too syrupy for my tastes. It’d be hard to drink more than 1 of these in 1 evening. Pairs well with leggings-as-pants, a North Face jacket, and Uggs.

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The Beer
: Hey! Pumpkin
Brewery: Denver Beer Company – Denver, CO
Alcohol Content: 5.4%
My Rating: ∗∗
Description: The employees at the Beer Cellar recommended I mix Hey! Pumpkin with Denver Beer Co’s Graham Cracker Porter (also pictured above) for a fuller fall effect. I tried Hey! Pumpkin alone first. The pumpkin flavor was a subtle one; it tasted more like a typical brown ale. The Graham Cracker Porter was also understated in its graham-crackeriness. Adding it to the mix introduced some deeper, smokier flavors. Overall the beers felt somewhat watered down to me. I could see how they might be better when paired with certain foods (pumpkin pie, perhaps?) or while sitting at a campfire, draped in a flannel blanket, after a day spent frolicking through fall leaves. If you value drinkability in your beers, these might be for you.

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The Beer
: Pumking
Brewery: Southern Tier Brewing Company – Lakewood, NY
Alcohol Content: 8.6%
My Rating: ∗∗∗∗
Description: If you want your pumpkin beer to remind you of a slice of pumpkin pie and a spoonful of whipped cream, this one fits the bill. Not too sweet, not too strong, and plenty drinkable. The sweetness comes with a hint of maple syrup but is balanced by a deep, almost musky flavor that evokes fall. Pairs well with a Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Ginger Chunk cookie, I must admit.

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The Beer
: Pumpkick
Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Company – Fort Collins, CO
Alcohol Content: 6.0%
My Rating: ∗
Description: This beer’s defining characteristic is also why I dislike it- the zing of cranberry juice. I like cranberry under normal (read: sauce & pie) circumstances, but the cranberry in Pumpkick makes it too fruity for me when, I think, pumpkin is more of a squash flavor. I could see cranberry working really well in a sour beer or a kolsch, but I prefer my pumpkin beer on the pumpkin-y side.

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The Beer
: Pumpkin Patch Ale
Brewery: Eddyline Brewing – Buena Vista, CO
Alcohol Content: 5.78%
My Rating: ∗∗∗
Description: Here is some full-on, unabashed pumpkin flavor for ya! This seasonal beer comes in a pint-sized (literally) can. It tastes fairly light compared to other pie-inspired pumpkin beers, and I didn’t find it to be syrupy at all. Pairs well with various low-key activities including but not limited to cooking dinner, watching YouTube videos, and petting a dog. (Important note: Matt professed to dislike this one, but drank the whole can anyway. Waste not, want not.)

 

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Photo courtesy of @almanacbeer on Instagram


The Beer
: Pumpkin Pie de Brettaville (Farm to Barrel series)
Brewery: Almanac Beer Company – San Francisco, CA
Alcohol Content: 7%
My Rating: ∗∗∗∗∗
Description: If you’re a fan of sour beers, this is the pumpkin beer for you. Unfiltered fermentation at its finest, I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of flavors in this one. The beer’s bitterness is definitely at the forefront, but behind that lies a mysterious layer (veil?) of pumpkin and spices like cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and ginger. As this only comes in 375ml bottles, either find a fellow pumpkin/sour beer-lover, or get cozy because this will take care of the rest of your night. #stayingin

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Photo courtesy of Avery Brewing Co.

The Beer: Pump[KY]n
Brewery: Avery Brewing Co. – Boulder, CO
Alcohol Content: 15%
My Rating: ∗∗
Description: Yep, you read that right- 15%. Matt and I split this 12oz bottle and it was still intense. Why so strong? Well, the “KY” in the name is actually a reference to the land of bourbon, Kentucky. Pump[KY]n started out as a mere pumpkin beer, but then was elevated to the 15% level by virtue of being aged in bourbon barrels. The porter flavor is definitely still there underneath a light layer of maple/battery acid. If that’s not what bourbon reminds you of too, this beer may suit you better than it did me. Avery has a similar pumpkin beer available this season as well, called Rumpkin. Guess where that batch was aged!

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The Beer: Punkin Ale
Brewery: Dogfish Head – Milton, DE
Alcohol Content: 7.0%
My Rating: ∗∗∗∗∗
Description: I admit I’m a little biased because I love everything Dogfish Head brews, but this is just a fun beer to drink, folks. A little maple, a little molasses, a little spice, a lot pumpkin. I’m also partial to amber ales, and this one strikes me as a pumpkified amber. Pairs well with contemplating life- also cheese and potatoes.

