Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nurse the Hate: The Complete Pumpkin Beer Tasting Notes

In the last couple of years I have tasted 45 different pumpkin beers.  That is way too many.  I don't even like pumpkin pie all that much, but since anyone that has even considered brewing beer has released one, I thought it important to provide a rational consumer guide.  These were all tasted next to each other, so it is blatantly unfair to certain beers depending on when/where they fell in the tasting(s).  These are my tasting impressions.  Yours could be completely different.  But, if they are, they are probably wrong.  Totally wrong.

Anderson Valley Fall Hornin-  This was a real sleeper.  Rich integrated spice gives in to a rich mouthfeel.  It has a dark brown color, so the expectation is that it will taste like the kind of brown ale annoying British guys name Percy sip away at while calling you “Yank”.  God help you if you call his beloved football “soccer”… Next thing you know he’s getting all worked up and all you wanted to do was have a beer and figure out how to get back to your hotel.  The good news is that this beer isn’t like that.  It’s the complete opposite.  It’s like if you went to a party at a supermodel’s house like Brooklyn Decker and assumed she would serve something awful like quinoa salad but instead whips out a killer Beef Wellington and a six of this.

Arcadia “Jaw Jacker”-  This is pretty damn good.  I’m not a huge fan of Arcadia generally, but this may be related to the time I was there when some guy that claimed to be a partner at Arcadia tried to sell me on some awful blues song he had written.  It’s not easy to enjoy a beer when the most Caucasian guy you have ever seen is trying to sing clunky blues lyrics acapella pretending he is Blind Willie Chitlin from Mississippi.  Putting that terrible experience aside, this is well balanced with a nutmeg open and almost a whiskey finish. 

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin-  As you probably know, Blue Moon is owned by Coors.  Coors is America’s worst macro brewery that tries to sell that Coors Light shit as the “coldest” beer, as if every moron can’t see through the fact that you can make any beer any temperature you want.  “No!  Bartender!  Better put down that Bud Light and give me the Coors Light instead.  That Coors Light is probably much colder and therefore delicious.”  This is like a thin piece of pumpkin pie and not awful.  It’s just not interesting.  If this was a band, it would be Foreigner. 

Brooklyn Brewing “Post Road Pumpkin”-  This just flat out smelled good.  It has really good balance and isn’t heavy.  I got to the end of the glass and I wanted more, and I can’t say that about most of these.  This beer was like being at a Cramps show, they end their set, and you look around thinking, “Damn!  That’s it?  There’s no more?”.   

Buckeye Brewing Pumpkin Dead-  For lack of better terminology, this had a lot of bass notes.  This beer was like going over to a Stoner rock band’s house for Thanksgiving.  They may have some pumpkin pie for you, but it’s served to you with a cigarette butt in it by a guy with missing teeth.  It’s like he’s saying, “Enjoy the beer Fuckface.”. 

Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale-  This claims to be the first pumpkin ale, but that is probably the same thing as the 500 bars that claim to have served the first chicken wing.  Let’s just assume they have been doing it for awhile.  This one is very light and playful, if that makes sense.  One of the few Pumpkin Ales I could imagine having more than one of, it’s got an orange zest flavor that makes it pop.  I could see drinking this and watching those guys in the Flaming Lips do their thing. 

Cambridge Brewing Company The Great Pumpkin Ale-  This is a more restrained style with only 5.4% alcohol.  It's well brewed but I wish there was more carbonation.  I bet those smug fuckers from Cambridge knock these back and think it's The Shit like David Ortiz, Gronk, steamers, and meandering indie rock.  I can see a guy in thick eyeglass frames now.  Why am I so bitter?  I don't know if I have ever been so mad at a pumpkin beer. 

Cisco Brewers Pumple Drumkin-  This doesn’t seem like a pumpkin beer.  It’s almost like they re-labeled something else.  “Hey, we gotta move this pale ale out of the warehouse.  Dump a little nutmeg in there and get your girlfriend to design a cute label.  Let’s ship it out as a pumpkin ale!”  This beer was fine.  It just doesn’t really provide that special holiday beer experience that frankly is the entire point.

