Anderson Valley “Pinchy Jeek Barl” Bourbon Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Anderson Valley “Pinchy Jeek Barl” Bourbon Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale is 7% ABV.

I poured some of a 22 oz bottle into a porter glass.

Appearance: I poured it pretty easy, which gave a little light brown creamyish head, which was fairly thin, and gone pretty quickly. This left a thin ring around sides of glass. The color is a medium-dark brown, moderately cloudy, and blocking some light. This looks to have moderate carbonation.

Smell: At the outset I get buttered popcorn, butterscotch sweetness, and caramel. This is very candyish, with not much of a hop profile. I maybe get a little fruitiness, and some brown sugar. There is a little spice, with (I think) cinnamon, and some light bourbon. The aroma is mostly butterscotch, buttered pop corn, and a little bourbon. The aroma smells very malty, sweet, kind of sickeningly sweet. I’m nervous this is going to be too sweet.

Taste: This is not as sweet as I was expecting, which is good. I get some malty sweetness of caramel corn and brown sugar,as well as something kind of like marshmallow. There is some roastiness to the malt, adding a nice dimension to the flavors. I get some spice, but it really blends in among the very sweet malt and the bourbon notes. The bourbon is pretty round, with just a few unkempt edges. There is a little bit of vegetal squash, but it is not so pronounced. There are basically no hops present in this. This finishes with the sweetness fading into a dryer finish, and some more definite bourbon popping through a bit. The sweet malt and buttery popcorn flavor continues in the aftertaste. This has some diacetyl hanging out, and a few sourish notes. I’d say it has OK flavors, but is not so balanced. I wish there were more pumpkin.

Feel: This is medium bodied plus, with light to moderate carbonation. It is sweet, and ends up a bit heavy on the palate. The heavy sugar at the outset is sort of coarse,and returns a bit after the sip is over. The more I sip this, the more the sugar is harder to work with. Some more spice and hops could balance this out a bit . The dryer finish is good. So the feel has some different parts to it, but is still too heavy for me.

Drinkability: This is OK but not great here. There is something coarse with the sugar. The bourbon is round enough, but this buttered popcorn and sweet trend in this hangs, and stays on my palate.

Overall: The more I drink this, the more the sugar hits me. There is not enough pumpkin in this, and the spice profile doesn’t really come out. It has a whole lot of that buttered popcorn and sweet marshmallow-like sweetness. So, something like diacetyl. For me, it is a bit much. I like the dry finish and the bourbon having a presence but not taking over. But I could go for a lot more pumpkin, and some hops to balance this out a bit more. I wouldn’t recommend this, especially given the higher price. This was about 12 dollars at a competitively priced beer store. I would recommend Anderson Valley’s 2014 “Fall Hornin'”, which I reviewed a few days ago

Overall Rating: *3/4

DSC03786Anderson Valley and this offering: I recently wrote about Anderson Valley, with my 2014 review of their “Fall Hornin'”.

“Pinchy Jeek Barl” is part of Anderson Valley’s “Barl Series” of beers, beers aged in Wild Turkey bourbon barrels. For this beer, Anderson Valley uses Pale Two-Row, Munich, Maris Otter, Crystal 120L, and Dark Chocolate malts, as well as some pumpkin puree. Bravo hops takes this to 20 IBU’s, and the beer  sits in Wild Turkey Bourbon barrels for 6 months. Other “Barl Series” beers include a stout, and imperial stout- “Huge Arker”, and an amber ale.

 

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Anderson Valley “Fall Hornin'” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Anderson Valley “Fall Hornin'” Pumpkin Ale is 6% ABV.

I poured all of a 12 oz can into a “craft beer glass”.

Appearance: An easy pour gave over a finger of light tan head, which had a creamy texture and some substance to it. This left some lacing on the sides of the glass, and settled into a thin layer of foam atop the beer. The color of this is a beautiful dark red/amber, with good clarity and just a bit of haze. From watching bubbles at the surface of the beer, this looks to have mild carbonation.

Smell: Right at first I get strong vegetal pumpkin with some definite sour notes. Following this is some milder spicing with some earthiness. It has something like clove, bark, and some ginger and cinnamon. The sour notes are certainly present throughout. I get some toasty malt, as well as some sweetness of burnt sugar. This also has something like a marshmallow sugariness to it. Nice aroma.