I’m still mourning Alaskan Brewing Company’s decision to replace last year’s amazing pumpkin porter with this fall’s coffee brown ale. That one got five stars in my book, too. Any good pumpkin beers I missed? Let me know! Happy fall, y’all- cheers!

 

Visiting the Poudre River

Visiting the Poudre River

As many of you know, I began my graduate studies this fall at Colorado State University in creative writing. An assignment in one of my classes required that I choose an outdoor “site,” which I am to visit on a regular basis, take notes, and then journal about it later. I’ve been visiting the Cache la Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins, via the city-owned Poudre Trail, for a little over a month now. On my last visit, Friday September 30th, I took my camera along with me. Here are some excerpts from journal so far, along with a few photos.

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A sign for the Poudre Trail via Lee Martinez Park in Fort Collins, CO

August 20

I arrived at my site at 3:20PM. It was 86° Fahrenheit and mostly sunny, with puffy white cumulonimbus clouds in the north. I was sitting on the south bank of the river, the water flowing east. The river appeared almost a copper color because of the stones in its bed. The current was rather swift –as I could tell by the passing inner tube floaters—like a slow jog. According to the markings on the underside of the Poudre Trail pedestrian bridge over the river, the water was just under three feet deep.

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Willows and cottonwoods on the Poudre’s north bank

All around me were dogs, children swimming, and more people walking, running, or biking on the paved trail. Through the trees and over the sound of rushing water I could hear people cheering, laughing, and chatting. There was a constant sound of crickets chirping, and an occasional whisper of breeze through foliage.

In the water, a fresh four-foot Russian Olive branch with all its leaves floated by. I noticed stray, straight spider-silk threads in the grass and in the elm branches above me. Slowly a dragonfly flew by me toward the east. Some individual sparrows crossed the river as well. Dogs barked in the distance, and thunder could be heard coming from the north; the clouds grew darker across the river.

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September 12

I always thought the Poudre River was named after snow powder, especially since it drops 7,000 feet in elevation from the Rockies through a narrow, chiseled canyon, to conjoin with the South Platte River east of Greeley, Colorado. It actually refers to French Canadian trappers, in the early 1800’s, hiding their cache of gunpowder there during a particularly bad blizzard. The Poudre River is Colorado’s only nationally recognized “Wild & Scenic River.”

Behind me, a woman running west clears her throat. Two bikes tick east. The sun clouds over.

September 17

Today the Cache la Poudre River is just over one foot tall, the pedestrian bridge informs me.

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This means about 775 gallons of river water, of Rocky Mountain snowmelt, are flowing beneath that bridge every second. What seems like a humble stream to the eye—especially with monumental rivers in my mind, the Colorado and Snake nearby, the New and Mississippi and Chattanooga out east—is really a powerhouse, always on the move. Small yellow leaves are floating downstream, to the east, away from the Rocky Mountains and toward the South Platte River, toward the heartland. I read that brown trout spawn here in the fall, but I see no fish in the clear water down to the copper-y bottom, littered with round granite stones. Sometimes I hear the fish—a sudden catch of water, white flash slap above the surface.

Along the bank two blue jays stutter squawks at one another. One flies into view and lands on a yellowing cottonwood branch. His body is a jewel blue and he wears a white collar just above his breast, beneath a blue cockscomb. Later I learn this is the edge of the blue jay’s livable range, as far as they come; the foothills of the Rocky Mountains halt them the way they halted railroads, the way they still halt clouds and precipitation.

I think about the river, about the trout. What would it feel like to live in water constantly flowing in one direction? Not like an ocean where the tide is a rhythm of give and take, but always east, the way our ancestors felt pulled westward continually. I ask a fisher friend about the trout—the brown, the rainbow, the cutthroat. He says you can often go back to the same spot on the Poudre or Snake or wherever, the same hole or stone, and catch the very same fish—they don’t stray too far. My concept of fish life has been shaped mostly by the story of spawning salmon and—let’s face it—Finding Nemo, so this was news to me, that fish don’t drift or migrate or explore in spite of the debris that floats right by, that the river doesn’t become their timeline on which to travel. I thought a good metaphor might be that little conveyor belt in sushi restaurants that slowly slides enticing sashimi and rolls right before your eyes, for the taking. I guess a river might feel more like that to a fish—food constantly coming and going all day, all night, abundance set spinning by the engine of gravity, by the churning of season, of freeze and thaw.

