Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales is a microbrewery in Dexter, Michigan founded by Ron Jeffries in 2004. It operates two pubs, one in Ann Arbor and the other in Traverse City. Unlike many US breweries it produces a variety of unfiltered and unpasteurized “rustic country” beers.
Ron began studying brewing science in 1991-ish with one eye always on opening his very own brewery. He began brewing professionally a few years later, and quickly became a well known and respected brewer in Michigan’s emerging craft beer scene. However it took nine years of planning and hard work before finally opening a brewery of his own.
The name Jolly Pumpkin came about as it encompassed everything Ron and his wife wanted to express about their brewery. In their own words it was “fun and quirky”. The final addition of “Artisan Ales” sealed the deal. This is exactly what they were looking to produce; fantastic beers of truly outstanding artisanal quality. They wanted to maintain traditional small scale production, whilst turning out beers that were complex in flavour yet simple in their ingredients and process.
Jolly Pumpkin take the natural approach to brewing, choosing to age their beers in wine barrels which contain naturally occurring microbiological cultures, including Brettanomyces. These cultures impart that delicious farmyard flavour on the beer. Their style of brewing has been described as “farmhouse ale” or American wild ale. Every bottle of Jolly Pumpkin is not only stamped with a batch number, but also a barrel number. This almost personifies their creations to the point that you can follow a barrel and the beers that are aged in it.
They are certainly doing something right. Their Oro de Calabaza won the 2004 Gold and the 2005 Bronze Medal in the Belgian- and French-style ale category at the Great American Beer Festival. While tonight’s beer, Bam Bière, won the Bronze Medal in the 2009 Great American Beer Festival and was named the 21st best beer in America by Men’s Journal. But why is there a dog on the bottle?
Well that’s not just any dog, that would be Bam, Ron’s family pet. This plucky Jack Russell, was struck by a car, yet bounced back in fine tenacious fashion. His antics have inspired several beers in the Jolly Pumpkin range, brewed for those who’ve been knocked down but have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and carried on undaunted.
Bam has been captured by tattoo artist Adam Forman, whom Ron met while brewing for Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in Ann Arbor. Adam was commissioned to design labels for the Jolly Pumpkin project. The highly detailed and beautiful labels are the collaborative effort between art and ale. Forman now finds himself in L.A. working at the famous High Voltage Tattoo owned by Kat Von D.
Bam Bière pours a slightly hazy straw colour with a white head that sticks around longer than a big lad at a buffet. The aromas are straight up Belgian, so much so that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Tintin and a waffle floating on top. Grassy hops, apples, pears, lemon and a whole heap of spices. It’s smells light and inviting.
It’s absolutely delicious, tasting like an intriguingly sour wheat beer. Sharper than Joan Rivers, it’s beautifully balanced with a delicate sweetness and white wine bouquet. Brimming with citrus rind and sourness I’m completely smitten with my first taste of Jolly Pumpkin beer. The earthy, horse blanket flavours remain long after the beer is necked and as a result, another few bottles have been ordered. Fantastic.