Taste: This does start out with that vegetal pumpkin, which is joined by some nice wood-like spicing. The spices add a warmth, and I get clove, nutmeg, and something nutty and earthy. The spices work nicely along with the vegetal and astringent pumpkin in this. There is also a good malt presence, with some toastiness, and a nice base layer of mild sweeteness. I get a little hops presence in this. As in the aroma, there is something like burnt sugar, like the top of a crème brûlée fired with a heavy hand. This sugar is nice and works well with the earthy spices. This finishes with that sweetness giving way to the woody spices, which linger along with a bit of vegetal pumpkin in the aftertaste. Good flavors.

Feel: This is light to medium bodied, with moderate carbonation. It has a smooth and creamy feel, which is very pleasant. The spices add a bit more complexity to this otherwise totally smooth beer. Great here.

Drinkability: I’d say this is pretty drinkable. After a while, the earth from the spices hangs a bit. But even so, the smooth feel and the restrained sweetness help this to drink well. For a pumpkin beer with definite flavor, it does very well here.

Overall: I like this beer. I like the vegetal pumpkin alongside the warm and woody spices. I really like the feel, how creamy and smooth the beer is. So this is certainly a good choice, especially for those that want something that drinks well with something of a good but not overdone spice presence. The pumpkin in this gets a little lost for my tastes. And I also think that the dark spicing becomes more univocal the further into this beer I get. But again, the flavors are good, and this works well as a darker and still not too heavy pumpkin offering. I say good and worth trying.

Overall Rating: ***

DSC03781About Anderson Valley and their “Fall Hornin'”: Anderson Valley is located in Boonville, California. I wrote more about them and this beer, which was first on the market last year, in my 2013 review of “Fall Hornin'”. This year Anderson Valley has a new bourbon pumpkin offering, which I’m looking forward to reviewing in just a few days.

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Blue Mountain Barrel House “Spooky” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Blue Mountain Barrel House “Spooky” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.2% ABV.

I poured some of a 750 ml bottle into a stout glass.

Appearance: My pour was careful at first, and had a heavier hand at the end. This produced about two fingers of frothy and thick egg-shell-colored head. This clung to the sides of the glass and left some definite lacing, while settling in to a notable cloud still atop the beer. This has a medium to dark burnt orange/amber, with good clarity and just a slight haze to it. It looks to have moderate carbonation.

Smell: Smelling this immediately gives me rich bourbon, along with some vegetal pumpkin behind it. There is a nice richness in smell, created also by the addition of some warm spiciness that blends in and doesn’t advertise itself so clearly or heavily. I get a little earthy yeast, and some mild bright hops. Nice bourbon-heavy aroma. It doesn’t smell harsh, and in fact smells round. I am very eager to take my first sip.

Taste: I get bourbon at the outset, along with some nice vegetal pumpkin. There is something warm to this one, in part because of the bourbon. The pumpkin adds a nice contrast, with a little astringency. Some fairly tame complementary spice adds more complexity. It is almost like nutmeg. More noticeable is that the bourbon and pumpkin are paired so well together. This is rich, and has some earthiness. It is not overly sweet, which is a little surprising. The malt is smooth and restrained with respect to the sweetness it contributes. I get some yeast with pleasant bitterness, along with some very tame hops to give a hint of brightness towards the end. The hops have a floral character to them, some mild perfume, and are balanced very well against the otherwise malty pumpkin offering. This finishes dry, with the hops and earthy yeast. The aftertaste has some restrained bitterness, a hint of hops, and warm bourbon. Great flavors in this one.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate plus carbonation. It has a nice warmth from the bourbon, is somewhat round, and doesn’t come off as too aggressive. The astringent pumpkin and floral hops add some nice complexity to the feel, allowing it to be dynamic and interesting. There is a mild alcohol bite, especially towards the end of the sip. Otherwise good feel.

Drinkability: For a bold bourbon aged imperial pumpkin offering, this does alright. This is strong, and not the sort of thing one thinks of if considering sessionable beers. For what it is, I say it drinks well. There is some mild bitterness hanging on my palate, but nothing too distracting. Decent here.

Overall: This beer has great flavors, nice complexity, and a good pumpkin presence. It has great warmth from the bourbon, and nice restrained sweetness. The more I sip this, the more the bourbon settles in. I really like the roundness that is achieved here. I also like the balance of hops, and the nutty character that contributes but doesn’t overwhelm. Overall the flavors are warm and rich, and many things I’d want a pumpkin beer to be. The bourbon is strong, and maybe a bit stronger than I’d ideally want. Even so, this is still a really successful offering. This just came out last year, and has quickly become one of my favorite VA pumpkin beers.