September 22

I count thirty-five bleats of train horn in the span of several minutes. A helicopter hovers somewhere to the south and car engines rumble to the east. Behind me, bikes pass and dog leashes jingle. Occasional bits of conversation slip through the weeds—two students stressed about the new semester, a mother making safety-related requests of her young child on a miniature bicycle, two middle-aged women building each other up. A propeller plane’s engine rattles from above, behind cover of low, gray clouds.

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Cottonwoods framing the Poudre River Trail

I have just heard how little land in this country remains untouched by human-generated noise. If not an interstate, then a highway. If not a highway, then a railroad. If not a railroad, then trails for ATVs or snowmobiles. If not a trail, then a reservoir with a marina. And if no marina, then planes etching their contrails above, or helicopters leading rescues of people lost in the wilderness. Silence deserts. The scarceness of silence. This must have devastating effects on animals, especially those who rely on their hearing to find prey, to hunt, to stay safe, to not become prey, to survive.

When I hear a sound—a splash of water, birdsong, crackle of twigs or dry grass—I hope for a sighting of an animal—a trout, a blue jay, a crow, a grasshopper. When animals hear our omnipresent noise—engines whirring, tires squealing, horns honking—what do they hope for?

September 30

All the vegetation and leaves are more yellowing today, rustier—oxidized colors. There was a light drizzle all morning. My field notes are speckled with the occasional raindrop ink-stain. The Poudre River was measured at two feet high, higher than my last visit because it’s been raining up in the mountains, to the west.

Little white wildflowers upstream catch my eye. I walk over unsteady pebbles and a large cottonwood root to get to them. The root is far enough away from any trees that it’s impossible for me to tell to which it belongs. Each flower is in various stages of unfurling—some are fully open, dripping their petals into their watery reflections.

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As best as I can tell, the flower is Carolina Bugbane, or Trautvetteria Caroliniensis, which is native to this area

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Carolina Bugbane is in the Rananculaceae family, or the buttercup family, and seems to prefer wetter habitats

I find myself thinking how it would feel to live in a river that can get as low as one foot deep—to have distance infinitely available to you (seemingly), but know your explorations, your knowledge, were all limited to one foot by the width of the river by its length. I suppose human life, until the inventions of the airplane and rocket-ship, is fairly limited in that way as well—we’re basically stuck to the earth’s surface, most of us. This, I think, is the origin of the desire to fly, our envy of birds. We can’t see the earth’s rotund nature from our limited depth, the slice of air in which we live. We’ve had to escape this space to see the world for what it really is—a sphere remarkably like and unlike any other.

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There Are Still Leaves!

Dear reader, I admit to taking a month-long hiatus from this blog, in case you hadn’t noticed. So, Things That Have Happened:

We’ve been in Wyoming for over a year now, which is hard to believe. (We’ve survived!!) My car was inoperable for over a month, Abe got diagnosed with hypothyroidism, Matt’s back in school, I’m taking a class at the University of Wyoming this semester – you know, the usual.

Back when it was decidedly summer, on a solo hike up in the Snowy Range (on the way back from this, my car broke down the first time)

Back when it was decidedly summer, on a solo hike up in the Snowy Range (on the way back from this, my car broke down the first time)

The weather has been surprisingly terrific these past few weeks, aside from the two times it’s snowed. Don’t worry, the second time it didn’t even stick, but it still zapped my zucchini plants. The grass is staying green, and there are still leaves! Up in the mountains the aspen have lost their leaves to the wind, but here in the valley all the deciduous trees are a shimmering yellow. Even some of the hollyhocks and rosebushes are still blooming, which is hard to believe.

I just can't get over the beauty of these mountains

I just can’t get over the beauty of these mountains

The Snowy Range is quite snowy right now, as I can see from town. Walmart has sold out of all its chrysanthemums, and pumpkin season is in full swing. I triumphantly wore shorts under a dress today, which is almost not cheating.

I call this one, "Pumpkins in Love," obviously

I call this one, “Pumpkins in Love,” obviously

Mostly it’s the little things right now. Last night I roasted a goat leg for the first time (oregano, garlic, crushed red pepper, white wine). I’m forcing myself to write more, which really means I’m just writing poems titled ridiculous things like, “Wasabi Peas Say No to Complacency.” We try to get outside and/or go climbing every weekend. Last week I upgraded and bought a real ski jacket, which feels a little like over-commitment. Does this mean I have to actually wake up early to go skiing this winter? Do I have to try the black diamond runs now? Do my skis need to get “tuned up” or whatever? So long as I can still order the hot chocolate with whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles every single time.

Why do I bother raking in a state famous for its wind? Because grass that's still GREEN!

Why do I bother raking leaves in a state famous for its wind? Because grass that’s still GREEN!