Coronado Brewing Punk’in Drublic-  The label is annoyingly hard to read, so maybe the name isn’t right on this.  It doesn’t really matter though because I don’t ever imagine I will buy this again.  It’s like chewing on a candle you found in the attic.  There’s a kind of musty quality to it.  (If you are the brewmaster reading this, I’m really sorry.  Check it out though.  It does taste like an old scented candle.)

Crooked River Erie Nights-  There might be pumpkin in here.  I can’t confirm or deny it.  That is mostly because of the overwhelming cinnamon.  This should be labeled “Cinnamon Juice”, but I do not think that is allowed by law, as I am not aware of anyone that juices a cinnamon fruit or milks the cinnamon out of an animal.  While this beer wasn’t very good, I do think it provides a really good song title for the Red Hot Chili Peppers next single, “Milk My Cinnamon”.

Dogfish Head Punkin- This beer isn’t fucking around.  The cinnamon hits you hard early and then it gives way to a heavy clove taste.  These guys at Dogfish make plenty of heavy flavor beers, so you can’t be surprised at how assertive this tastes.  That clove thing threw me. This is like a wiseass hipster with a beard that smokes clove cigarettes and hates every band except Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. He’s sure he’s the bastion of taste and everyone respects him, but at the end of the night goes home to jack off in a sock looking at underwear ads.  What does that makes the beer?  Interesting and a little perverted?  Is that a compliment? 

Erie Brewing Johnny Rails-  This is like Crooked River’s little brother, though it’s actually better than Crooked River as the cinnamon is restrained enough to not be completely overwhelming.  I remember when I was in grade school in Erie, there was this brief period of time when kids were making cinnamon toothpicks.  You were really cool if you were chewing on one of these in Social Studies.  I have to think that one of those kids had a hand in brewing this.  How else can you explain so much fucking cinnamon?

Epic Brewing Imperial Pumpkin Porter-  This is a porter that has a little pumpkin shoved in as an afterthought.  I always think of porters as being drunk by grouchy English sailors.  While I still think the English Old Salt would say something like, “Gimme that beer you fucking nancy cunt!” it would be in somewhat endearing fashion unlike if he figured out that a pumpkin got shoved in there.  I think he’d get pissed about that.  I think he'd yell at you in a lot of slang you wouldn't understand, and you would feel like less of a man because you tried to dainty up his porter with pumpkin.  This is a beer that fat guys with beards at microbrew events pretend to love because it is almost undrinkable.

Fat Head Spooky Tooth-  This is well balanced and flavorful like everything that Fat Heads does.  Please note that it has 9% alcohol so it will kick the fuck out of you.  This seems like something that would be stocked at a Halloween party, and you don’t even notice how smooth they are as you knock them back while wearing a Batman costume.  Then you wake up the next morning in a camper with your pubic area covered by glitter and there is a video camera set up on a tripod pointed at the bed.  As you wonder what happened and whom the couple in the genie costumes are passed out next to you, you notice all the empty bottles of the Fat Heads lying around everywhere.

Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin Ale-  My notes said “tastes like a pile of leaves”.  It has a crippling 10.5% alcohol, and I clearly didn’t like it.  I noted “I imagine having my teeth pulled out by a bonfire by a man with pliers and leather pants.  There are fat guys with beards laughing when I start crying.  It’s cold.  Very cold.  I can’t get away.  A Hawkwind album is playing off speed from a parked car in the distance.”.  Although it’s good to know a drinking experience like this is out there, I don’t know when the next time is that I will want to have it.

Heavy Seas “The Great Pumpkin”- This thing is heavy duty.  It’s almost liquor.  When I drink this, I think of showing up uninvited at a biker party where they smash a giant jack-o-lantern over my head. The last thing I hear before the concussion leaves me unconscious is distorted Black Oak Arkansas coming from an old boom box. 

Hoppin Frog Double Pumpkin- This is very polite.  There is an unripe pumpkin quality to it and the spices are restrained.  It’s OK but a little disappointing.  I really like Hoppin Frog’s beers, so I expected more. It’s like when you got a copy of Reverend Horton Heat’s “Liquor In The Front" and thought it was going to be like “Full On Gospel Sounds” but instead it was “Liquor In The Front”. 

