Iron Hill’s Gathering of the Gourds has become quite the Halloween tradition in West Chester. The popular event, which unfolded at the back bar of the restaurant on Saturday, October 27th, was packed with beer lovers eager to sample the incredible selection of pumpkin brews. This year, Iron Hill offered six of their own pumpkin beers and six special guest beers. For those who couldn’t choose, like us, we could order both flights! We also were presented with the special seasonal dinner menu, which included pumpkin specials, to pair with the special beers on tap. Let’s chat about the beer first.
The first flight featured the six Iron Hill beers, all with their own unique traits. My date and I decided to have a bit of fun, flipping over the beer menu and creating our own pumpkin beer slam. We tasted each beer and scored it based on our own taste preferences. My personal preference is for porters, brown ales and stouts. My date enjoys the lighter beers so we often debated these differences in taste, and this made for a fun afternoon.
The flight of six Iron Hill beers included five brewed in West Chester: the Ichabod Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Punktoberfest, Bruce Camp-Ale, Pumpkin Ale, and the Pumpkin Berliner Weisse. The sixth beer, Imperial Pumpkin Ale, was brewed at Iron Hill’s Maple Shade location by brewmaster Chris Lapierre.
We sipped our way through the Iron Hill flight, only stopping when brewers Chad Rieker and Andrew Harton stopped by to chat. My date and I enjoyed tasting and comparing our notes, contrasting the subtle differences between each beer. Our favorite among these six was the Bruce Camp-Ale, which is so strong (9.5% ABV) it’s named after cult actor Bruce “The Chin” Campbell. We also really enjoyed the Imperial Pumpkin Ale, with its hint of molasses and candi sugar.
We next dove into the flight of six guest beers. Three of the beers were from Elysian Brewing Company: Dark o’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout, Great Pumpkin Imperial Pumpkin Ale and Night Owl Pumpkin Ale. Brooklyn Brewery was represented with Post Road Pumpkin Ale, and Otter Creek supplied Wolaver’s Organic Pumpkin Ale. Goudzilla Imperial Pumpkin Ale from Stewart’s Brewing Company was also featured.
Out favorites in this batch were Elysian Dark o’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout, which hit our palates with a yummy chocolate taste and a malty roasted finish. This was an excellent dessert beer that left me craving a second serving. We also really enjoyed the Night Owl Pumpkin from Elysian, which was the smoothest and most well-balanced of the pumpkin beers in the guest flight. The Wolaver’s Organic Pumpkin Ale really tasted like pumpkin with only a light spice.
The dinner menu was an excellent accompaniment to the selection of beers on tap. At first glance we knew we’d be trying the Pumpkin Mac-n-Cheese! This creamy succulent dish featured penne pasta and smoked pork covered in a pumpkin Monterey cheese sauce. Each bite was gooey goodness with slight hints of pumpkin balancing the slightly salty pork. I could have ordered a bowl of this to go, comfort food for a chilly weekend.
For an entree, we shared the Maple Glazed Chicken Pizza, which was full of trickery — in a positive way. To the eye, this white pizza looked as though it was covered in onions, but as I picked a nugget off with my finger and sampled, I was delightfully surprised to taste a crisp baked apple. This pizza featured granny smith apples, walnuts, leeks, bacon and mozzarella. Sound interesting? It was a true delight for the taste buds — the sourness of the apples contrasted nicely with the salty bacon. The mozzarella soaked up the tart, and the crust was crispy. This was a fine autumn pizza, and I made notes to try to recreate it at home.
For dessert, we couldn’t pass up sampling the Pumpkin Creme Brulee. Our bartender at the back bar, the wonderfully attentive Jennifer Trainer, recommended we pair the Pumpkin Stout with this dessert, and she poured us each a second sampling so we truly enjoy the pairing. Well, the Pumpkin Creme Brulee was to die for. With the impending Hurricane Sandy preparing to descend, I exclaimed this creme brulee made for a worthy last supper. The crispy sugar coating was like pumpkin candy, but underneath was a pumpkin mousse that danced lightly on the tongue. After a spoonful of the brulee, I sipped the pumpkin stout — the combination was stellar. I asked Jennifer how she knew — had she snuck some tastes before the event? No, she declared with a laugh. She informed me that stouts naturally pair well with creme brulee because of the sugar concentration. This is something I will be keeping in mind.
As I mentioned, two of the brewers stopped by to chat about the big day. Lead brewer Chad Rieker and Assistant Brewer Andrew Harton were both drinking the Bruce Camp-Ale when they stopped by. They had just hollowed out a giant pumpkin which would be filled with pumpkin ale and tapped precisely at 3 p.m. Chad told me they enjoyed having the guest breweries on tap at Iron Hill, and that they simply swap kegs of beer. Elysian gets a few kegs of Iron Hill and vice versa. They told me the pumpkin beers are limited and would probably last less than a week, with some lasting into early November. Andrew also said he was excited about a new American Ale they are hoping to release on Tuesday, October 30th. I suggested they call it the Sandy Hurricane Ale and they laughed, and suggested they might just do that!
A few minutes later, Chad and Andrew returned wheeling the giant beer filled pumpkin on a cart. They set the mammoth gourd right off to our side. An excited crowd gathered around and Chad announced it was now time to tap the pumpkin! With cameras flashing, Chad took a mallet and drove the tap into the pumpkin. Everyone cheered and Chad began serving the free pumpkin beer to all. Now this what you call a great pumpkin! Cheers!
Find Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant of West Chester at 3 West Gay Street, or online at ironhillbrewery.com/westchester.