Oompa Loompas and pumpkin beer

The rum barrels used to age the Illawarra Brewing Company’s new pumpkin beer.

Any time I visit a brewery, I get a feeling much like a kid going to a lolly factory.
Essentially, I think it’s going to be something like a Willy Wonka experience – but with beer instead of everlasting gobstoppers and fizzy lifting drinks.
But of course the reality of a brewery isn’t quite that exciting.
Ultimately, it tends to be a space in some industrial estate, with a concrete floor and big silver tanks. And I’m always a smidge disappointed that there are no Oompa Loompas rolling kegs around the place while singing a song.
And yet, I still expect something magical every time.
While not quite on a par with my immensely unrealistic fantasies, a visit to the Illawarra Brewing Company’s (IBC) headquarters is always a joyful experience. That’s partially because they have beer there – derrr – but also because of the friendly natures of brewers Ashur Hall and Shaun Blissett and boss man Dave McGrath.
I’ve ducked in for a visit once or twice and every time the guys will stop what they’re doing and offer me a beer. And I’m sure that’s not just because they’re looking for an excuse to stop work for a bit and have a beer themselves (though that’s exactly what I’d be doing if I worked in a brewery. I’d be such a terrible employee. In fact I don’t know how brewers get any work done with all that beer around).
This afternoon I ducked out of work to head down and try this year’s instalment of IBC’s pumpkin beer – called Smashing Rumpkin. The IBC has made five annual pumpkin beers – Shaun and Ashur did the last three (after quizzing Ashur’s American-born mum on the spices and other ingredients of her family fave pumpkin pie and then working out how to translate them into a beer).
The explanation behind the name of this year’s beer is pretty simple – they’ve aged about half the batch in 20-year-old oak barrels that once held rum.
For mine, that rum is the key to thrusting Smashing Rumpkin above your standard pumpkin beer (not that I’m vastly experienced when it comes to pumpkin beer but, hey, it’s my blog, so I’m allowed to be a little bit opinionated).
Of those pumpkin beers I’ve had the flavour is reflective of the spices that have gone into them – we’re talking things like nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger.
Those spices – ginger in particular – are quite noticeable on the nose. But it’s the flavour that surprises, courtesy of those rum barrels. What you get once you drink some is the heat and slightly sweet flavour of the rum, which is a very pleasing match with the spices.
That heat from the rum gave me a slightly flushed feeling to my face and the conviction that this was a high alcohol beer.
Nope, it’s only 5.5 per cent. Which is a bit of a change from the IBC – their recent brews have been things around seven or eight per cent – like saisons and dubbels – but which camouflaged that alcohol so well that you could down a few in a row quite easily. And get yourself into a bit of trouble in the process.
Yet with Smashing Rumpkin, they’ve got a beer with a lower alcohol count but which gives the impression that it’s actually high.
It’s a wonderfully impressive beer – in fact I wish I had a growler of it right now.
Or maybe just a golden ticket to the Illawarra Brewing Company.

2 replies »

  1. i too visited illawarra brewery but on thursday. i got to taste the rumkin but was the very last smidgeon in the bottom of a small keg. note to self to visit BEFORE the “beer is your friend” guy. dragged back a 30lt Illawarra Wit for my growlers and squealers so all is forgiven – it is sensational and recommend customers get in now b4 i drink the lot. the wit will be a regular here thru summer

    • Sorry about that Brett. But I truly only had one glass of Smashing Rumpkin. Though if there was the option of taking home a growler I’d have definitely done that. It’s really good.

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