This is going up quite a bit later than originally planned – chalk it up to the hazards of escalation. But I guess I need to remember that normal people don’t even start thinking about Halloween until a week or so prior, so maybe people will get a use for this.
It’s PUMPKIN BEER ROUNDUP 2013!
I’ll be doing something different this year. Instead of listing, rating, and reviewing every single pumpkin beer that passed my lips, this year’s Pumpkin Beer Roundup will be limited only to pumpkin beers I tried for the first time in 2013, those which have changed significantly enough to warrant another look, or those that have simply changed my mind for better or worse. Whatever you don’t see listed here, you will almost certainly find in my previous years’ roundups.
Without further ado, let’s look at this year’s crop. (Ratings are assigned on a scale of one to five jack ‘o lanterns.)
Red Hook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter
Pumpkin ales are kind of a dime a dozen, but pumpkin porters are slightly less common, which was why I was delighted to find a new one on the shelves so early in the season. The bottle advertises flavors of pumpkin (naturally) and maple syrup, and the maple syrup bullies the pumpkin flavor with ease. First time I tasted this it was immediately following a Shipyard Pumpkinhead, so by comparison I could hardly taste any pumpkin at all and was prepared to give it a sub-par rating. But subsequent analysis with a clean palette gave me a sunnier outlook. It’s definitely a unique and complex pumpkin beer – and just a slightly heavier hand in the pumpkin flavoring would have made this one a favorite.
Anderson Valley Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale
The first pumpkin beer I’ve ever drank from a can. I’m still amused by that. There really isn’t too much say about it, other than it’s a solid, classic pumpkin beer. It sounds like a middling review, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It has a well-balanced, recognizable pumpkin pie flavor. That’s really all you need, in my opinion.
Tommyknocker Small Patch Harvest Pumpkin Ale
This pumpkin beer includes molasses in the usual cocktail of pumpkin spices, which adds a very unique twist. You can definitely taste it but it doesn’t overwhelm the pumpkin. There’s a tiny, tiny bit of the dreaded aspartame aftertaste, but it’s not nearly as noticeable as say, the Wasatch, which handily defeats this beer in pumpkin pie flavor but tastes more metallic going down. Overall, the two compensate for one another and I put them on equal footing.
New Belgium Pumkick
Here’s an interesting one. In my very first pumpkin beer roundup I reviewed New Belgium’s Lips of Faith limited edition pumpkin beer – Kick – a pumpkin sour ale with cranberry. It was very interesting but I felt that the cranberry all but smothered all the pumpkin they might have put into it. (Side note: you’ve probably noticed a theme here. Pumpkin flavoring tends to be very mild and subtle, and tricky to make stand out in a beer against the other flavors. We all kind of have an idea of what pumpkin should taste like, but using real pumpkin in the brewing process doesn’t always produce that result. You kind of have to cheat a little with the spices.) Now, New Belgium has promoted Kick to a regular seasonal beer, and brought the volume down in the process. The cranberry flavor is more mild, reducing the sour taste and allowing the pumpkin to stand out more. It’s remarkably good – for New Belgium. They’ve never really managed to impress me but they’ve made a solid pumpkin beer.
Southampton Pumpkin Ale
I’m utterly hopeless. On a recent trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, I was very excited to go to the Total Wine (their first – recently opened) just to see if there were any different pumpkin beers not available in Arizona. There was one – Southampton Pumpkin Ale. Hoping for a hidden gem, I got a big stinking turd instead. Sorry to be crude but this is one of the worst pumpkin beers I’ve ever had. What little pumpkin flavor I could detect tasted ridiculously artificial and floral. It didn’t even really taste like beer – it tasted like what a faulty computer might produce if you asked it to simulate beer. The aftertaste was like garbage water. And to boot, this one further proved that I do not judge beer on the same planes as BeerAdvocate.com – they gave this swill a rating of 83, and my beloved Shipyard Pumpkinhead a 69! Trust me on this – if you don’t normally take into account things like head thickness, opacity, and lacing when you taste test a beer, avoid this one. I couldn’t finish the bottle.
Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale
Last year I gave this a two and a half jack rating, before I worked up the initiative to actually create half-jack icons. But I keep going back and forth on it. Sometimes I find it generic tasting and lacking in pumpkinosity, other times it’s one of the solid, go-to pumpkin beers out there. This year, it was working for me, and I’ve promoted it back up to a 3 jack rating.
Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter
I’ve written about my adventures trying to squeeze into the prennially packed Four Peaks brewery to get a pint of Pumpkin Porter before. Turns out, the smart play is to simply fill up a growler and hightail it out of there (there is also a slightly less crowded location closer to home, which is nice). This year, Four Peaks broke tradition and stopped offering growlers of the increasingly popular pumpkin porter, but instead switched over to six pack cans if you wanted a fix at home. Despite the sticker shock you may get paying $15 for a six pack of beer, this is a superior option; keep in mind that it cost $16 to bring your own growler for a refill, and cans have an infinitely longer shelf life. As for the beer itself, aficionados will point out that it tastes slightly different every year. I will remain open to the idea that I don’t have a sensitive enough tongue or a long enough memory to tell you anything certain, but from my vantage point, Pumpkin Porter from a can is still fantastic, and seems to be slightly smokier this year. The pumpkin flavor is still quite pronounced and the notes of chocolate are still there alongside the added smoke.
Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale
At long last… my white whale has been slain. I’ve been aware of the existence of a Rogue “big bottle” pumpkin beer in a bold orange bottle for several years, and known that it has been sold in Arizona, but until now I had never seen it with my own eyes. It’s the reason this Roundup is going up late. So I’ve finally tasted it. It’s sitting on the desk next to me as I type this, so keep in mind this is a “first impressions” kinda deal. I took a good whiff as soon as I opened the bottle and was pleased to find a robust, cinnamon-y pumpkin pie scent. Encouraging. After the first taste, I was struck by how mild the flavor was. Normally these big bottle pumpkin beers go BIG on the multitude of beer flavors and fairly light on pumpkin. This one is very well balanced; pumpkin flavor is front and center but not overpowering like Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin. The bottle doesn’t disclose the ABV, which makes me think it may not be particularly high, but that’s fine by me. I’m more interested in flavor. For 10 bucks a bottle, I can’t see picking this over Smashed Pumpkin, but if I saw it available on tap somewhere, I’d definitely order a pint. A very good pumpkin beer.