Overall Rating: ****

photo 2 (1)About Blue Mountain Barrel House and “Spooky”: Blue Mountain Barrel House is located in Arrington, Virginia. They are something like an outpost brewery location for Blue Mountain in Afton, Virginia. They brew a number of barrel-aged beers under the “Barrel House” name, but also produce some Blue Mountain mainstays. Blue Mountain Barrel House makes some great beer, with one of my favorites being their “Dark Hollow”.  I also really enjoy this “Spooky”. This bottle notes that “Spooky” is made with cocoa nibs and pumpkin flavor. I think the cocoa nibs are what I was thinking of as like nutmeg. In any case, I wrote more about this brewery and this delicious beer in my 2013 review of “Spooky”.

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Isley “Stunt Dubbel Dubbel” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Isley Brewing “Stunt Dubbel Dubbel” Pumpkin Ale is around 7% ABV.

I poured some of a 32 oz growler into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: I poured this carefully, and then hard at the end. This did not produce any real head. This beer has a rich medium burnt orange/amber, which is mostly clear. It looks to have mildish carbonation. Great color.

Smell: On the nose I get some vegetal squash, and some very pleasant and strong spicing. This has standard fare  “pumpkin pie” spicing, but it also has some warmth and a nice pop to it. I get something like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. This also has some smooth brown sugar and sweet maltiness, and not much by way of hops, save for a little brightness around the edges. Great spice in the aroma.

Taste: This does have that vegetal pumpkin to it, which you get up front with some slight sour notes. The spices quickly follow, and form something of a prominent bitter wave that works its way to the back end of the sip. The spices aren’t as warm as they were in the nose. I think I get some cinnamon and ginger, but not as clear as I was expecting. Definite strong bitter spicing. This also has some smooth malt that doesn’t say a whole lot, but is complicated by some earthy yeast. The finish has the bitter spicing and yeast taking hold and hanging out in the aftertaste. The pumpkin gets a bit lost by the end. I like the earthiness in this, though it doesn’t have a lot of complexity.

Feel: This is medium bodied with light carbonation. I wonder whether it was different right from the tap. (This was purchased yesterday, quickly stored in a cold fridge, and pulled out right before pouring. A 32 oz growler should be able to store enough carbonation.) The feel has some mellow mild sweetness, which gets interrupted by the botter spice and yeast. Not completely one dimensional in feel, but not that complex either. There is a slight alcohol bite at the end. The bitterness hangs and invites another sip. After a bit of drinking this, the bitterness detracts.

Drinkability: This is OK here. The yeast and heavy spice do hang on my palate, such that I’m not sure I could have more than one of these.

Overall: This is alright. I like the earthiness from the yeast, but wish the spices did a bit more to add complexity, and weren’t so muted and flat-lining at bitter. The smooth malt is nice, and is good to set against the vegetal notes and the spice. Yet the pumpkin does get a little lost in this one towards the end. This doesn’t really feel to me like a dubbel. For that, I’d want a little more richness. This would be a good choice if you wanted something with a yeast and a bitter spice presence, perhaps after a sweeter maltier offering- which Isley often offers up in good numbers. This is not a top pumpkin beer in the state, but nothing to avoid. I like the Belgiany pumpkins I’ve had before a bit more than this one. For example, Hardywood Park’s, which I’ve yet to review this year, is quite good.

Overall Rating: **1/4

DSC03782About Isley and their offering: Isley opened in Richmond, Virginia in late October of 2013. They are located in Richmond’s Scott’s Addition, very close to Ardent Craft Ales, whose pumpkin ale I reviewed a week ago. Isley’s brewmaster is Josh Stamps, who works with their sole owner, Michael Isley.

I visited Isley to pick up a growler of this beer, which is the first year I’ve heard about Isley having a pumpkin offering. They weren’t so keen on giving information about the beer, saying that they keep their recipes very secret. I was able to learn that the ABV was around 7%, and that they were planning on also having this for the Scott’s Addition Pumpkin Festival in a week.

 

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St. George “Pumpkinfest” Pumpkin Beer (2014)

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St. George “Pumpkinfest” Pumpkin Beer is 6% ABV.

I poured all of a 12 oz bottle into a “craft beer glass”.

Appearance: Quite the careful pour frothed up a few fingers of off-white whipped egg-white foam. This lasted for a good while, still hanging on as I’m writing about this beer. The color is a light orange/amber, with some definite sediment and haze to it. Many bubbles rising suggest very heavy carbonation.