Ithaca Country Pumpkin- Ithaca has lots and lots and lots of hippies. Hippies do a couple of things pretty well.  They are good at making pot pipes out of found objects and good at making beer.  I don’t know what the hell happened in this case.  The flavor profile is OK, but there’s too little carbonation.  “Dude!  I think the air is getting out of the bottle!”  This is Pumpkin Stroh’s.  Maybe the guys that make it aren’t hippies.  Maybe they used to sell office equipment.   

Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale-  When I was 16 a few of my friends had the really good idea to steal liquor from their parents.  Nobody wanted to get caught, so the tactic was to take a little bit of everything and pour it into the same 16 oz 7-Up plastic bottle.  This horrific concoction was named “Lizard Spit” and was most noteworthy for the dominant scent of whatever cheap bourbon had been part of the brew.  That is what I thought about with the weird blend of pumpkin pie spice and bourbon mixed with the malt.  I think the word for that particular blend of beer and bourbon is “regret”.  This is the smiling guy with the gapped teeth who gets you to take a few tugs off a bottle of mystery bourbon and then convinces you that one little hit of LSD won’t be a big deal…

Long Trail Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale-  I picture a bunch of dudes in flannel shirts at this brewery saying, “I am so tired of making this dull lager.  Let’s make a boring pumpkin beer and then go watch CSI Miami and make Jiffy Pop”.  I’ll bet that is considered fun in Vermont.  When it came here to my table, it wasn’t so fun. Immediately forgettable.   

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream-  Everyone around the table remarked about how “subtle” this was, which I think was code for “bland”.  You know when you go out to eat at a restaurant for senior citizens and no matter what the entrée is it still tastes like everything else?  For example, I have been trying to get proof for years that Bob Evans actually serves the exact same stuff molded into different shapes dependant on the order.  It’s just this vat of “protein matter” which is scooped out onto the plate.  It’s like Play-Do that you eat.  This would be the beer equivalent.  It’s not bad per se, but there isn’t much to get excited about.  It’s certainly not as exciting as the screaming pumpkin on the label. 

New Belgium Pumkick-  This is really pumpkin pie-ish but not nearly as rich as several other examples.  With a reasonable alcohol content, this would be a good beer to serve at a Halloween party.  It is very well balanced.  It sort of reminded me of that couple you see that walks into a restaurant with perfect hair and outfits.  You know that their home is absolutely spotless and tastefully decorated.  They might not be the most fun people you ever met, but would be amazing neighbors. I’d drink this again.

New Holland Ichabod-  This beer was swampy.  Lots of cinnamon and not enough ginger/nutmeg flavors for my taste.  I bet there was a bunch of dudes with beards standing around brew tanks and everyone pussed out when the head brew master said “What do you think?”. Hey man…  You remember how Steve flipped out last year when I said the IPA wasn’t hoppy enough?  I’m not saying shit about this…  We’ll be making the Xmas Ale in a month.  I’m keeping my mouth shut until then. 

Red Hook Out Of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter-  This is a lighter version of Southern Tier’s Warlock.  On first thought, the combination of coffee flavors with pumpkin spice doesn’t sound like a good idea. It really works though.  It’s like some kind of doom beer with a silver lining like if you saw Black Sabbath play out in 1974 and they closed the set with “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and then kicked into “The Pina Colada Song” while all grinning from ear to ear.  

Rivertown Pumpkin-  There is a ton of molasses in this flavor profile, which made it unique amongst these beers.  When I taste molasses, I think “old timey” like Jerry Garcia playing in a jug band. Unfortunately when I drank this I also wrote in my notes “…there’s so much molasses, it’s like you ate out someone’s grandma…”.  I don’t think the brewery is likely to put that quote on their website, but it’s honest.  Well, it’s the first thing I thought of anyway. 

RJ Rockers Gruntled Pumpkin Ale-  This is a lighter version of the Fat Head.  It’s OK, but it needs more pumpkin.  It needs more everything.  It tastes like something Coors would brew.  This tastes like it was brewed by committee.  I would imagine that if Sears made a seasonal pumpkin beer, it would taste like this.  The brewer is from South of the Macon Dixon line, where it appears it is almost impossible to brew great beer.  Why is it that for an area to create good beer, it also has to have lousy weather?  It's the band/beer connection.  Seattle/Portland/Michigan all have wet crappy weather and good bands.  I'm not sure how Denver fits in...   

Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale-  I had my doubts on this as it comes in a giant orange bottle trumpeting how organic it is.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but usually the more “organic” something is, the shittier it tastes. Girls in peasant skirts and Birkenstocks are not normally noted for their culinary skills, you know what I mean?  They can do yoga and are usually pretty good at crafts.  They can’t cook though.  However, this is outstanding.  Pumpkin, nutmeg, and cinnamon on the finish in a deep amber color announce this as a “Big Boy” beer.  I’m a huge fan of this.  This beer is the “American Beauty” of pumpkin beers.

Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale-  This is like a prototype of a “pumpkin ale”.  It’s balanced, spicy and has well integrated pumpkin flavor.  It just doesn’t really go all the way.  This is for people that like black labs, Bruce Springsteen, and consider the Camaro to be the pinnacle of a sports car.  That is not to say that these things do not have some value on their own, but once you know better, it’s hard to be satisfied with this.

Sam Adams Fat Jack-  Sam Adams gets wild and brews some crazy shit because they can.  This is one of those beers.  They drop 28 pounds of pumpkins into the brew kettle for this.  It sounds like a good idea.  I just wish it tasted better.  It’s like a reduced sauce version of Harvest Pumpkin Ale that you need to drink out of a snifter.  I kind of hated it.  I know it seems like bullshit to call out Sam Adams for not taking chances on their other beer, and then say, “you took chances with this and I hate it” but I’m doing it.  If this were a band it would be like Soundgarden.  It is really bombastic and when you look a little closer you notice there is no real substance.

Saranac Pumpkin Ale-  This is another big hippie brand.  If you go to Western NY, the folks love their Saranac.  I think this is because Saranac got into the micro/craft beer game really early.  The problem is their beer just can’t hang with the Big Boys.  This is OK.  It has the spicy autumn feel, but I didn’t get very excited.  I went to see Phish one time.  People were very excited.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I left after their first set.  No one seemed to mind.  Like Phish, Saranac will do fine without me.  

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale-  I bought this in Indiana where they guy at the beverage store was all jacked up about this brewery.  He was also jacked up about the Cleveland Browns, so I took his opinion with a grain of salt.  However, I have a newfound respect for that poorly dressed gentleman with the copious amount of ear hair.  This beer is terrific.  This tastes like Thanksgiving.  It reminds me of when I saw The Blasters play.  It immediately raised the bar on the whole damn thing. 

Shipyard Pumpkin Ale-  This is pretty light on the stereotypical flavors.  It’s more like pumpkin zest ale instead of pumpkin ale.  I had pretty high expectations for this and was disappointed.  Imagine you went to a rock show on a Friday night and hoped Jack White was going to blow your head off, and instead Bon Iver shuffled out.

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin-  And then I tried this…  This is smooth, tough, and assured.  All the flavors are amped up, and the alcohol content is too.  You knock back a couple of these, you’ll probably end up in a wheelchair.  The Shipyard Pumpkin Ale is Iggy Pop on his “Blah Blah Blah” album and this is The Stooges “Fun House”.  Blah Blah Blah is OK, but why listen to that when you have Fun House? 

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale-  I looked at my notes and uncomfortably noticed I had written “…really herbal musky like a hippie chick’s two day old panties.  I can imagine gagging pulling them down while her Siamese cat looked on impassively”.  I would like to take a moment to say that I have never had that experience, and it takes quite a flavor for that to be projected into my mind.  This was not my favorite beer of the evening. 

Southern Tier Pumking-  This is a warm friendly hug.  It’s a big piece of pumpkin pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.  It’s dessert in a glass, and it’s really good.  When I was 17 and interested in tricking cheerleaders out of their sweaters, this would have been a very effective tool.  “Yes my dear… drink deeply.  This elixir is just like candy.  Pay no attention to the 8.6% alcohol content.  Yessss.  Yessssss…. Now step into this van.”  You know, who am I kidding?  We had Bartles & James wine coolers and that didn’t help me either. Chloroform wouldn’t have even helped.  I just had to outgrow that awkward stage, and with luck 2013 is the year I do just that!        

