By Cold, Hard Football Facts sud stud Lew Bryson
Now, this is going to weird you out, but it's true, and I can prove it: Pumpkin pie gives men woodies. Not only that – it's not some bizarre aphrodisiac effect of big, round buxom squash, and nothing you have to rub orange goo all over your unit to achieve. You just have to smell it ... and bingo! Viagra in a pastry shell, my friend.
True or not (and I'll wait here while you run off to the supermarket to test the theory on an unsuspecting baked good), you've got to be asking yourself: Where's he going with this?
Pumpkin Yes, indeed, we're talking beer, because winter is the season of the spiced ale, and one of the most popular blends of spices to pop into these so-called winter warmers is pumpkin pie spice, the traditional blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves (sometimes allspice is substituted for the cloves) that is apparently the active ingredient in this purported wood inducement. Warms me up just to think about it.
Spiced ale is a classic from way back in the days when spices were wicked expensive. Europeans were tired of eating foods spiced with leafy crap like bog myrtle and yarrow, and the small amounts of real spices – peppercorns, grains of Paradise, cardamom – that trickled in through the Silk Road were so expensive that they were just a tease. Besides, the beer sucked pretty hard in those days – some of it was "bittered" with stuff like ox bile. (That's not some cute name for a plant; it's bile ... from an ox.) And it would have taken a lot more spice to make it palatable than anyone who was drinking beer could afford.
When navigators found a route to the "Spice Islands," the spice trade boomed, and many, many more of these exotic flavors found their way to Europe, where they in turn found their way into food and drink. Spices were the bling of the Renaissance.
They were stuffed into everything just to show that the eater/drinker could afford them. If they happened to be so overwhelming that they brought tears to the eyes, well, that just proved how good they were!
Europe's mad spice consumption overall dropped like a stone in the late 1600s; why, no one's sure, and I don't really care, because it's got nothing to do with beer. Spiced beers continued to be popular in the U.K., however, and made the jump to the Colonies. We drank what was called mulled ale, a spiced ale warmed by sticking a red-hot poker in it, which should have added some nice caramelization, too. Spiced beers finally fell out of favor right about the time ales did, in the mid-1800s, although a few vestiges survived; it's still a custom in parts of rural Minnesota to stir your Schell Bock with a heated miniature poker.
Spiced ales returned, appropriately enough, when Bert Grant, one of the first American microbrewers, decided to make a Spiced Ale. Fritz Maytag, who was already making a special ale for Christmas, got married in 1987. So he decided that year to make the Anchor Christmas Ale (often called "Our Special Ale"). It's a "bride-ale," a traditional spiced ale made for weddings. That's what Anchor's holiday beer has been ever since – different every year, but always a spiced beer.
Most brewers take their cue from that seasonal start and make their spiced beers in winter, but there are summer spicers as well: Belgian-type white ales like Allagash White and Lost Coast Great White are spiced with coriander, citrus zest, and perhaps a couple other spices.
Winter spice beers are often still spiced with those traditional pumpkin pie spices: Harpoon Winter Warmer is a well-known one with a loyal following in New England. Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig, a hard-to-find classic (it usually comes in mixed 12-packs), has cinnamon, orange and ginger mixed with a rich, malty body.
There have been some odd ones, too. I've had beers spiked with juniper, cucumber, garlic, anise, gentian, spruce and, yes, good old bog myrtle. There was one beer that a home brewer gave me to try ... I should have been tipped off by his red eyes. "What the hell is that?" I asked when I tasted the wheaty, herbal brew. "Ganja, man!" he hooted. "I put dope in it!"
He could have had that legally: There are a small number of beers with hemp seeds as an ingredient.
If you've never had a spiced beer, try one. Let it warm to about 60 degrees and try it with some spice cookies or coffee cake. Give it a good whiff, and ... bingo! You'll see what I mean about spiced beer. Have a drink and see what develops.
It might be the one time your wife's happy that you're drinking beer.