Pumpkin Brew Revue Deux 2014

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A couple of weeks ago, a group of my distinguished colleagues and beer aficionados met for the first, sure to be annual, Pumpkin Brew Revue.  In that first review, we sampled ten entries.  There were hits, misses, and a couple of really good beers that probably shouldn’t include the word “pumpkin” on the label.  (See the results in the previous post.)  As pumpkin beer has become a guilty pleasure for me, this tasting was informative and great fun.  Needless to say, I was happy that there were plenty of releases subsequent to our initial tasting.  Once we collected enough entries, our group was anxious to get together for The Pumpkin Beer Revue Deux.

Our tasting included a few seasonal pumpkin ciders.  As it turned out, there were some great additions.  But, if we have offended the hardcore beer nerds, just skip over the first few reviews.

Our tasting started on a high and quickly went to lows that we didn’t see in our first tasting.  Fortunately, there was redemption in the end.  Here are the results:

Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider 6.9 ABV

IMAG1575Candied sour apple Jolly Rancher with a hint of cinnamon on the nose. Aromatics were around 3 (out of 10)

This turned out to be a tasty “spiced apple cider”.  Leave pumpkin off the label.  Definitely worth a try.

Best Quote: “No pumpkins were harmed in the making of this cider” – Jon  “Don’t tell anyone that we tried this heated up,” – Anthony (Word of advice: Drink this cold.)

Ace Pumpkin Hard Cider 5% ABV

The nose was apple-saucey with allspice and granny smith.  Again, we are searching for the pumpkin. Aromatics were a 4▒

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The apple-sauceyness of this cider was present on the palate, but there was an abundance of fresh apple to balance. A nice streak of acidity kept everything interesting.  A nice offering, but we liked the previous better this night.

Best Quote: “Let’s not try this warm.” – Rob

Tieton Smoked Pumpkin Cider 6.9 ABV

Paraffin wax notes, with raw pumpkin that was beginning to sour.  Not a bit of smoke.  Aromatic were a 3.  But not particularly a pleasant 3.

Check out the color – You may have seen this color if you have ever been dehydrated.

This was just horrible.

“Should we nuke this, or just pray it will improve?” – James

Buffalo Bill’s Brewery – America’s Original Pumpkin Ale 6% ABV

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Really just smelled like a malty beer with the faintest hint of spice.  Very non-descript.  Aromatics 2+

On the palate – Average, to below average – just beer.

Quote:  “Is this bad pumpkin beer, or just bad beer?” – Rob  “Thankfully, many have come along and made great improvements from the “original”.  – Group

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale 7% ABV

Faint aromatics revealed a yeast-dominated nose, with a bit of coriander.  Not much going on to get you excited. Aromatics 2.5

IMAG1580On the palate, there wasn’t much more flavor than Buffalo Bill’s.  Although the Dogfish had some additional toasty notes.

For the ardent fans of Dogfish Head, sorry, but this was not a noteworthy effort.  I would maybe go as for to suggest drop the “fish”and the”punkin” and just call this beer “Dog”.

Incidentally, Beer Advocate gave this a score of 90. Either we are way off on our evaluation, or some Dogfish Headers hijacked the ratings.

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream 5.4% ABV

IMAG1585After the previous disappointments, the label on this entry had up hoping for an uplift.  I also, learned that a “Wilhelm Scream” is the scream that you hear time and time again in horror movies.  This is a cool tribute to the season.

The nose was a dead ringer for gingerbread with a strong cinnamon sweetness.  Aromatics 3.5

The palate was a malty cinnamon mixture with a Spanish peanut skin note on the finish. The finish was not considered a plus.

The beer was not the worst we had tasted, but the label was the best part of the Wilhelm Scream.

If you wondering about what a “Wilhelm Scream” is, see the compilation below.

Shipyard Pumpkin Head 4.5% ABV

IMAG1587I’m glad I had one of these stashed away so I could share it with my distinguished panel and get their opinion.

With the Shipyard, you did not have to search for the nose.  Cinnamon, vanilla, and finally – pumpkin aromas jumped out of the glass.  Aromatics 5++

The spices followed nicely on the palate with a hint of cinnamon sweetness.  The finish was clean and lingered for nearly a minute.

This is among my favorite 12oz format pumpkin brews.

