10/24/20: Erie Brewing Company's Johnny Rails

2:28 PM

It just feels like Halloween today, you know? Besides the grey overcast sky, the brilliant autumn colors alighting the trees, and the crisp breeze on the 50-something degree day, I mean. Tonight Michelle and I are carving our pumpkins while watching Hocus Pocus. Spooky.

So, to keep the Halloween convoy that is today's activities a-trucking, I figured I might as well do up my next post of the month. This is a beer I've had before (I bought it on a whim when it dropped the other month--late-August, I think). I haven't had it since but, if I'm remembering correctly, it's something pretty special. Today I'm cracking into Erie Brewing Company's Johnny Rails.

It probably shouldn't surprise you to learn that Erie Brewing Company's based in Erie, PA. I'm willing to bet that you probably already guessed as much. Founded in 1993, they originally had a brewing capacity of 1,040 barrels. Just three years later, that capacity had nearly sextupled (to 6,000 barrels). The company's growth, which had always been steady, has really taken off since the company changed ownership in 2012. Hell, now you can even find their beers easily in the Greater Cincinnati region! More information can be found here, on their "History" page.

Johnny Rails is a 6.5% ABV blonde-based, fruit ale that's, according to its official writeup, "...the perfect poise of pumpkin and spice." It's named after Erie staff member, John, who's strong like once-time railroad workers and has a sizable noggin of blond hair. All these factors came together to be the right fit for the naming of this beer.

Believe it or not, the story of its name isn't the most intriguing thing about Johnny Rails. No, that distinction goes to the ale's nose. My first waft nets me hearty, earthy pumpkin, brown sugar, blonde ale musk, caramel, clove, and a touch of nutmeg. This is the most inviting bouquet I've encountered on a beer this season. A return waft provides added chocolate (maybe from the pumpkins, assuming they're roasted), and graham cracker. Purrl gave my bottle thirteen whiffs and I couldn't agree with here more; the aromatics here are wonderful. 

The ale has a deceptively light taste. The fact that it's a pumpkin-spiced blonde is very prevalent. Sure, it's got the depth any good pumpkin beer'll have (pumpkin, spice [nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, allspice], chocolate, graham, and caramel--basically everything that was clearly telegraphed by the nose) but it's all balanced perfectly atop the blonde base, rounded out with a keen maltiness. There's a mild hoppiness in the finish, hanging around the gallows with that earthy pumpkin that was the first aspect I picked up in the nose. Johnny Rails' light and lightly-spiced but not without nuance. This is a pumpkin beer your dad would like. This is a pumpkin beer my dad would like.

That lightness in the flavor profile, mixed with the bitey carbonation, makes for an insanely quaffable beer. I've never once encountered a pumpkin ale that drinks as easily as this. That's not hyperbole.

Okay, I know I mentioned Moonville Tunnel a few weeks ago but I can't put my mind on anything else as I sit on my October porch with this beer. Let's talk a bit about the ghosts that haunt the tunnel itself. Turns out, through a quick search online, there're four of them. I only knew about one before today.

The Lavender Lady, the Bully, the Brakeman, the Engineer. Four ghosts that haunt that old, abandoned railway tunnel. The Lavender Lady is an elderly woman who's said to vanish where the tracks once were while leaving behind a lavender aroma. 

The Engineer was working on one train that got into a collision with another and passed away.  He's seen in the tunnel dressed in white and holding a lantern.

The Bully has significant ties to the area. A man named Baldie Keeton would start fights in the Moonville saloon when he'd had too much to drink. One night he got thrown out and a group of miscreants followed and murdered him on the railroad tracks. Now he lurks on the hill above the tunnel, throwing rocks at passerby.

Why does Baldie, the Bully, have significance? Well, at Lake Hope, just a short jog from the tunnel, you'll find Keeton Cemetery. This could either mean that the people spinning the Moonville ghost yarns were pretty knowledgeable about the area, or that Baldie might've actually existed. Who knows if his death was brought on in such a fashion, however.

Finally, we land on the big one. The Brakeman. Known as McDevitt, he haunts the tunnel and frequently appears in photographs at the it's far end. He, like Baldie, had a bit too much to drink one night. Only instead of instigating a fight he couldn't win, McDevitt stumbled from onto the tracks from the train on which he was working and was slain.

One could easily imagine a pumpkin-headed spirit named Johnny as a fifth Moonville Tunnel ghoul, laughing and hopping about the long-demolished tracks.

Now, I have to wrap this up in order to get to my spooky evening affairs. Erie Brewing's Johnny Rails is spooktacular. This is the best pumpkin beer I've in 2020 thus far and an easy 10/10. If you're a person who, on occasion, enjoys beer, make sure you create an occasion so you can enjoy this. I recommend it to everyone.

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