Thanksgiving feast was laid out in all its delicious magnificence. Days of culinary dabbling had finally culminated to this moment. After hours of toiling and waiting…were all quite hungry. It was at that moment, we realized that something was missing…
Where is the Pumpkin!
We remembered that cute little rouge-ish pumpkin from the CSA. The one we had kind of been saving for such an occasion as this. It was still sitting there. Not anywhere near cooked to perfection. So there it was: We had made nothing with pumpkin. No pumpkin pie, no pumpkin breads. Not even a squash (or sweet potato for that matter.) It didn’t seem right to have Thanksgiving without pumpkin and just as it seemed all hope was lost… Pumpkin beers to the rescue!
In honor of their late arrival to our holiday menu, we’ve put together another round-up of the sometimes awful and sometimes marvelous, celebrated and/or maligned seasonal beverage.
(Previously on pumpkin beers we tasted these, click here to revisit.)
For 2014, we have 13 new beers to try! Well technically, we’ve had a couple of these before, but whatever. Let’s start at the bottom and work up.
#13 Long Trail Brewing Pumpkin Ale – Score 1.5
I can only imagine that this beer was tainted somehow. Sour, musty aromas lead to astringent bitter flavors, heavy on the spice. The body and carbonation were nice, but the flavor was just not pleasant.
#12 Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream – Score 2
This was at least one of the most unique renditions. The aroma was very earthy and vegetal. It tasted like raw squash with hints of baking spice and a touch of demerara sugar. Finishing lightly astringent with a fresh grind of black pepper. We just couldn’t get into that vegetal assault. Not really into drinking raw pumpkins, I guess.
#11 Cisco Brewers Pumple Drumkin – Score 3
It’s too bad it doesn’t taste as cute as the little pumpkin critter on the can. There just isn’t that much going on here. Lots of carbonation and a creamy mouth-filling body, but there is also too much bitterness. Some light sour notes and a biscuity finish pretty mush wraps it up. The faint spice and pumpkin notes are almost totally lost.
#10 The Traveler Beer Co. Jack-O-Shandy – Score 3.5
So this could arguably, not qualify for a pumpkin beer since it is really a shandy. A shandy is half beer and half lemonade. The Jack-O-Shandy tasted like an Arnold Palmer with a sprinkle of cinnamon, ginger, and raisin. Fuzzy carbonation, light pumpkin essence, and a bit of malt flavor on the dry finish. The cloudy, brownish appearance was not very appealing. Over all, the lemon tea flavors were somewhat refreshing, but this is definitely not something I’d buy again.
#9 Red Hook Out of Your Gourd – Score 3.75
I really like the idea of a pumpkin porter and still hold out hope that there is a truly rockin’ version of it. I will try to seek one out for next year… This wasn’t a bad beer, just not very good one. The porter characteristics dominated with roasty flavors of coffee, dark brown sugar, and black pepper. The finish was bitter, dry, roasty, and lightly sour. The pumpkin and spice notes were very subtle, which for some might be preferable, but when evaluating pumpkin beers, those attributes should be more noticeable. Admittedly, had it been a better porter underneath, I would have put less emphasis on that short coming. There were slight hints of cinnamon, clove, but no pumpkin. The body was lighter than I would have liked. All in all, it didn’t start with a particularly stellar porter base and the “pumpkin beer” attributes were too subdued to cover that up.
#8 Smuttynose Brewing Co. Pumpkin Ale – Score 4
Very nice aroma: floral, bright lemon peel and spice. Warming on the palate with cinnamon and clove spices, but bitter. Medium body. Unfortunately, I liked the way it smelled more than the way it tasted. An okay beer, but nothing special.
#7 Unita Punk’n – Score 5
Pumpkin and spice aromas and flavors are present, but not over-whelming or particularly defined. Light musty, fermented fruit aromas. Some additional sour (Meyer lemon) flavor with a bit of red hot and Smarties candy on the finish/aftertaste. Easy drinking, but definitely not tradition worthy.
#6 Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale – Score 5.75
Cardamom is big in this beer. Nutmeg and black pepper are also present along with fried sage, demerara sugar with a hint of roasted squash. The cardamom intensity was a bit more than we liked. A decent pumpkin beer, but not one that we would seek out for next year.
# 5 Waterfront Spiced Pumpkin Ale – Score 6
I’m actually surprised that this beer ranked as high as it did. It was the first one we tasted and it was brewed by Shipyard. We are typically not big fans of Shipyard brewed beers and we certainly didn’t care for their namesake pumpkin beer. However, this was a balanced, nicely carbonated beer with the right holiday aromas and flavors of cinnamon, pumpkin (most notably in the aroma). There is even a little hint of pastry crust. I wouldn’t commit to purchasing a full 12 pack… we didn’t like it that much. However in a mixed 6-pk, I would consider adding a bottle or two.
#4 Long Trail Brewing Co. Imperial Pumpkin – Score 6.5
This beer is part of the Brush and Barrel Series. We’ve sampled a few beers from this series and they were all pretty good. We really enjoyed this beer last year and while we still liked it this year, we were a bit less impressed. Circus peanuts dominated the aroma / flavor. Along with candied yams, marshmallow cream, and Banana Runts candy, this beer seemed less like a pumpkin beer and more like a Halloween-candy-bag beer. It had a nice creamy full body with well integrated spice notes and a dry finish. The hops, however, were a bit much and seemed to clash with the rest of the beer.
#3 Dogfish Head Punkin Ale – Score 8
This beer has been a regular addition to our holiday season for some time now and it continues to deliver the right balance between solid beer making and additions of pumpkin and spice. It starts off with sweet notes of brown sugar and caramel malts. Then comes the spice: cinnamon and allspice with hints of hops and pumpkin on a creamy, medium to full body. It finishes pleasantly hoppy and dry. Leaving you ready for another sip! This is a tradition that will continue for sure.
#2 Southern Tier Pumking – Score 8.25
I suppose one could say that this isn’t a pumpkin beer, but rather a pie crust beer. Either way, it’s definitely seasonal and definitely delicious. Biscuity aromas lead to flavors of pie crust, graham cracker, gingerbread, baking spices (cinnamon and ginger), and vanilla custard. Hints of hazelnut and pecan pie. Pumking is the beer equivalent of a soft, warm blanket.
And for our favorite pumpkin beer of all… so far…
#1 New Belgium Pumpkick – Score 9.5
Nearing perfection, the Pumpkick delivers it all plus a little bit extra that tips it into the outstanding category. The nose is like pumpkin pie: full of spice (allspice), biscuit, mild pumpkin, and a hint of cranberry. It all happens again on the palate with flavors of pumpkin butter, brown sugar, allspice, and cinnamon. It’s that juicy tart cranberry twist at the end that kicks this beer to the top. That tart pop balances the sweetness and richness of the other flavors keeping the beer lively and engaging. The spices and pumpkin taste fresh and are well integrated into the malty backbone of the beer. A complex brew that evokes the season! We only wish it was available in Maine.
Until next year, Happy Holidays and bring on the Winter Warmers!