Sep 18, 2012

It's Time for More Pumpkins! Round 1 - cont'd

So you say you couldn't get enough of the pumpkin beer talk, eh? (No.  I'm not Canadian.  New Jerseyan by birth.)  Well it's your lucky day.  We hope you enjoyed Rob's ("Bear") thoughts on Round 1 of The Great Pumpkin Debate last week because I'm about to unleash my keyboard on the same brews.

Unlike Rob, I do consider myself your typical "beer guy".  I like MOST beers.  I can find something to like in just about any craft beer.  I'm even beginning to really appreciate a good sour...and that is momentous for me.  Hmmm...that's got me thinking.  Perhaps our next tasting should be of sours...Rob's a fan and me not so much, but I digress.

Also unlike Rob, I like hops.  Nay.  I LOVE hops.  I would sleep on a bed of Centennial or Simcoe hops if Hammacher Schlemmer came to its senses and saw fit to sell one.  Considering that you should also know that I love pumpkins and all manner of pumpkin flavored treats come this time of year.  In fact, I could probably subsist on pumpkin flavored food items for the entirety of Q4 every year.

It was long, hard and unpleasant work but I tasted those same beers and had some differing thoughts.  Care to read on?  Great!  Here's my angle on the 14 pumpkin craft beers that made up this first round of two.  Cheers!
Pro tip:  Those shiny domes aren't stemless pumpkins.

I'm coming at this from a slightly different angle.  Instead of listing them in order of preference as Rob did, I'm going to discuss each beer in the order I tasted them.  Just to remind you, the beers were served in clean tasting glasses, 2oz. at a time and given only numbers.  We were not allowed to see which beer we were tasting.  Not until the end were the beers unveiled to us by Rob's lovely wife who happily played bartender for our slightly ridiculous beer-themed game.

Flight 1

Samuel Adams Fat Jack - With over 28lbs. of pumpkin per barrel I would've expected some serious pumpkin flavor here.  No.  I was shocked at the alcohol burn on the finish and the "musty" taste and mouthfeel.  This did not make me think of pumpkins or the typical pumpkin flavor I love so much.  Rather, I thought it rather syrupy and not much to my liking.  Effort appreciated, but just not my bag. (C-)

Smutty Nose Pumpkin Ale - Interesting.  As a hop guy I wanted to like this.  For a seasonal, flavored craft beer it certainly had me thinking of a pale ale or even a mild IPA.  Had I not known we were doing a pumpkin taste test, I'm not sure I would've considered this a pumpkin beer.  With that said it wasn't bad and I'd likely buy it again.  I'm just not sure I'd pay attention to the pumpkin on the label. (B+)

Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale - I know.  I know.  Blue Moon.  Blech.  Let's face it.  Coors has a craft beer gateway drug on their hands with this label.  In fact, most of your un-savvy beer friends probably think they're drinking craft beer with a Blue Moon in their hands.  That's not a bad thing.  It's our job to move them from Blue Moon to true craft once that door has been opened.  Don't hesitate to seize that opportunity this Fall, either!  Anyway...the beer.  My original notes on this beer said "Mild flavor and aroma. Very drinkable.  Tastes mass produced."  I just knew this didn't fit the craft beer mold...but it does serve a purpose. (B-)

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale - Wow.  And wow.  Because I knew already that I loved this beer it was easy to pick out from the blind line up.  Sweet yams.  Brown sugar.  Both on the nose and the palate.  Pie. Pie. Pie.  If you haven't tried this one and like all things pumpkin pie, then you need to run, not walk, to your local beer store and demand some.  A very smooth and not overly sweet example of how pumpkin beer can compliment a meal or a dessert.  This gem showed up as #2 overall on my list.  Simply a treat. (A-)

Fegley's Brew Works Devious Imperial Pumpkin - I admit it.  I have a soft spot for the Brew Works.  Their Bethlehem, PA brewpub is about 40 minutes from my house and I enjoy their pub-exclusive brews and comfort food immensely.  Many of their IPAs I hold in high regard.  However, this pumpkin beer misses the mark.  It's probably the caramel malts that I found overdone here, but I got overly sweet and malty flavors throughout; something akin to burned molasses and figs.  This beer has fans.  I'm just not one of them. (D)

Flight 2

Post Road Pumpkin Ale - My notes here were minimal and disappointing.  "Chemical aftertaste with a weak nose".  I assumed I was going to rate this beer highly.  This exact beer is what turned me onto pumpkin craft beers many years ago and got me exploring.  Sadly, its best days are behind it for me.  I was disappointed to say the least.  I thought it bordered on bitter (even for a non-pumpkin beer).  Not how I remembered it, but I give it props for being one of my gateways. (D)