It’s easy to get complacent (to which wasabi peas would say, “NO!”) about the nice weather we’re currently having. In North Carolina, I was complacent about nice weather because the weather was almost always nice, so it became acceptable to spend a perfectly sunny Saturday morning inside eating oatmeal and watching Netflix, because odds were the next Saturday would be lovely too.

Abe is always complacent

Abe is always complacent; it’s kind of his lifestyle

I remember a bouldering trip Matt, our friend Kyle, and I took in the winter. The Winter. In the mountains of North Carolina – Rumbling Bald, to be exact. I wore my down jacket and a hat, and it was excellent. We stayed in a motel (you know, because it was “cold”) and borrowed a bizarre and murderous movie from the front desk that scarred us all for life. Bouldering here in the winter is out of the question unless you don’t mind packing in a broom and shovel to dig out enough room around the boulder for your crash pad, but there are many other adventurous options, such as cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowshoeing (see my post about the Poker Run).

And, if all else fails, there’s always our sweet little house to keep us not-cold and not-windy.

Just before sunset, the golden hour

Just before sunset, the golden hour

Love to all.

Playlist for Fall

Happy Fall, everyone! Leaves are changing, the breeze is suddenly crisp, there are pumpkins lining the front of every grocery store…

My sister Libby, with leaf.

My sister Libby, with leaf.

One way I like to commemorate the new season is with music. Music motivates us. It inspires us. It invokes memories. It helps us fall in love. It makes us want to shop at Anthropologie. (No? That’s just me?) I had a neighbor, back when I was a kid, who always cranked up 80’s music and strapped on knee- and elbow-pads to clean her house. Playing music can help you get through mundane chores like driving or washing the dishes.

That said, I’ve created a little Spotify playlist to commemorate the season. It has a little bit of everything: bluegrass, folk, rock ‘n roll. If you have Spotify, you can access the playlist here. If not, feel free to look up all the songs on YouTube or iTunes; I’ve listed them below.

  1. “Wrecking Ball,” by Gillian Welch – sort of Americana, heavily influenced by traditional American folk tunes. Amazing, very personal lyrics. I’ve been listening to a lot of her lately.
  2. “In the Night,” by Basia Bulat – folk-y too. My little sister Libby and I saw her open for Pickwick at a little music venue in NC. She’s Canadian and known for performing with an autoharp.
  3. “She Moves in Her Own Way,” by The Kooks. You’ve probably heard this song before. It is fun and dance-y!
  4. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” by Paul Simon. You’ve definitely heard this song before. Never fails to get my toes a-tappin’.
  5. “Easy Come Easy Go,” by Great Lake Swimmers. One of my favorite bands, with a song that makes you want to drive through curvy mountain back-roads with the windows down.
  6. “Down to the River,” by The Duhks. So many Canadians! Some of the verses are in French, which is unexpected and fun in a bluegrass song. Matt put this song on a CD he made me when we first started dating.
  7. “The Fade,” by Megafaun. A great NC band that’s been making music for some time now. Banjo!
  8. “VV,” by The Cave Singers. I love this album! Great band out of Seattle.
  9. “Gardening at Night,” by R.E.M. Probably my favorite band (thanks, Mom)! An oldie, but a goodie. This song reminds me of an article I read about guerrilla gardening, where activist gardeners plant flowers and edible plants in urban areas under cover of darkness. Take that, The Man!
  10. “Let It Ride,” by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. Ryan Adams hails from NC as well. He is now better known as Mandy Moore’s husband. Bluegrass-influenced, his first albums were released with a band called Whiskeytown.
  11. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” by The Smiths. I know, I know – I pulled it from the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. So unoriginal. But it’s The Smiths!
  12. “Orpheo Looks Back,” by Andrew Bird. I promise I was listening to this song before Chobani used it in their yogurt commercial! You’ve got to love the female backup vocals, the pizzicato violin in the style of a mandolin or guitar, the nonsensical lyrics…
  13. “Like a Rolling Stone,” by Bob Dylan. One of the few CDs Matt keeps in his car stereo is a Bob Dylan one. We listen to this song and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” a lot while driving to go climbing.
  14. “Lovesong of the Buzzard,” by Iron & Wine. From a great album. This song feels like a good Tumblr profile, or like a pop-up Free People store in a field. Yes?
  15. “Sweet Jane,” by The Velvet Underground. Also from Matt’s first mix. Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here.
  16. “Domino,” by Van Morrison. It’s hard to make a good playlist without at least one Van Morrison song. Just try listening to this without bopping  your head. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Feel free to share some of your favorite tunes for Fall in the comments. Get groovin’!