Best quote:  “This is the beer that made the bad beers go away.” – Jon

Sam Adams Fat Jack 8.5% ABV

IMAG1589I had tasted this beer before, so I was surprised to find the nose a little closed.  This could possibly be a result of a colder than ideal temperature for tasting. Nonetheless, caramel, spices and enticing pumpkin aromas slowly revealed themselves.  Aromatics 3.

The first sip revealed a rich and creamy mouthfeel and a symphony of flavors.  Spice, pumpkin, great balance of bitter to sweet – It was all there.  This could possibly be the quintessential pumpkin beer.

Fat Jack is one of the top contenders of all the beers we sampled.  It is also one of the best values at $6.99.

“Outstanding!”

Karbach Krunkin Pumpkin 7.9% ABV

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Clove and citrus, accented by dark roasted notes.  The citrus is the tell-tale sign of hops.  This is certainly the strongest hop influence of any pumpkin beer we sampled.  Aromatics 4.5

The citrus notes from the hops are prominent on the palate, but are balanced by the spices and dark flavors.  The Krunkin is not as rich as the Fat Jack, but equally well-balanced.  This is a hop-lovers pumpkin brew.

Red Hook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Ale 5.8% ABV

IMAG1592The nose is complex with pumpkin, smoky notes, sweet spices and malt.  Aromatics 5.

Unfortunately, the Red Hook lost much of its complexity on the palate.  The smokiness on the nose was barely perceptible, and the spice disappeared.  For comparison, we poured the Alaskan Pumpkin Porter.  The Alaskan was a better balanced beer than the Red Hook.  It was interesting because with this comparison the pumpkin spices in the Alaskan seemed more pronounced than our previous tasting.

Saint Arnold Pumpkinator 2013

IMAG1594I will admit, this is the first beer I have ever aged.  Really, it was accidental.  This was in the back of my wine fridge and was forgotten after my pumpkin beer cravings waned.  This usually happens around Halloween, after I am sweating pumpkin spice.

Pumpkinator is a fairly intense beer on release.  A year in the fridge had mellowed this bottle significantly.  The nose was a dead-ringer for banana nut bread and all the aromas that come with it.  Aromatics were still a strong 7.

The beer was smooth and yummy on the palate with allspice, cinnamon, and clove.  There was a hint of sweetness and great balance.  This really was a treat.

If you can get a second bottle this year, lay one up.  Your patience will be rewarded.

Based on this tasting, I have a bottle of Fat Jack that I will be holding until next year as well.

The Pumpkin Brew Revue was great fun and we are already planning to do it again next year.  While not all entries would make you think “pumpkin” if it weren’t on the label, The sampling revealed some outstanding pumpkin beers, some outstanding beers, some noteworthy ciders, and some surprising fails.  I encourage you to try as many as you can and form your own opinion. Most grocery stores offer a “build your own six-pack”. This is a great way to taste a handful of different beers without committing to an entire six-pack of just one.

Either way, in no particular order, these were our favorites:

St. Arnold Pumpkinator 2013 (Aged one year in wine fridge)

Samuel Adams Fat Jack

Alaskan Pumpkin Porter

Shipyard Pumpkin Head

Karbach Krunkin Pumpkin (For hop heads)

Southern Tier Warlock and Pumpking

Wasatch Pumpkin Seasonal and Black O’ Lantern

Ace Pumpkin Hard Cider

Woodchuck Pumpkin Hard Cider

First Annual Pumpkin Brew Revue 2014

IMAG1550_1Fall is my favorite time of year.  The summer heat gives way to cool, crisp evenings.  There is a festival for just about everything.  And Halloween, its just a blast!! Fall is that little stretch of time before the “Holidays: when we do things because we want to do them, not because we have to do them.   While I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin pie, over the past few years, with the change of seasons, I’ve  grown to anticipate the release of pumpkin beer – The Adult Pumpkin Pie.

Maybe I haven’t paid much attention in the past, but this year, it seems that with regards to pumpkin seasonal rotators, fall has come early, very early  Its only the first week of September,  not a leave has fallen, we are still hitting the lake every weekend, and the high temperatures are still north of 95.  The parade (only the first wave I’ve been told) of pumpkin beers that started in August is nearly complete.  With the explosion of microbreweries, this year has brought a bounty of offerings in the pumpkin brew category.  I thought it would be fun to assemble a distinguished panel of beer afficionados to taste and discuss a variety of offerings in this category. 

Our panel was as follows:

Jon “Beer Jon” Dice

Anthony “Manthony” Reyes

James “Mannequin Man” Yeakey

And Me – ”              “

Our revue starts with 10 brews reviewed in the order of appearance.