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale - My local brewery.  Less than 30 minutes from home this brewery is the little brewery that could.  They've got some amazing year-round treats like their Merry Monks Belgian-style ale and Verboten, a Belgian-style pale that are simply fantastic.  This imperial pumpkin is highly regarded in many craft beer circles around the country.  I'm surprised I didn't rate this higher.  Maybe I missed something?  I found it to be a little too upfront with the alcohol and too strong with the wrong spices.  I know I'm probably in the minority, which is what's great about beer.  There's something for every palate! Rob is a big fan. (C+)

River Horse Hipp-o-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin Ale - Another semi-local brewery, about 45 minutes south, this crew makes some very tasty and broadly appealing craft beer.  That trend continues with Hipp-o-Lantern.  With a mildly sweet nose and an upfront yam taste, the beer fades to bitter too soon and too strongly for my taste.  It seems I like my pumpkin ales sweeter and less bitter.  River Horse falls victim to that slant.  (C)

Saranac Pumpkin Ale - Oddly enough I got a strong sugar cane taste from this beer with orange peel, yes the fruit orange, upfront.  Not what I was expecting during a pumpkin beer tasting.  I was hard pressed to call out the traditional pumpkin flavors here.  I didn't dislike the beer, but was disappointed by the seemingly mismatched flavor profile to its name.  Perhaps it just needs a name change.  (C)

Cisco Pumple Drumkin - This beer tasted like,  I immediately thought his was a macro brewer's attempt at making a "craft-style" seasonal brew.  Wrong.  Cisco is a micro brewery.  This just didn't taste like one.  It had a very weak nose and the flavors seemed confused.  I got no pumpkin in this profile.  Like Rob, I love the name, but that's about it.  (C-)

Flight 3

Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale - Whoa!  Totally surprised!  I've seen this seasonal every year on the shelves and just never picked it up.  Don't ask me why, because I couldn't tell you.  The label is appealing and inviting enough.  Lord knows I love pumpkin beer.  Turns out I'm late to the party.  This beer was the surprise standout!  Cinnamon, cinnamon, cinnamon.  Love it.  Light.  Crisp.  Just delightful! (B+)

UPDATE:  So...based on my 2oz. sampling of this beer I seemed to enjoy it.  Right?  So I went out and bought a full on six pack and excitedly dove into it tonight.  Unfortunately, it's become clear that this beer is best enjoyed 2oz. at a time.  Shipyard needs to dial down the carbonation and maltiness.  Not as in love with it now (12oz./serving) as I was originally.  My adjusted grade is a C.  Bummer.

Southern Tier Pumking - Ok...let it be known that I have held this beer in the highest Fall-seasonal-beer-regard for years.  I love this beer.  No two ways about it.  I picked it out of the lineup without even tasting it.  The smell alone gave it away.  They've got something special here.  The 2011 recipe may have been a slight misstep (though it aged well), but this 2012 brings them back to glory.  Sweet.  Smooth.  Full.  Savory.  Nutmeg.  Brown sugar.  Pumpkin.  You name it.  Your favorite Thanksgiving dessert flavors and smells are all here.  A Fall masterpiece.  (A)

Terrapin Pumpkinfest - This beer had me confused.  I knew it was supposed to be a pumpkin beer but wasn't convinced that it wasn't actually a harvest-style ale.  The molasses and yam flavors were very weak both upfront and at the end.  The bitter finish had me scratching my head as to what the label might sat, but rest assured there it was...."Pumpkinfest".  Again, not my taste and not the sweet treat I had hoped for, but it too has its fans.  (C)

Dogfish Head Punkin - Sam Calagione is a visionary.  This beer cemented his eventual climb to stardom in the craft beer world when "Punkin Ale made its debut as it claimed first prize in the 1994 Punkin Chunkin Recipe Contest. Yes, that was a full 6 months before we even opened our doors for business!" -  This beer has history and flavor and fans across the country, and not without merit.  While I picked up the alcohol on the backend during tasting I noted its sweet yam taste and wonderful nose.  I have a sixtel of this beer on tap at my house.  I though it might come out on the top of my list given my penchant for off-centered ales.  It came in 4th overall.  Very respectable and delicious by any measure.  (B+)

So let's recap.  Beer = good.  Pumpkin = good.  Beer + Pumpkin = very good (usually).  Overall I had Southern Tier, Schlafly, Shipyard & Dogfish Head rounding out my top 4.  All were amazing taste treats and it was harder to rank these top 4 than I expected.  They all have standout flavor.

If you're lucky enough to live in the distribution territory of any of these beers be sure to try one.  In fact, try them all if you can.  What I love about craft beer is that everyone's tastes are different and there's a craft beer out their to match everyone's preferences.  Find your favorite and be sure to let me know about it.  I'm always up for an adventure!

- Zach


  1. A Pumpkin Beer Taste Test without Buffalo Bill's
    Original Pumpkin Ale? It's been around longer than
    all the ones you tasted combined!

  2. Did we mention this was only round 1? At least 29 more pumpkin brews to be tasted and reviewed (including Buffalo Bill's). Stay tuned!