“Get your pumpkin beer somewhere else.”
It’s with this contentious tagline that Summit Brewing introduces its new fall seasonal, Belgian-Style Pale Ale. The St. Paul stalwart brewery has never been much for gimmicks.
Head brewer Damian McConn cut his teeth at Guinness in his homeland of Ireland, and he’s carried on Summit’s proud tradition of not fucking around in the brewhouse since he joined on 15 years ago. The confrontational element is nothing new, either. Owner Mark Stutrud is basically the Mark Kozelek of the Twin Cities brewing scene, and as such, he’s not afraid to hum shade at the brewers around him making uninspired seasonal beer.
That’s not to say Summit has never made a pumpkin beer before, but they’re certainly not gonna be the guys to pander to the Starbucks crowd to move their six packs. Belgian-Style Pale Ale is their answer to the one-note autumnal beers hitting shelves this September. Combining the spicy yeast esters of traditional Belgian beers with pale British and German CaraMunich malts, they’ve created a rich and sweet pale ale that McConn describes as “about as versatile as a nice denim jacket.”
That sounds a little bit like a gimmick, doesn’t it?
Rolled up in the tarp of yeast and malt is an uncomplicated, European ale.”
Belgian-Style Pale Ale is a beer brewed in a glass house over a bed of throwing stones. The Belgian ale yeast and the malts create a definitively sweet, bready flavor that immediately recalls graham cracker. And it’s an allusion that Summit gladly leans into. An idyllic campfire scene on the face of the 12 oz can draws the mind and tastebuds towards s’mores. Call it the denim jacket beer, but one sip will have you remembering sleeping bags and your uncle’s cabin on the lake in Ely.
But all hail Saaz for making it palatable. The Czech noble hop proves itself again as the ultimate equalizer, dragging the cloying elements of the malt bill back down to the campground. Honey undertones at the beginning of the sip are matched by a sturdy 35 IBU. Trade clove esters for cinnamon, and you have a pale ale that subs baked goods for gourds, all to a pretty refreshing effect.
Saaz unlocks the simplicity of the beer. Rolled up in the tarp of yeast and malt is an uncomplicated, European ale. The kind McConn should be proud to call his scion. One that beckons for September evenings, RV weekends, and, goddamn it all, an autumnal fire.
Belgian-Style Pale Ale wouldn’t be a Summit beer if it didn’t play the middle ground. How do you rebel against craft beer standards while still paying reverence to the traditions of the meisters? Put out a beer that chastises the pumpkin-worshipping masses while still leveraging their seasonally attuned appetites. Halfway between pumpkin spice and The Revolution is Belgian-Style Pale Ale – punching down at the pie beers with one hand and selling cookie batter with the other.
Hey, a good gimmick is hard to deny. That graham cracker callout doesn’t tell the whole story of this yeasty Euro ale. But if it’s enough to get a can in your hand this autumn, all the better.