Brewsday: St.-Ambroise Citrouille

Hey, you remember that kid in your first grade class?  The one who started to get a little squeamish when Thanksgiving time would roll around, who seemed happy enough to make turkeys out of an outline of his hand, but who turned green at the sight of a pumpkin?

You remember how awesome it felt to stick your hand into a pumpkin, once you’d opened the top?  How totally hilariously delightfully gross it was between your fingers, all brainy and gooshy?  And do you remember the kid who nearly started crying, in-between involuntary gag reflexes from the smell of just-opened gourd?  And kind of ruined that arts-and-crafts activity for everyone by being so totally horrified and repelled by having to interact with pumpkin?

Yeah, look, I’m sorry.

I hate pumpkins; I have always hated pumpkins.  There is no aspect of interaction with them that I enjoy:  not the selection, not the cleaning, not the opening and the gutting, not the roasting and the puréeing.  Nothing about the preparation of pumpkin is rewarding to me as a cook, because at no fewer than twelve steps in the process I find myself wondering, “Good God, is anything truly worth this?”

The answer, of course, is yes.  This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving — known the world around as The Better One By Far — which means an abundance of pumpkin pie, pumpkin loaf, pumpkin soup and heaven only knows what else.  There is no doubt in my mind that there are countless pumpkin products and initiatives out there worth the effort, so long as that effort is in no way my own.

Such is the case with an interesting specimen, the St-Ambroise Citrouille (that’s Français for une pumpkin):

Brewed just once a year, The Great St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale returns this fall to captivate aficionados with a savvy blend of pale and caramel malt, hops and spices. If you enjoy original taste sensations, this seasonal specialty is certain to appeal!

Specifically, here’s what we’re dealing with, in order of quantity and influence on your beer-loving palette:

  • Water
  • Malt
  • Wheat
  • Hops (I originally typed “Hopes”, but we should be so lucky)
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Pumpkin

The sharp-eyed bakers among you may notice, we’re not so much dealing with pumpkin-flavored beer as we are pumpkin-pie-flavored beer — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, St-Ambroise Citrouille (or St.-Ambroise Pumpkin, as says the English label that we mysteriously didn’t get from our local LCBO) is a sweet, light and balanced ale that lives up to its promise.

Wrapped in a shiny, dark orange label and prominently featuring its theme ingredient on the label, St-Ambroise Citrouille is issued annually in the fall, to capitalize on the novelty drinkers of the season.  It’s well-suited to a cool night, and the warm foods that follow.

The beer pours very flat, with only a minimum of carbonation or head.  The ale itself is a darker gold, a reflection of the caramel malt in the marketing materials, and very clear.  In under the typical nose of an ale, you can detect notes of that caramel, and also some slight air of the pumpkin-pie spices offered on the label.  The spice isn’t overwhelming though, and upon first sip you find yourself enjoying a simple, sweet, bright beer.  It’s only in the aftertaste that you’ll notice any lingering flavors of the fall, lying light on the tongue but not squatting on your breath.

It’s as if you stripped away all the creaminess of a pumpkin pie, and just left behind the seasoning; or, more to the point, it’s like drinking a beer that tastes vaguely like the air in the kitchen after you’ve just baked Thanksgiving dessert.  Does it actually taste like pumpkin?  Well, no, but that isn’t really the point — it captures the flavor of the autumn, but doesn’t try to overdo it, and in doing so delivers an enjoyable beer at just the right time of year.

Rating:  4 out of 5 pumpkin pies.

  • Tina

    Is that the real reason that you deep-sixed my Hallowe’en plans last year? Because you’re pumpkin-phobic? WELL, IS IT?!!

    I really liked this beer as well. It was slightly sweet and spicy but not overdone. Also, it’s made with PUMPKIN. So, technically, drinking this contributes to your daily intake of fruits and vegetables….just saying….

