Sep 27, 2010

It's the Great Pumpkin Ale, Charlie Brown!

Hey kids! It's my first Verdant Dude beer review. Well, the first one in a real long while that hasn't been posted to the old Beer-Eyed Blog. And since we are all about the new Autumn season this week, I thought I would take a moment to talk about a beer style rather than a specific brew. But we'll get to a few of those too.

Autumn in the Northeast means one thing for us beer lovers. Pumpkin Ales! Yeah, they are beers brewed with real pumpkins, pumpkin juice sometimes and always with pumpkin pie spices like nutmeg, vanilla or cinnamon. The spices are added because, well, pumpkins by themselves are fairly bland. Had to be said.

While the style has been around for hundreds of years (legend has it that George Washington brewed his own beer from pumpkins), it's only been a viable commercial entity recently. From what I've read, Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale out of California is most likely the first pumpkin ale brewed commercially. I've never had it, but it gets some pretty bad reviews. Post Road Pumpkin Ale from Brooklyn Brewery is the first pumpkin beer I ever had. And my friends and I would look forward to Autumn every year for the newest batch.

A lot of bars and restaurants will serve a pumpkin ale in a glass rimmed with sugar and pumpkin spices. That's okay, but I prefer to taste the flavor of the beer itself rather than that extra sweetness. A good pumpkin beer doesn't need it. But it can make a mediocre pumpkin ale drinkable. Just try not to drink mediocre pumpkin ale, all right?

Here are five of my favorite pumpkin ales:
  • PumKing (Southern Tier Brewing, NY) - This is the king, as the name suggests. An incredible imperial (high alcohol) pumpkin all that has it all. It tastes like a pumpkin pie with whipped cream in a glass. It can easily replace any dessert you might want to have...ever! The only problem is that it may be too delicious and filling. One (they come in big 22oz bottles) is definitely enough. There are pumpkin beers that are session beers (you can drink more than a few of them, if you want), but this isn't one of them. The one beer is more than worth it, though.
  • Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout (Cape Ann Brewery, MA) - This one is unique. The only pumpkin stout that I've ever tried. There may be another regional pumpkin stout out there, but I've never seen it in my area. Very surprisingly smooth with just a hint of pumpkin spice in there. A big-time malt experience, in my opinion. Like a lot of stouts, it maybe has a little coffee or chocolate flavor in there too. Extremely drinkable too, even though it's 6.75% ABV doesn't make it a lightweight beer. So tread carefully.
  • Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (Smuttynose Brewing, NH) - This might be my favorite pumpkin beer if I'm going to be having more than one. A solid offering with a little more bitter hop flavor than most pumpkin ales. And at 6.0% ABV, it's not terribly strong nor noticeably weak. A nice brew that covers all the proper bases. I especially love it on draft.
  • Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, DE) - Probably one of the more popular craft pumpkin ales nationally, and there is a reason for that. It's delicious! It smells like Autumn in a glass. A hint of cloves to go along with everything else in there, but the tastes is pure smoothness. A lot of pumpkin beers go overboard with the sweetness or the spices (or both), but not this one. It's just good beer.
  • Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (Elysian Brewing, WA) - I figured I should pick something from the West Coast, and for pumpkin beers I think you can't go wrong with this one. All the beers from Elysian are delicious, even though the labels are a little silly. Very smooth, Elysian does everything right with this one. A great spice aroma and initial taste. It also comes in a large 22oz bottle like the PumKing, but it is a bit more of a session beer than that one.
And I'll give you one to stay away from. I really, really dislike Shipyard's Pumpkinhead Ale out of Maine. Maybe because it's not brewed with real pumpkins and the pumpkin flavoring is added after the brewing process (what's up with that?), but it just tastes wrong. Flat, lifeless and just bad. Having one of these can ruin one's idea of what a real pumpkin ale should taste like. Bleh.

Note: Remember to play the Badgerdaddy Trivia Challenge every day. Get your gourd on!


Verdant Earl said...

Oops. Published this early. Pretend it's Monday already, okay?

sybil law said...

Close enough to Monday, anyway. :)
I've had the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale - and it really is delicious! As a matter of fact, I have 2 left in my fridge!

Verdant Earl said...

Sybil - I'll be right over to help you finish those. ;)

Slyde said...

i honestly detest the pumpkin beers.

i also hate eating anything made of pumpkin.

hey, maybe thats why i hate pumpkin beer!

p.s. my word ver here is casTOES..... figures.

Verdant Earl said...

Slyde - yeah, if you don't like pumpkin pie it's a foregone conclusion that you are going to hate pumpkin beer.

i am the diva said...

I've never even heard of this Pumpkin beer you speak of... Although i am intrigued. (Is it legal to send booze to Canada??) i do loves me some Pumpkin Pie, so maybe the beer too?

Not that i can drink ANYTHING right now, lousy baby - ruining all my fun. ;)

Verdant Earl said...

Diva - I know there is at least one pumpkin ale brewed in Canada, but it's way over in Quebec. I'm sure there is something there you can get. Coors and Blue Moon makes a poor version of one called Harvest Moon, and i'm sure you can get that in a pinch.

Heff said...


(although they ALL sound kinda nasty).

Verdant Earl said...

Heff - if you enjoy a stout every once in a while, then you might like the Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout. It's the mildest of the bunch.

hello haha narf said...

pumpkin pie is a fast way to my heart, but i'm not a fan of pumpkin beer. detest most of the christmas beers, too. i just don't get why folks fuck with a good thing, and beer is a good thing, ya know?

Verdant Earl said...

Becky - If you can get your hands on the PumKing from Southern Tier, give it a try. It's the closest thing to liquid pumpkin pie out there. But I hear ya. Most attempts at fucking with beer comes out badly. But I do love some pumpkins and a few Christmas Ales too.

Kevin Spencer said...

What's all this talk about pumpkin ale then? Never heard of, nor tried the stuff. Wait, I'm supposed to be a beer snob, how could I have not tasted pumpkin ale? So, 2010, the year Mr Spencer tries pumpkin ale. Mark your calender.

GeologyJoe said...

See, I like the Shipyard pumpkin head. hmm.

Sam Adams has a pumpkin ale this year too that's not too bad.

Verdant Earl said...

Kevin - I'd be interested to know if you like it.

Joe - You know, I know a couple of other folks who like it as well. I just don't like how they add the pumpkin spices after the beer is brewed. To each his own. And yeah, Sam Adams does pretty much everything really well. Including their pumpkin ale. Hard to go wrong with Sam.

Raine said...

Post Road was my fave last year. Im surprised that you dont like Shipyard Pumpkinhead - but that maybe because Im from Maine and thats what we drink :)