New Belgian Pumpkick 6% ABV

IMAG1533Dry nutmeg, allspice, and gingerbread. After this beer sat in the glass for a while, it actually smelled like applesauce.

Aromatic intensity (1-10) 4

Soft on the palatte with a non-aggressive style, short finish

Best Quote: “This isn’t the best beer so far in this tasting” – Jon

Meh…

Wasatch Pumpkin Seasonal 4% ABV

IMAG1536Cinnamon and nutmeg, with a sweetness on the nose,  Distinct nutty notes.

Aromatic intensity 6

Light, but well-balanced.  Flavors of almonds and cinammon with a creamy mouthfeel and long finish.

Pairings per brewer – Bat wings and giblets

Best Quote: “Pour this over some vanilla bean ice cream and make a pumpkin beer float” Jon

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat 5.1% ABV

IMAG1537Hint of spices dominated by tell-tale wheat and yeast aromas.  Canned pumpkin.  This beer should be called “Wheat Pumpkin” rather than “Pumpkin Wheat

Aromatic Intensity: 4

Slightly metallic on the palette with dry spice notes.  More spice on the palatte than nose would suggest.

Best Quote(s): “Yeasty, Estery” – Anthony. “Yes, and a dishwater quality.” – Rob “Canned pumpkin” – Jon

Southern Tier Pumpking 8.6% ABV

IMAG1539Abundant pumpkin pie spice with creamy vanilla and almond notes

Aromatic Intensity: 8!

Explosive and creamy on the palatte.  “Almond milk” Intense and balanced pumpkin spices.  A slight copper note on the finish.

Quotes:  “The first Wow!!” – All  “Almond Joy” – James

Harpoon UFO Pumpkin ABV 5.9%

IMAG1542Dry cinammon/corriander with a hint of nutmeg.  Slight rancid/sour note.

Aromatic Intensity: 4

Unpleasant yeast flavors, perhaps showing a need for filtering.  Tasters did not finish their samples.  We discussed our findings with the supplier.  This was possibly a “bad Batch”.  Very disappointing, but we will revisit in the second wave.

Quotes: “Eeeew!” – James “Hideous” – Anthony “Trainwreck” – Jon

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin 9.0% ABV

IMAG1544Aromas of fruit and pumpkin with hints of cinnamon, cloves, corriander and nutmeg

Aromatic Intensity: 6

Rich and flavorful on the palatte.  Crisp, not creamy with a slight bitterness on the finish.  Pleasant balance of spices.

Quotes: “Everything unloads on the mid-palatte with more acidity than any of the previous beers we’ve tasted” – Rob “Estery, like a Belgian trippel with added spices.” – Anthony

Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale 10% ABV

IMAG1545Subdued aromatics with a hint of vanilla, fuji apple, smoke and allspice notes

Aromatic intensity 5 ±

Heavy – a mouthful of bourbon-ey, beer-ey beer.  Fruit and spice flavors muted and rounded by the smoky wood notes.  A definite outlyer in this category, maybe of greater interest to Bourbon enthusiasts than pumpkin beer nerds.

Quotes: “Similar in style to a barley wine” – Anthony “Big ass beer” – Group

Alaskan Pumpkin Porter 7.0 % ABV

IMAG1546“Forest fire”, smoky with dark fruit, coffee, and clove

Aromatic Intensity: 7±

Rich on the palatte, balanced, bold and complex, with smoky notes and a hint of clove.

An all-around excellent beer, but where’s the pumpkin?

Quote: “Let’s barbeque!!” – Group

This would be an amazing pairing for barbeque

Wasatch Black o’ Lantern Pumpkin Stout 6.5% ABV

IMAG1547Super-creamy head on pouring.  Cocoa, dark roast flavors.  Searching for spice.

Aromatic intensity: 5-

Creamy on the palatte with enough snap to balance the dark chocolate notes.  The faintest hint of pumpkin spices.

Quotes: “If there was more spice, the beer wouldn’t work.” – Rob “Would not expect this to be a pumpkin beer” – James “Coolest label” – Jon

Southern Tier Warlock 8.6%  ABV

IMAG1548Vanilla, caramel and toffee notes nicely balanced with gingerbread and pumpkin spice

Aromatic Intensity: 7

Palatte follows the nose.  Full-bodied, but crisp with a medium finish

Quotes: “After drinking this, I can read chicken scratch.” (??) – James

This would be another great beer for food.  Try it with barbeque, or as suggested by the brewer, with a slice of carrot cake.

