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


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.