Monday, October 26, 2009

Iron Hill Gathering of the Gourds

The original plan was to head out to this event on my bike with the Beer by Bike crew but based on some scheduling conflicts in addition to a rather wet forecast the ride did not occur. Despite the ride being cancelled I wasn't even sure I would be able to make it based on other conflicts, but luckily I was able to get over to Iron Hill in West Chester for a couple of hours. The Gathering of the Gourds is a festival of pumpkin based beer and food that Larry Horwitz (head brewer at IH West Chester) has been putting on the past few years (previously at IH North Wales).

Iron Hill West Chester is the perfect Iron Hill location for events like this. Between the free parking in West Chester on the weekends in addition to the larger "private" bar area in the back it just works out really nicely. There was a total of 5 Iron Hill pumpkin based beers on tap in addition to 6 guest beers on tap. You could get a sampler which included 10 of the beers, 5 oz pours of each for $15. The Iron Hill beers included their 9.5% Ichabod Imperial Belgian Pumpkin Ale, Punktoberfest which was a strong version of their Oktoberfest beer brewed with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices, Boom Sticke Pumpkin Alt a 7.5% Sticke Alt which was brewed with German pumpkins and seasonal spices. They also took their Imperial Belgian Pumpkin Ale and aged it in a Heaven Hill bourbon barrels, they were calling this one Bruce Camp-Ale. The 5th Iron Hill beer of the event was not on the menu and was not included in the sampler. It was their Imperial Belgian Pumpkin Ale that they aged in an oak barrel along with some brett to create their Funkin Punkin. The beer they were referring to as their "secret keg" but all you had to do was hear about it...and ask for a sample at the bar. They also filled up a pumpkin with their Ichabod which they tapped around 5pm and handed out free samples to everyone.

The guest beers included four beers from Elysian, a brewery that specializes in pumpkin based beers. They brought along their The Great Pumpkin, Dark o' the Moon Pumpkin Stout, Hansel and Gretel Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner as well as their Kaiser Kurbis (a wheat based pumpkin ale). Stewarts Brewery out of Bear, DE sent up their Mischief Night Pumpkin Ale and Cambridge Brewing Company provided their Great Pumpkin Ale.

Out of all the pumpkin based beers I had I was surprised by which beer took top honors in my opinion...Iron Hills Punktoberfest. Probably the beer I was most skeptical about turned out to be the top beer of the day for me. The strong malty notes of the Oktoberfest beer complimented the vanilla and cinnamon that was really coming through as well. The beer reminded me of a pumpkin spice cookie. The Bruce Camp-Ale was a bit too heavy on the bourbon for my taste, but was getting a lot of attention from the folks that really dig over the top bourbon barrel aged beers. The Ichabod is a solid beer as well. Out of the guest taps the only one that stood out to me was The Great Pumpkin from Elysian, a very solid more traditional Pumpkin Ale. The description said they use toasted pumpkin seeds in the mash so maybe that gave this beer a little bit more to help set it apart.

The food really helped to make this event stand out. In generally I'm a fan of the food at Iron Hill, especially their specials so going into this I had a feeling they would really pull off some great pumpkin based dishes. What I wasn't expecting was all the food (and plenty of it) to be free! Pumpkin and Chiorizo Chili served from a pumpkin, sweet potato croquettes with some sort of maple and nut based glaze, pumpkin hummus and the highlight as far as the food goes...teriyaki glazed wings with jalapenos and a pumpkin curry sauce to cover them in! Yes the food was amazing. Thanks to Iron Hill West Chester for a great food spread, a solid selection of pumpkin beers and an event that I'll be sure to make it back out to in years to come.

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