This tasting was full of surprises.  For me, it was interesting that about half the time, the nose and the palatte were very different.  Beyond that, styles run the gamut from beers that would make you swear you are drinking liquified pumpkin pie, to others that if pumpkin was not on the label, you’d never know you were drinking a pumpkin beer.  Despite the lack of pumpkin-ness, a few of the latter proved to be just damn good beers.

Our favorites for pumpkin lovers were the Southern Tier Pumpking and Wasatch Pumpkin Seasonal.  In the “Just Great Beer” catergory the Alaskan Pumpkin Porter was amazing.  Wasatch Black o’ Lantern and Southern Tier Warlock were also strong efforts.

If you are interested in sampling any of the beers in this article, hurry and buy a bottle or six pack.  As I mentioned, a number of these beers were released in August and are already sold out in many locations.   We are already in the process of preparing a tasting of the second wave of pumpkin releases.  I’m glad to know there’s still hope that there will be some pumpkin beer to drink when fall actually arrives.

Wine Tasting and Team Building

team building Bottles

Wine tasting and team building are seldom included in the same discussion.  The idea of corporate team building generally conjures images of a weekend retreat to boot camp, complete with obstacle courses, high elements, and water hazards   But, I recently had an interesting request that posed a bit of a challenge.

A client asked me to plan a wine tasting for a select group of executives from his company and partner companies.  This part would be easy – sniff, slurp, discuss.  The challenge was that  the client also requested that I incorporate an element  into my presentation that would encourage cooperation and team building within the groups.

My audience consisted of casual wine aficionados and a few gentlemen that by their own admission preferred a good Bourbon or Scotch to a glass of wine.   Based on the allotted time (about 1 hour and 15 minutes), my client and I agreed that we would taste six wines.  The presentation would culminate with a blind tasting of the same six wines.  The audience would separate into predetermined groups and work together to reach their conclusions.

Knowing my audience would have little experience with blind tasting, I purposely selected wines that would have distinct characteristics, drawing examples from important wine regions around the world.  For instructive purposes, I incorporated wines that would illustrate the differences in Old World and New World expressions of the same varietal or a similar blend.  I provided tasting notes and an outline of relevant information that I would discuss regarding each wine.

The wine selections in order of tasting were:

  1. Retour Pinot Noir 2009, Williamette Valley Oregon 90 Points
  2. Claude Dugat, Couer du Roy 2008, Gevrey Chambertin, France
  3. Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2006 Tuscany, Italy
  4. Domaine du Pegau 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape, France
  5. Chateau Batailley 2009 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
  6. Roy Estate Proprietary Red 2008 Napa, California

After a brief introduction, I informed the group that they would be tasked to identify the wines they were tasting “blind” immediately after the initial presentation.  I spoke briefly on tasting techniques and sensory perception.  The goal was get the group focused on things that would assist them in the upcoming challenge.   As we tasted each wine, I discussed relevant information and interesting facts regarding the wine, producers, and place of origin.  I also illustrated characteristics of each wine that would assist in blind identification.

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After the initial presentation, the guests adjourned briefly while I poured to equalize the levels in the glasses.  I switched wines #2 (Dugat Gevrey Chambertin) and #5 (Chateau Batailley),  I left the most distinct and easily identifiable wines in their original places #1 (Retour Pinot Noir – The palest in color) and #4 (Pegau CDP – A three ring circus of smoke, herbs, meat, fruitcake…etc on the nose.)

In the style of a “semi blind” tasting, I provided an “answer sheet” with the names of the wines present in the flight. Numbers 1-6 were left blank for the groups to fill in their answers.  To up the ante, I announced that each member of the winning group would get to choose a bottle from the tasting as their prize.  Smiles changed to game faces.

Discussion Cropped

Minutes into the completion, it was obvious the participants were taking the challenge very seriously.  There was spirited discussion within each group. But, all talk was whispered.  I heard mention of numbers and an occasional “this or that one”, but not a word that might tip the other groups off.  In the end, one group got all six wines correct.  There were high fives and celebration.  My client later informed me that the winning group consisted of his boss and the CEO of his company.  It couldn’t have worked out better.

During my initial presentation, I talked about spitting.  However, after tasting six wines, there wasn’t a drop in anyone’s cup – mine included.  The wines were too good to waste.  The guests kept their wines on the numbered placemats with dinner.  The conversations continued.

The host was smiling.

Mission accomplished.