Highlights (and Lowlights) from my Great Pumpkin Beer Countdown
By Sara Hancock
I have always been a fan of pumpkin flavoured seasonals; I mean what’s not to love about ale flavoured with pumpkin pie spices and roasted pumpkin. To celebrate this pumpkin love I decided to set a goal for myself, try nineteen different pumpkin beers leading up to Hallowe’en and find out just which of the many pumpkin beers out there are worth stocking in the fridge.
Now that Hallowe’en has passed and I have completed my squash-a-thon I thought I would offer up a little recap on how it all went – plus there are probably still some pumpkin brews kicking around at your favourite liquor store so there is always time to pick a couple up.
Some of the Best
Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales Punkin Ale pours a very clear deep orange with a small amount of white head that has really good retention. There is lots of pumpkin pie spice on the nose, definitely all spice and nutmeg, and a little caramel sweetness. It is very smooth in the mouthfeel with just enough body to carry the big flavours. Taste wise this one is more pumpkin pie than real pumpkin but there is a touch of earthiness that reassures you there were pumpkins in the brew. The flavours carry through to the finish but there is no lingering aftertaste. Punkin Ale is imminently drinkable.
Parallel 49 Brewing Company Schadenfreude pours a very clear orange with a little white head. There is sweet malt on the nose and this rich sweet character continues through to the finish. Flavour wise this one reminds me of marzipan; there is a slight density almost chewiness to the mouthfeel and the malt has a caramelized quality. Schadenfreude is pretty light bodied but the flavours make this seem more substantive. The finish is also sweet with a roasted or burnt caramel/toffee taste. How the pumpkin factors in is not immediately apparent to me but style wise I like their take on an Oktoberfest and I think it could complement other pumpkin ales quite well.
Southern Tier Brewing Pumking is ale brewed with pumpkin. Pumking pours clear copper colour with a little bright white head; the head dissipates pretty quickly leaving a small amount of white lacing. There is a lot of pumpkin on the nose and a sweetness that reminds me of vanilla bean. The pumpkin flavour is prominent when you drink the ale with the vanilla notes tempering the earthiness of the squash. There is a decent amount of body to this beer and it has a subtle winter warmer quality imparted by the relatively high ABV of 8.6%. The finish is also quite earthy and a bit alcoholy. If you like your pumpkin beers with a big attitude this is the one for you.
Some of the Worst
Phillips Brewing Company Crooked Tooth pours a very pale orange with some carbonation and sediment. There is little to no head on this beer. On the nose there is a yeasty aroma, which is a little off-putting. As you swirl the glass there are notes of pumpkin pie spices, mostly cinnamon, but they are pretty subtle. Crooked Tooth is the lightest bodied of all the pumpkin beers I have sampled and I do not get much in the way of a flavour profile from this beer. There is no real finish to speak of. This one seems marked more by what it lacks than what it has going for it.
Pike Brewing Company Harlot’s Harvest pours a deep amber caramel colour and appears somewhat cloudy. Initially there is a good amount of head and good head retention but this ale flattened out after it warmed for a while. Lots of malt, some pumpkin pie spices and a green apple element to the nose (not always a great sign). Unfortunately the green apple quality persists as you drink it essentially fighting against the other flavours. It is strong ale, 8.5%, so I expected a bit more depth and body to this one. Pretty clean on the finish with a little maltiness lingering. It seems like all the elements were there for a great pumpkin ale but this one does not really come together for me.
Lighthouse Brewing Company Lighthouse Pumpkin Ale pours very clear, pale orange copper in colour with absolutely no head retention whatsoever. The white head that initially appeared was gone by the time I moved the glass to snap a picture. The nose has some pumpkin pie spices and a brown sugar element to it. Mouthfeel, this one is very, very light bodied and a bit cloying in its sweetness, like there was lots of sugar remaining in the beer. It is also the flattest of all the pumpkins I sampled. Pie spices and sugar are the dominant flavours and there is not a lot to the finish. Far too light and too sweet for my taste.
Some of the Rest
Howe Sound Brewing Company Pumpkin Eater pours reddish orange with nice clarity and some carbonation. There is a decent amount of cream coloured head and the head retention is quite good. On the nose you get the pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon and cardamon. Flavour wise the spices continue and there is even a bit of a nutty taste. It is quite light bodied for an Imperial Ale and I expected there to be more depth and complexity to this beer. The biggest issue for me was the amount of anise, which really overpowered the other spices and detracted from my perception of this being a pumpkin beer. Howe Sound’s Pumpkin Eater had been the gold standard (for some) in year’s past but I think they fell off the pedestal a bit with this one.
Epic Brewing Imperial Pumpkin Porter pours a deep black amber with some opacity. There is a little mocha coloured head that has good retention. Cold coffee and roasty chocolatiness on the nose. These rich notes carry on to the flavour of the porter. Imperial Pumpkin is medium bodied with a real chewiness in the mouthfeel. The depth of this beer carries the deep roasted malty and chocolate flavours quite well and the finish has a nice burnt quality yet I am having a tough time finding the pumpkin in this one. There is a bit of spiciness in the flavour but the earthiness that comes from real pumpkin eludes my palate. I also found the spices on the nose pretty subtle with the other flavours dominating not enhancing the pumpkin character. As a porter I like this one but as a pumpkin beer I don’t think it is the best option out there.
If you want to see all nineteen reviews feel free to visit me at www.partingglassblog.com
Now onto Christmas beer…