Every week in The Man Who Invented Beer, Adam Cowden runs down the latest in craft beer in America and elsewhere, with a bit of history for flavor.
Another week closer to All Hallow’s, another pumpkin ale. If you haven’t got a pumpkin yet…well, just save yourself the money and buy a case of pumpkin beer instead. Or better yet, go get a pumpkin AND a case of beer and do some drunk carving, because everyone knows that drinking and knives go together like pumpkin and pie.
This week, we’ll be exploring another one of this fall’s “it” beers: Samuel Adams’ Fat Jack Pumpkin Ale.
What’s the story?
Fat Jack is a recent entry in Samuel Adams’ “Small Batch Beers” line, which are reputedly “bred from a respect for the craft, and above all, a willingness to ask ‘What if?’” This is a professional way of saying, “These beers are what happen when we get blackout and throw a bunch of sh*t in the mash tun.”
In all seriousness though, Sam Adams has a downright staggering number of beer varieties to their name, and among these number some of the most creative/experimental flavor combinations on the market (Honey Porter and Blackberry Wit, anyone?) Go browse through their selection if you have a minute; it will leave you foaming at the mouth. Eventually I’ll get around to writing a full-length “All About Sam Adams” article, but for now, suffice it so say that they are one of the original (and best) American craft brewers, and are actually more “craft” than modern-day Goose Island, which is now owned by Anheuser-Busch (which is in turn owned by Belgian-Brazilian giant InBev).
Fat Jack was released as “Double Pumpkin” in 2011 and renamed “Fat Jack Double Pumpkin Ale’ in 2012, and includes 28 lbs. of pumpkin per barrel in addition to cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. It’s like a beefed-up, better version of Sam Adams’ standard fall seasonal, Harvest Pumpkin Ale, which includes a paltry 17 lbs. of pumpkin per barrel. According to Sam, “The result is a delectable brew full of enveloping layers of flavor and spice.”
Where can I drink it?
As with last week’s beer, I had my Fat Jack at The Lion’s Head Pub in Lincoln Park. There are better places (and worse), but hey—they have decent beer.
If you’re looking for somewhere with fewer TV screens, or even just somewhere closer to home, check out this awesome built-in beer locater on Sam Adams’ website. I’ve already dialed it in to “Fat Jack, Chicago” for you, and it looks like you shouldn’t have to go too far to find it regardless of where you live within our fair city.
What does it taste like?
Remember last week when I said, “Most “pumpkin beers” have a sort of unpleasantly earthy, dirty, raw-pumpkin-y aspect, and seem to forget that there are many other ingredients involved in that pleasant pumpkin pie taste than solely pumpkin.” This is one of those. Hold the line, though—it’s actually not that bad.
Like Spaten Oktoberfest, the first thing you’ll notice about Fat Jack is the beer’s beautiful color, which is described by the official description as “russet.” I wouldn’t have known what the hell “russet” was if I didn’t have the mental image of the beer to recall, so allow me to describe it as, “dark, dark, almost-brown ruby.” Like the darker, homemade kind of pumpkin pie. The fluffy, medium-sized head looks more than a little like cool-whip sitting atop this brown beauty, and adds greatly to pie impression before it quickly dissipates.
Just before beginning to painstakingly record each detail of this beer’s nose, I came across a review that described it as follows: “smells like a pumpkin ale.” I thought that was pretty brilliant, because that describes the aroma exactly, but in much fewer words than I had intended. The nose does betray the “double pumpkin,” though, and this really comes through in the taste. There’s a good, malty-sweet kick on the opening, but it’s all pumpkin after that — the raw, earthy, I’m-definitely-a-real-pumpkin kind. There’s a slightly unpleasant toothpaste taste wrapped up in this, though not enough of it to complain about. Fat Jack is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Southern Tier’s Pumking in that it emphasizes the real pumpkin taste over the pumpkin-pie spices, which still show up in Fat Jack, but mostly in the aftertaste and in much smaller amounts. There’s also some interesting dark fruit, dubbel-like notes scattered about that really up the ante. These, along with a really excellent and substantial dark-malt base, make for a beer that I actually enjoyed DESPITE not being a big fan of pumpkin beer.
Fat Jack has an appropriately thick, slightly sticky mouthfeel that masks the medium carbonation. The high alcohol content (8.5%) is also almost completely masked by the heavy body. I was shocked to learn that it was nearly the same ABV as Pumking; I would have pegged it somewhere around 5%. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding led me to knock back two Fat Jacks very quickly, and this consequently led me to agree to go to Beaumont’s after 2 a.m. And anyone who’s ever been to Beaumont’s after 2 a.m. knows why you’ll still be regretting going to Beaumont’s at 2 a.m. the NEXT day.
Should I try it?
If you have a fever, and the only prescription is more pumpkin, then yes, by all means try this one. Some folks really go for that sort of thing, and they’re going to love Fat Jack. I myself have never been crazy about pumpkin in my beer (unless it’s all hopped up with sugar and spices, as it is in Pumking). That being said, this Sam Adams small-batch brew exceeded my expectations, but also left me wondering if the beer might have tasted superior sans pumpkin.