We have reached, or perhaps surpassed, the peak of the pumpkin beer craze. The trend is on the downslope. But this doesn’t make me sad, because rather than see shelves clogged with three dozen mediocre pumpkin beers, we’re entering a time where we’ve pretty much figured out how to do it right. The Greats are all returning year after year, and they’re pretty much all I need.
Schlafly Pumpkin Ale is a Beer Advocate favorite that has come to Phoenix for the first time in 2018. Last year, some gracious friends actually brought me a bottle straight from the Baltimore area, and I loved it. So it was more than a welcome surprise to catch the sight at the top of this page at Total Wine last month.
It’s just as I remember from last year – a prominent blast of pumpkin pie spice right from the start, which has traditionally been my weakness. However, as my palette has evolved, I’ve come to find that I prefer the somewhat subtler pumpkin beers now. A major shock. Just a few short years ago, I championed for Shipyard Pumpkinhead. Now I find it too sweet and heavy-handed. I still loathe the mediocre pumpkin beers that can’t deign to make the pumpkin pie flavors noticeable – and there are still many of those out there. But now I prefer some complexity in the flavor profile, not just “pumpkin pie, and lots of it”.
Schlafly comes right up to that line where if it were any more pumpkin-y, it would be too much. The flavor is more on the nutmeg and cinnamon side of things, and less on the brown sugar/vanilla/chocolate end. It definitely tastes like a real beer, not like a pumpkin soda.
Between the wide local availability of beers like this, Elysian Night Owl, Pumking, and others, I’d say the bar has been officially raised. This now occupies the spot previously held by Uinta pumpkin ale as my everyday, reliable go-to.
Bonus Review: Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale
I’m not sure now new this particular beer is, but as the regular Schlafly is brand new for us Arizonans this year, I’m gonna call this 2018’s second new arrival.
I’ve had good results whenever there’s a “big boy” version of a pumpkin beer I already like. Shipyard has Smashed Pumpkin, Elysian has Great Pumpkin, Buffalo Bill’s has (or HAD) Black Pumpkin. All these are solid 5-jack beers. Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin is no different.
A whopping 10% ABV and sold in 750ml bottles, it’s effectively close to the equivalent of drinking an entire bottle of wine if you are to consume this in one sitting. Which I did… but not before taking down my thoughts on the flavor of the beer itself.
The Imperial version is exactly like the ordinary Schlafly, but with everything amped up. The pumpkin pie flavor, the other supporting flavor notes, and of course the tang of alcohol. But it all works beautifully. The added complexity is more than welcome for me. It pours almost as dark as a stout with a light head – I enjoyed it in a goblet but didn’t get a picture.
I almost feel like I need to go back and revise all my old pumpkin beer reviews, modifying the scale, because I’m giving so many perfect scores. But damned if this isn’t a great beer. Of course, the wine analogy also extends to the price – $14 a bottle, which plants this squarely in the “special occasion” category. The super sized quantity and ABV mean that just one is enough for a pleasant night in with a horror movie.