Craft beer lovers in California are well aware of the fantastic products Jesse Fridman and Damian Fagan have been putting out over the last few years. While those names might not sound familiar to most, the San Francisco-based Almanac Beer Company they started in 2010 has garnished quite a reputation for putting out unique beers using locally-sourced ingredients from family owned farms. Their farm to barrel approach has turned out a long line of highly-rated brews all without the use their own brewing equipment.
That’s right; there is no actual Almanac brewing facility.1
They are part of the growing trend of contract brewers. Commonly referred to as “gypsy brewers,” they brew there beer using other brewery’s equipment during slow periods in their brewing schedules. The duo does have aspirations of opening their own brew house and tasting room, but for now they will stick with churning out world class beers with the help of their Bay Area brewing neighbors.
One of Almanac’s recent release was its Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine, a beer first released in 2013. This nod to the changing of the seasons is packed with over 1,000 pounds of organic heirloom pumpkins and then aged in a combination of brandy and rye barrels. After about a year in the barrels it is then blended with a fresh batch of spiced barleywine to create the finished product.2
As I pour the beer into a glass the first thing that catches my eye is the beautiful burnt orange color of the brew. It has a thin off-white head that dissipates quickly leaving a halo of tiny bubbles around the glass. I can smell the beer before I even put my nose to the glass. As I take my first sniff of the glass, my first impression is a gingerbread house covered in caramel. A really rich malty sweetness along with your classic pumpkin pie spices.3 There is also a nice roasted pumpkin note that comes through as well making it a very complex smelling beer. The beautiful nose on this beer is really inviting and begs to be tasted.
As I take my first sip I am quickly met by a lot of the same flavors as the nose. The gingerbread and spices definitely carry over into the taste but it is met with a big caramel sweetness that has a touch of vanilla that I assume is from the barrels. After a quick swirl around the taste buds the brandy barrel arrives in a big way. The deep wine like brandy notes linger for a bit while a slight hint of the rye wonders in. There is a noticeable alcohol bite but it helps cut the sweetness a bit and the more I drink the more the brandy barrels start to take more of a roll. It is a fantastically complex sipper with a lot of bold flavors to offer.