For any of you concerned that my family's pumpkin-latte supplies wouldn't outlast the long, barren winter ahead, let me assure that you have nothing to fret over. My wife, apparently overcome with a rare gourd-and-nutmeg deficiency, recently pillaged a Cost Plus for its seemingly infinite pumpkin wares. We've got pumpkin syrups, pumpkin pancake mixes and probably some pumpkin shavings to sprinkle on our pumpkin to make it taste more pumpkin-y. And I couldn't be more excited.
I know pumpkin flavor is pretty overexposed presently, but it has a power over me that I can't fully articulate. It's not only seductive enough to get me to abandon IPAs as my quaff of choice (albeit very briefly); it even motivated me to finally get off my duff and visit Manzanita Brewing in Santee (10151 Prospect Ave.).
I've long known and enjoyed Manzanita Brewing's offerings, but Santee has always seemed like a world away. Of course, that was before Santee began to emerge as a bona fide craft-brew destination with the additions of Butcher's Brewing and BNS Brewing and Distilling. Unfortunately, neither of the other two had the foresight to lure me in with pumpkin beer, so Manzanita gets all my attention today.
Manzanita Brewing has only been open for about three years, but in that period, it's already outgrown one facility, won a slew of awards and become an anticipated addition to most draught lists. It's probably best known for its Riverwalk Blonde Ale or Gillespie Brown, but I've got a real soft spot for the Chaotic DIPA. It's one of the few IPAs I genuinely enjoy more as it warms a bit.
I was immediately taken by the tasting room. Manzanita has bucked the trend of plunking your tasters down in the belly of the brewery, opting more for the feel of a highly polished yet cozy neighborhood bar. It just happens to be a bar with a comfortable view of a 1,000 gallon brewery and a transparent monopoly on the tap selections.
I strongly recommend you start your visit with a set of tasters dedicated to seasonal offerings. Manzanita's vastly different tastes, textures and aromas really kept me engaged. Even if that isn't your preferred approach, get at least one taster flight, if only to have the board they're delivered on nearby. It has all the heft of a cricket bat and is exactly what you'd want in reach should a zombie apocalypse suddenly erupt.
The Where There's Smoke rye ale was particularly intriguing, with its unmistakable aroma of a neighborhood barbecue to which you're apparently not invited. Unfortunately, it had a tragic lack of pumpkin, which is where the Witches Hair pumpkin ale really shined. Its pumpkin-pie aroma was perfume-y but undeniably authentic. The flavors of cinnamon, vanilla and pumpkin rang out clearly and were only lightly countered by some menthol-style hops in the finish. It was so good, I didn't even top it with a drizzle of pumpkin syrup.
Manzanita Brewing may seem a little out of the way, but it has pumpkin beer, anti-zombie armaments and not a single beer under 6-percent ABV. That's a winning pedigree to me.