Profiled by Tom Becham
Republished for the season.
Pumpkin pie is appreciated for Thanksgiving and the Christmas Holiday as well, so these beers are passably seasonal for the rest of the year.
Pumpkin has a long history in ale making in the United States. The colonists used pumpkin as an adjunct, using the sugars as an aid to fermentation. And truly, since most Brits regard pumpkin as an item to be fed to cattle, it could really only have started in the New World.
The first of the three I tried was Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale. Dogfish Head describes this as a spiced pumpkin beer with a brown ale base.
My impressions? It poured a nice rosy orange. On the nose, it smells like they dumped the whole friggin’ spice rack in this one. The usual pumpkin pie spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice – are very strong on the nose. Only when the beer warms does the brown ale’s toffee-like malt aroma come forward. The head is small and short-lived, but a lovely tan color. Taste-wise, the spice again overwhelms the pumpkin at first. The pumpkin comes out to play only upon warming, and is never more than faint, and almost overwhelmed by the slight minty hop. On the plus-side, the 7% ABV is never obvious. I’d recommend this only if you like spice – and a lot of it – in your pumpkin ale. I love Dogfish Head for their intrepid spirit of experimentation. But sometimes – as with this beer – they swing and miss.
My second encounter with pumpkin ale was a better one. Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin might actually be called an “Imperial Pumpkin” as it weighs in at 9% ABV. Again, not much head to this one. The color was orange-tinged brown. There is a bit more balance in the aroma, though, with some pumpkin peeking through, even at colder temps. Still strong on the spices. On the palate, Smashed Pumpkin also shows a bit less spice, and more pumpkin than the Dogfish Head effort. There’s also a molasses-like hint to the flavor, which strengthens as the beer warms. The alcohol level makes this a bit “hot”, which becomes too much as the brew nears room temperature. The body is a bit thin, too, for such a big beer. This one has good balance between pumpkin and spice, but should probably be consumed a bit colder than you might otherwise have your ale.
My final foray into the pumpkin was with Samuel Adams’ Harvest Pumpkin Ale. At last, we’ve reached a happy medium!
Sam Adams’ Harvest Pumpkin seems to only be available in SA’s Fall Seasonal 12-pack, with only 2 bottles of this present. Too bad. I know many pumpkin
afficionados who’d buy sixers of this one. The color is a coppery, almost Oktoberfest-like hue. The head is a thin one-finger, but it seems to be respectable for the style. The nose is mainly pumpkin, with some spices also present, but playing a purely supporting role. The dark bready malts also provide an undertone aroma. As far as the taste, this is the sample that was most obvious with the odd sweet-but-vegetable-y flavor of pumpkin that is futile to describe to you if you’ve never tasted undoctored pumpkin. The spices also arrive to the party, but are merely hangers-on rather than the guest of honor. The overall taste of the beer is malty but not-quite-sweet. And at 5.7%, Sam Adams also manages to delivers a somewhat stronger beer without it seeming anything too unusual. This would be my pick for the best of the trio of pumpkin ales. But as usual, your mileage may vary.
Tom Becham lives in California, he’s a homebrewer and reviews beer, brewpubs, breweries and beer events for professorgoodales.net