  • Mike

    No, I deep-sixed last year’s Hallowe’en plans because I was forgetful and a bit stupid. I deep-sixed our pumpkin-carving contest because I’m a gourd-phobe.

    And also yes, I totally failed to play up the entirely nutritional aspect of this beer, seeing as how it incorporates some micro-quantities of vegetable ingredients. A six pack covers your daily servings of fruits and veggies, people! Be healthy!

  • Lo!

    Ah! You know it’s autumn when you can drag out the pumpkin beer.
    This one sounds quite nice — and seems along the lines of other pumpkin ales we’ve tried. Will have to keep our eyes open for it. If it makes it all the way over here to Wisconsin, that is!

    I have a personal favorite in Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery’s Pumpkin lager — a bit more heft to it, maybe. And definitely nutritious 🙂

  • Kristie

    You live in Canada? I’m pretty sure we’ll be rooming with you, then, when Chris makes us defect to Canada. He has elaborate fantasies where he gets to leave the Air Force via an elaborate series of tunnels underneath the US-Canadian border. He’s done everything he can to get released, including posting pictures of McDreamy all over his office, and then when they asked him about it he said “You’re not allowed to ask and I’m not allowed to tell.” So far, nada. In fact, they keep raising his rank. He calls it “failing upwards into promotion.” That’s beside the point. What I mean to say is that when we come a-knockin’ at your door carrying sticks with bandanas tied on the end holding our worldy hobo-belongings, I’m going to need a warm bath and a pint of your crazy pumpkin beer. I don’t like pumpkins either, but I do love me some “autumn.”

    Also, is it bad that I read “minimal head” and laugh my ass off, much like when Chris talks about a patient coming in with an “oral allergy?”

  • Mike

    I always get the giggles when it goes the other way, and having to sit through phrases like, “rich, foamy head” with a straight face. Really, beer review? Was it foamy and… satisfying?

    I’d suggest that Chris desert, but I hear we Canadians have just legally taken the position that we frown on that kind of thing… so it’s hobo bundles (don’t ferget yer cans o’ beans) or nothing, I’m afraid.

    Canada’s nice, though! We have French on everything so you can sound classy when you’re ordering domestic at the pub.

  • noble pig

    This sounds like a great beverage….love it.

  • Nanco

    We’re hosting a German beer tasting at the LCBO tomorrow, in honour of Oktoberfest. Perfect timing – I’ll see if they carry this beer. I love pumpkin anything.

  • Tina

    Nanco – I don’t know if it would fit the theme of a German beer tasting, but it certainly fits the theme of a holiday beer tasting so I say go for it!!

  • Nanco

    Our German beer tasting event was successful enough (20 people showed up) but the featured beers weren’t as exotic as I’d hoped. We tasted five varieties, including Lowenbrau and Becks (both of which I consider pretty common). The others are on a list I left in my car… Our host probably had his reasons and we did progress from light to dark, but I was wishing he’d chosen obscure beers that people had never heard of. On the plus side, I learned that our local LCBO does wine tastings most Fridays from 2 – 8. They’re hosted by the guy who did our beer tasting, and since wine is his passion I think they will be enjoyable.
    Mike, a few years back I tried a blueberry beer that I remember had the opposite problem of these pumpkin beers (I don’t remember what kind it was). The beer tasted like blueberry but without the slightest hint of sweetness (unlike La Mort Subite’s raspberry and cherry beers which I love). It had no spice, no aroma other than bland, flat blueberry..

  • Mike

    Huh. I bet that blueberry without sweetness tastes like blueberry skin. Just that… you know, undefinable blue-ness without any of the joy or flavor of the actual fruit. Things like that make me wonder what the decisions were in product development that lead to such a result.

    “Hey Ed, try this beer.”

    (Ed tries beer)

    “This tastes unwholesomely sweet, Dave. I don’t think we want people getting the idea that beer is some sort of blueberry-flavored candy, do we? Plus I was menaced by a black bear as a child, and this reminded me of it.”

    “… what?”


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