Here in the Central Valley of California, the corn is being harvested, silage and tomato trucks infest the roads, the weather is getting cooler, and the hay bales are showing up at fruit stands all over the countryside. It must be fall. Around A.E.’s household, the season is better known as pumpkin beer season, and what better way to celebrate it than to share the good news of some good brews I’ve sampled recently (and not-so-recently). Here are 3 pumpkin ales that I liked and are worth sipping. Still to come is Southern Tier’s Pumking and Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale. Enjoy!
Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale; Boston Beer Co.; Boston, MA
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 4
This beer begins as all decent beers must begin: with promise.
The beer pours a gorgeous burnished copper. Fall has arrived, when your beers begin to change to the colors of the leaves. (And Boston in the fall is supposed to be quite spectacular.) I poured vigorously so as to get as much head as possible, but I found it lacking. Very bubbly, light cream colored head, which dissipates much too quickly.
The aroma is all rich pumpkin. Whether they achieve this with extracts or actual pumpkin puree, I do not know, but as I said…a goodly amount of promise. Which is why…
The taste lets down some. While you definitely get the hints of allspice and pumpkin that the aroma promises, I was hoping for a much richer flavor. More malt would have complimented the richness of the pumpkin and spice, but probably would have increased the cost of this beer significantly. It’s sad, though because the build up of sight and smell does not deliver with the standard finish I expect from a Sam Adams beer coming out halfway through the swallow. Somewhat redeeming this, however, is a nice, lingering sweetness that lasts as I finish this paragraph.
Like most Sam Adams beers, the mouthfeel also leaves something to be desired. Significantly carbonated, the CO2 burn is really what you get, though it’s definitely thicker than, say, the Boston Lager.
In total, for the Sam Adams line, it’s a solid offering. It’s not as strong as some of the more boutique brands, but the ubiquitous nature of Sam Adams means that you’ll likely see Jim Koch’s harvest pack where you will see little else of substance and there’s something to be said for that. I wanted more of this beer, but didn’t really expect it. It’s a nice addition to the line, and I certainly plan to drink more, but I’m glad I started off this fall season with this beer, rather than finishing it off with it.
****EDIT: In fairness, as I worked on some other work, I let the beer warm in my glass. (It had already been out of the fridge for a good 50 minutes.) Warming the beer for another 15-20 minutes in the glass does wonders for the flavor and mouthfeel of this beer. The mouthfeel is positively affected by the distinct lessening of CO2 in suspension in the beer. This increases the silkiness I was looking for earlier, and markedly improves what it feels like when rolling around in my mouth.
And the flavor… Ah. THIS was the hit of pumpkin I was seeking. Again, the CO2 when cold and freshly poured cuts the rich pumpkin, malt, clove, cinnamon, and allspice. Let it warm a bit, let some of that CO2 enter the atmosphere, and you have a rich, tasty tribute to fall that makes me happy it’s September. I increased my mouthfeel from a 2.5 to a 3, and increased the overall from a 3.5 to a 4, but you have to let it warm a bit.
The Great Pumpkin; Elysian Brewing Co.; Seattle, WA
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5
(And for the record, this has been my favorite pumpkin ale of all time, so far.)
Appearance: light amber with slight haze. Heavy lacing at first with little staying power.
Aroma: the spice notes jump out with the sporting base of the pumpkin promising much. Fantastic sweetness, with a hint of malt.
Mouthfeel: Heavy without being syrupy. Light carbonation doesn’t cut it too much. I almost wonder what it would be like as a cask ale.
Flavor: While the pumpkin is prominent in the nose, I was pleased that it didn’t overpower the entire flavor. Laced throughout are a steady stream of spices and pumpkin. Base is sweet malt, and almost no detectable hops.
Overall: A perfectly balanced beer. Spices and pumpkin are prominent, but not overpowering. Somehow manages to not be cloying throughout the entire glass.
Smashed Pumpkin; Shipyard Brewing Co.; Portland, ME
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5
With the stellar beer that Smashed Blueberry turned out to be, I really wanted to like this beer more than I did. It’s not a bad pumpkin, but I’ve really had some good ones, and it’s spoiled me.
Appearance: A nice, light-looking beer. Straw-y, and colored well reminding me of harvest time where I live.
Smell: Here, we get the most pumpkin we get in the entire experience. Spice notes, warm pumpkin notes. I would have liked to have enjoyed more pumpkin in the nose, though. Still, considering what is in the flavor, this is one of the more pleasant aspects of this beer.
Taste: Here, I was slightly disappointed. I wanted more rich pumpkin flavor. Malt is slight…pumpkin is more of an overtone in this beer. Still, it’s a good pumpkin flavor…I just wanted more.
Mouthfeel: A lighter style, this beer could have used more malt to make it a little heavier. Might have accentuated the sweetness of the pumpkin.
Overall: One of the better pumpkin styles I could find at the store, it wasn’t what I was looking for. I would like a more dessert beer, but you can’t fault this beer for something that it doesn’t try to succeed at. My failed expectations aside, it’s more than a session, beer, but would go well with light dishes. It’s one of the better pumpkin beers out there, IMO.
(These reviews were originally posted to http://www.beeradvocate.com. See all my reviews at: http://beeradvocate.com/user/beer_reviews?ba=AleEvangelist)