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Belt’s Beer Garden: Spice of Life

Avery Chai High & New Belgium Atomic Pumpkin

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Welp...it’s October. And that means we’re into the season of pumpkins and spices and pumpkin spices. Beer is not immune to that change. So today, here’s a few seasonable brews to get you ready for fall.

For those that haven’t heard of Avery, one of the biggest and oldest craft breweries in the US, here’s the lowdown. They call Boulder, Colorado home and have been brewing up beer since 1993! The vast majority of the country can find their beer but out east there are a few spots that don’t have them (for now).

Avery has now made a couple of appearances in the past few months…but this week I have their autumn seasonal beer – Chai High, an ale brewed with spiced chai tea and five types of malt. Each can of Chai High boasts a modest 5.3% ABV and comes in six-packs that cost the usual $10.

Chai High poured an incredibly dark amber, almost brown color with about two fingers of head topping the beer. The tan foam was quick to disappear into just a light dusting across the top and a slight build up around the edges.

On the nose this beer had some big and bold spiced notes from the tea that really dominated the aroma. It was filled with the scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and some light ginger. Behind the spices was some lightly toasted malt and a hint of black licorice.

My first sip began with a mild carbonation that lasted the entire first half of the sip. While the carbonation bubbled on my tongue, the flavors were quick to hit my taste buds too.

And, just as the smell had foretold, the taste was big on the spiced tea flavors. Cinnamon and nutmeg led all the flavors while the ginger adds a slight heat to Chai High. The malts added a nice sweetness that calmed the spices down and contributed with some caramel.

There was no bitterness to this beer and, despite having four varieties of hops inside, the beer was very malt centric with the hops basically hidden behind everything else.

Chai High, after the sip is gone, ends on the dryer side of things and leaves a slightly sticky residue lingering on your palate.

As the beer warms up, I was surprised to see that the spices became more subdued and the malts took over the flavors.

I would have guessed the spices would pick up steam and the ginger would become even more noticeable but instead it was the caramel notes that pushed forward. The new malt profile made this beer have a much sweeter taste and cleaner finish…although the stickiness did remain.

This is the perfect beer for pre-gaming before a corn maze or these weekday night football games we’re about to get into. The 5.3% ABV isn’t too high but provides a nice warmth that the heat from the ginger and spices add to. Plus is a nice alternative to all the pumpkin beers/drinks flooding the market right now.

And speaking of pumpkins…

It’s now time for the obligatory pumpkin beer review. For this year’s I chose New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin.

New Belgium is the fourth largest craft brewery in the country and began making beers in Ft. Collins, Colorado way back in 1991. Recently, they added a second location on the other side of the country in Asheville, North Carolina. You can find them in just about every state in the US (looks like the only places you can’t buy their beers are Hawaii, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, and West Virginia).

Atomic Pumpkin isn’t your standard pumpkin ale. Just like their website says: “I’m not interested in an ale that takes cues from a frozen coffee drink, and neither are you.”

Yes, it’s made with pumpkin and cinnamon (like most) but New Belgium upped the ante by using Saigon cinnamon and then adding habanero peppers as well! And, there’s some nice booze packed in here as well as it clocks in at 6.4%. A six-pack costs the average $10.

Atomic Pumpkin poured a dark copper color with two fingers of fluffy white head building up. With in a minute all that remained was a light accumulation around the edge and a razor thin cloud across the top.

There is one amazing aroma emanating from the glass…and I’m not one big on pumpkin beers (sure, I’ll drink a few of them around this time). The pumpkin is there but the cinnamon and spices actually lead the way. The cinnamon stands out most with a nice sweetness that compliments the gourd. It was like smelling a liquid pumpkin pie…all that was missing was some whipped cream on top.

My first taste started with the some light pumpkin before the habanero chilies kicked off a spicy attack on my tongue. The large burn caught me off guard and I could feel it all the way down my throat. The cinnamon sweetness quickly cut into the attack on my taste buds and smoothed everything out up there…but my esophagus was still in shock.

Now I can handle spicy food and, after the first few sips, the fire in my throat faded and everything was all good. But do be warned: the chilies aren’t hidden behind anything…they’re front and center.

As the beer warms up, the peppers get lost to the cinnamon and pumpkin flavors creating a really smooth, tasty, way better take on a pumpkin beer. It’s not your “basic white girl” pumpkin drink. It’s bold, it’s boozy, and it’s spicy!

Overall, this is close to Southern Tier’s Pumking and Steven’s Point Whole Hog for the best pumpkin beer I think I’ve had…it’s definitely top-3 for me.