Despite some 80-degree October days, fall is here in full blast. As an east coaster, the reliably chilly days and changing fall colors are conspicuously absent in California. However, cold breezes, fallen leaves crunching underfoot, ever-cooler nights, and the first rains of the season have arrived to give a sense of the season, but fall is really all about certain flavors, raising the unavoidable question - can we find those flavors in a pairing of cannabis and craft beer?
Anderson Valley Brewing, based in Boonville, California, is well-loved for their Boont Amber Ale. Their Fall Hornin' Ale makes the perfect starting place for this pairing. Each fall, a range of pumpkin inflected beers make appearances, ranging from sweet and spiced pumpkin pie brews to more subtle and straightforward pumpkin offerings, focusing on the mellow and squash-like taste of the pumpkin itself. Anderson Valley’s Fall Hornin' Ale just so happens to walk the middle ground here. Without being particularly sweet, this beer lies on the pumpkin pie side of this spectrum, with the taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and other autumn spices to add a bold layer of flavor to an ale with a malty and bread-like foundation. The end result is a beer that is able to capture what we think of as autumn flavors, without any excessive, candy-like sweetness.
So for our pairing, naturally we wanted something to complement this pumpkin pie theme, and if the Fall Hornin' tastes like pie filling, it’s only fitting to seek out a strain that might simulate the effect of pie crust. In recent years, the “Cookies” strains have swept the cannabis world, starting with Girl Scout Cookies (now GSC) and expanding to introduce strains like Key Lime Pie, Sugar Cookie, Thin Mint, and many more. This family of strains is known as a modern take on the hybrid strain (GSC), with high THC content and potency, and a unique flavor and terpene profile that actually resembles cookies like Thin Mints. The original Girl Scout Cookies is a hybrid of the sativa, Durban Poison and perennial favorite, OG Kush. The popularity of this family has been growing steadily since 2009, branching out into a wide range of dessert named strains. It is yet another strain with origins in California.
For our desired “pie crust” taste, we decided to choose the cookies-strain Cookies and Cream, a cross between the indica dominant strain Starfighter and an unknown phenotype of Girl Scout Cookies. The sweet and smooth hybrid is great for stress and depression, and larger doses later in the day can also address insomnia issues. With its dessert-like flavor profile, the hope is that it will accurately simulate the taste of a graham cracker crust surrounding pumpkin pie filling. Like its parent, Girl Scout Cookies, Cookies and Cream is visually distinctive, with darker green, layered buds thoroughly coated in sugary trichomes. The smell is sweet, crisp, and even slightly spicy.
While, the first bite of the pumpkin pie experience usually entails a spoonful of filling, we started this pairing with a generous sip of the Fall Hornin'. The smell is toasty and malty, and the baked bread malt notes in the first sip immediately bring pumpkin bread to mind. A light, barely-there hop note blends with a burnt caramel maltiness to add a cleaner than expected finish to the aftertaste. There is also a deep, almost barrel-aged wood taste at the midpoint, with warming notes of clove and eggnog.
Following that up with a hit of Cookies and Cream, the vapor tastes light and spicy like a snickerdoodle cookie, blending with the cinnamon taste still on my tongue from the Fall Hornin'. Airy and woody, the taste is much mellower than the smell of the freshly ground buds. A smooth and vaguely sour note adds an impression more suggestive of cheesecake than graham cracker or pie crust.
With 6 percent alcohol, Fall Hornin' is on the slightly higher end of standard alcohol content for beer. This boosts its drinkability, and means one bottle should leave you pretty functional, even for those like me with a minimal alcohol tolerance. The strain’s effect combines a mellow mood lift with a slightly psychedelic mind bend and an intensification of smells, sounds, and flavors. Together, a nicely tranquil, comfortable buzz washes over you before boiling down to a heavy body sedation. From there, sleep is not far off.
On the whole, the pairing successfully calls to mind pumpkin pie. The beer’s pumpkin flavor unsurprisingly is much more on the nose than the Cookies and Cream, but the strain’s baked-good flavor profile is at least vaguely reminiscent of pie crust. Paired with the robust spiced notes of the ale, it is quite effective in its role. Spiced notes in both, along with the deep malty notes of the ale, lend a warming effect, perfect for chilly autumn nights.