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
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▒
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
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
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
After 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
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
I 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.
Karbach Krunkin Pumpkin 7.9% ABV
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
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
I 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