As sure as the turn of the seasons itself, one can rely on articles in the Irish papers this time of year about how Halloween is our own festival, being sold back to us by the Americans, with added sundry commercial bells and whistles.
When I was a child the Halloween tradition was to hollow out and carve a face in a turnip. We didn't actually do it, but it was a tradition nonetheless. Our parents would tell us about it, and buy turnips, which would sit uncarved and then get thrown out several weeks later, before the Christmas decorations went up. Of course when the tradition was exported to North America, the turnip became a pumpkin: indigenous to America and way easier to carve. I swear I never saw a real live pumpkin for sale here until about three or four years ago. That J.K. Rowling has a lot to answer for.
Last weekend a friend invited me over to his place to carve pumpkins. There was drink involved so it was OK and no-one lost any thumbs. You can see my surrealist masterpiece at the bottom of this post. The topic around the carving table was how pumpkins really don't taste of much, and that you need to throw in buckets of cinnamon or nutmeg to get any value out of cooking one. And that, presumably, is why the pumpkin beer I'm drinking this Halloween night is made with mace. It's a bottle of Pumpking from the Wychwood brewery in Oxfordshire.
The pourer is greeted with a lovely rich red colour and a soft foamy head. The aroma calls to mind another Halloween tradition, the toffee apple. Flavourwise the mace is there, adding a bold spiciness, but underneath there's the warm caramel maltiness of really good English ale. Of fruit there is none, but that's hardly surprising.
Pumpking is a lovely beer and, despite the OTT branding, really is a seriously enjoyable autumn tipple.
Time one of our local brewers started making a turnip beer, I reckon.