Southern Tier Warlock-  Wow.  Like a pumpkin coffee with cream and caramel.  I don’t think I could drink two of these, but one is just fine.  It’s 8.6% alcohol, so it is important to stay in your shoes with this.  It’s one of the most unique and interesting beers I have had in a really long time.  This is one of those “once is fine, twice is too much” like if you spent a night with Lady Gaga in a hotel room or went camping with the Hell’s Angels.  That is an experience that once would be pretty memorable.  The second time would just leave you kind of shell shocked and looking for answers.

Thirsty Dog Pumpkin Ale-  Upon first sip I'm thinking, "Well aren't those pumpkin pie spice flavors delightful", but then they completely disappear.  I was at a party when I was really young and a girl that clearly didn't know what I was all about rubbed my crotch through my jeans.  Her friends got an idea of what was going on, got her the hell out of there, and I was left there with my tiny wiener screaming "Hey!  What happened?  Get back to that!".  That's what this beer is like.

Tommyknocker Small Batch Pumpkin-  This beer has a really weird finish like how your hands smell if you have been rolling change for a half an hour.  I don’t think the “touch of spice” listed on the label was engineered to provide that experience to the drinker.  This is a beer that if you had it served to you at the brewery, you would have to be polite and smile and say things like “this is interesting” or “what a unique flavor profile” before deftly pouring it out into a plant.

Troeg's Master of Pumpkins-  Packaged in a 375 ml bottle with a fancy pants cork, this screams out "we're proud of this!".  It is really deep with pumpkin pie crust, nutmeg, creme brulee crust, and clove dominating.  This is less of a beer than an after dinner drink poured in snifters.  I can imagine a roomful of conservative men making insensitive racial and sexual comments while knocking these back.  

Unita Brewing Company Punk’n- Let’s get this out of the way.  Unita has absolutely awesome graphic art.  Their design work is as good as it gets.  It’s just a damn shame the beer isn’t as good.  I mean, it’s OK but completely forgettable.  This beer reminds me of when I came home with Black Flag’s “Loose Nut” record.  It looked so fucking cool, and then I put it on the turntable and thought, “This sounds like Black Flag, but why do I want to get “Slip It In” or “Damaged” out and not listen to this again?”  This is the beer version of “Loose Nut”.  It’s pretty good, but why drink “Loose Nut” when you can have “Damaged”, right?

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin-  This has a reddish color with plenty of dark flavors.  It’s just not very reminiscent of autumn or pumpkins. I had just had the super sweet Pumking from Southern Tier, and this style is so dramatically different it probably didn’t show as well as it normally would have.  I did get this image of a goateed goth guy in a creepy leather outfit picking his teeth with a long pinkie fingernail asking me detailed questions about where I lived.  Every time I would try to change the subject, he just pressed on wanting to know about what kind of locks I had, a security system, and so on.  I knew he would be waiting to hurt me one night, and like a bad dream I couldn't get away.  Is it possible for pumpkin ale to be evil?

Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale-  This is very rich pumpkin pie with a nice kick of nutmeg.  I could see watching a Little House on the Prairie marathon with the sound off with the Byrd’s “Live At The Fillmore” blasting out of my speakers while drinking this.  That might sound terrible to you, but just wait until you try it.  It will be like the first time you watched The Wizard of Oz with Dark Side of the Moon on. How’s your mind now?  Blown?

Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider-  I cannot stress how terrible this is.  I knew I would regret buying this the second I did it.  This is sort of like a sweet tart that has been dissolved into a melted Popsicle.  The odd thing about it is the whiff of bile on the nose that rises from the glass like a bad omen.  It's almost as if it is telling you that you will be barfing with authority in hours after drinking this.  The only use of this product I can see would be for high school senior football players to use as heavy artillery in their efforts to finger their younger girlfriends at house parties and back seats of vans.  I studied the bottle and thought I saw the brew master’s name was Mengele, but I might have been mistaken.  I was reeling from the initial taste.  

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At November 15, 2014 at 1:52:00 AM EST , Blogger AZ said...

This is amazing . . . and disappointing all the same. Christmas Ales . . . you are up.


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