Josephsbrau Howling Gourds Review A swing and a miss

We’re awfully spoiled to be pumpkin beer drinkers right now aren’t we? A mere decade ago, our choices (at least here in Phoenix and limited to corporate stores) were maybe three to five when it came to pumpkin beers around Halloween time. I remember Michelob Jack’s Pumpkin Ale, Sam Adams Pumpkin Ale, Blue Moon, and if you went to a specialty store, Shipyard Pumpkinhead being all I could find that first year I was paying attention. Now, with the pumpkin spice explosion in its waning phase, there are dozens of choices available if you know where to look – and some pretty outstanding ones to boot, which means my Autumn beer menu is pretty well set. I have my perennial favorites, which you can read all about in the forthcoming Pumpkin Beer Roundup, but I continue the search for any and all new pumpkin beers as a hobby more than anything else.

Around this time of year, it’s a ritual of mine to keep a watchful eye out whenever I visit a Trader Joe’s to look for their KBC Pumpkin Ale. Dollar for dollar, there isn’t a better value out there for pumpkin beers as far as I’m concerned, but it always arrives late in the season. To my surprise, the KBC was not out yet when I visited today, but instead a new pumpkin beer was on shelves under Trader Joe’s own house brand – Josephsbrau Howling Gourds. It has a pretty striking label design and a respectable 7% ABV, so my expectations were high.

Before I go any further, I’d like to reference my review of Indian Wells’ Spiced Pumpkin Ale – to date the worst pumpkin beer I’ve ever had. I noted the similarity in flavor to potpourri, and the scent to walking into a Michael’s craft store. I’ll never forget that beer for that reason (it’s no longer available in Phoenix from what I can tell). When I popped the cap on Howling Gourds for the first time and took a sniff, I caught an unusually strong cinnamon note. Not a bad sign. Then I took a sip…

It’s as though Indian Wells’ Spiced Pumpkin has risen from the grave. Simply put, they went way too heavy on the allspice. That is what creates that potpourri/Micheal’s store quality. In fact it’s so fragrant and syrupy it almost tastes of bubblegum. Yes, bubblegum.

I hesitate to say it’s as bad as the Indian Wells, but it’s damn close. Nigh undrinkable. There’s a bottle of it sitting right here as I write, and I wonder whether I can even finish it. I notice that even after several minutes between sips that potpourri flavor just clings to my tongue. There’s cinnamon and nutmeg there too if I really focus on it, but absolutely no pumpkin or vanilla. Stay away, and hope that the KBC arrives soon.


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