Smell: For aroma I get some vegetal pumpkin, and some light spicing.  The particular spices aren’t so clear, but I get somethign like cinnamon and ginger. This is also sort of bready, with some toasty malt. It has just a little bright hops. The aroma also has a lot of CO2 to it. It stings the nostrils, again suggesting heavy carbonation.

Taste: This is a very fizzy beer, which makes picking out the flavors not as easy of a process. I get some pumpkin which is on the vegetal side. I also get some nice spice that has some warm dimensions and some moderate to strong bitterness. Cinnamon, ginger, and probably some other things. This has a malty sweetness with bready notes. The finish has a little bit of brightness from the hops, leading into an aftertaste of slight sour notes and mild lingering bitterness. The flavors really get overshadowed by the very heavy carbonation. You can’t make out the pumpkin or the spices so well.

Feel: This is light to medium bodied, but certainly over-carbonated. You get so much fizz that the other aspects to the feel are unable to make an impact. Not good here.

Drinkability: This offering is not so great here. The over-carbonation really detracts from it, making it hard to drink. What I get in the aftertaste is some lemony and bitter notes, and the feeling like I just drank a lot of soda too fast.

Overall: This is not so great overall. I think there is good spicing, and interesting flavors to it. But it really just is over-carbonated, to the point where I don’t enjoy it. When we recently did a blind VA pumpkin beer tasting, we opened two other bottles of this beer, both of which were bought as individual singles. Both of those bottles were also seriously over-carbonated. I wonder how much of their production of this beer was like this. As it stands, I can’t really finish this beer. So I can’t really give it a good rating. Previously, I really enjoyed this beer when I did my 2013 review of “Pumpkinfest”. It was also harder to get last year. I wonder if this production problem is related to scaling up. Or, perhaps, this was just a bad batch of it. I know this beer has been great before, as last year I did a non-blind VA pumpkin beer tasting (which I didn’t post about), and this was one of the favorites. Hopefully it will be more dialed in next year.

Overall Rating: *

photo 3 (1)About St. George and this offering: St. George Brewing is located in Hampton, Virginia. They make a number of their own beers, and also help with contract brewing for a few other local breweries. I recently heard that they are doing some work for Back Bay Brewing out of VA Beach, whose “Witch of Pungo” Pumpkin Ale I recently reviewed. I also previously wrote more about St. George and their “Pumpkinfest” in my 2013 review of St. George’s “Pumpkinfest”, a beer that shares the same name with Terrapin’s pumpkin beer/Oktoberfest offering.

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Devil’s Backbone “Pumpkin Hunter” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Devil’s Backbone “Pumpkin Hunter” Pumpkin Ale is 5.1% ABV.

I poured all a 12 oz bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: I poured this carefully, with a little more force at the end. This tossed up less than a finger of off-white and thin head, which was gone in under a minute. This left no lacing but just a very thin ring around the sides of the glass. The color is a medium orange/amber with great clarity. It looks like it has mild to moderate carbonation.

Smell: I get mild vegetal pumpkin with slight refreshing sour notes, some mild spicing in the pumpkin pie camp- maybe nutmeg cinnamon, and a little smokiness. This smells definitely on the malty side, with not a lot of hops coming through. The malt aroma is the most prominent , and is toasty and a little bready. This smells like a sessionable pumpkin with some good vegetal tones.

Taste: The flavor is certainly on the weak side, in terms of strength. I don’t get a whole lot of pumpkin. I get some mild spices. The spices are subdued, and again I’d guess cinnamon and nutmeg, though they are not clear by any stretch. I get the toasty malt, which is enjoyably smooth and without much nuance. No real hops to speak of. This finishes with some slight sourish notes, which linger in the aftertaste. I’d want more (or something like) noticeable pumpkin.

Feel: This is light to medium bodied with light carbonation. It is pretty smooth for feel, save for some slight sour notes that are more noticeable through the end. Not so dynamic. Mostly light and not much to pay attention to.

Drinkability: This is pretty good here. It is light and goes down smoothly. There is that slight sourness that comes off the finish and in the aftertaste, which lingers. Other than that, good here.

Overall: This is not a destination pumpkin beer for me. As I drink more, the sourish vegetalish tones linger on my palate, and make the second half of this beer not so enjoyable. I like the malt profile, which has some smooth tones and some toastiness. But overall, I’d recommend a lot of other VA pumpkin ales over this one. Not much pumpkin or notable spice.

Overall Rating: **

DSC03776About Devil’s Backbone and this offering: Devil’s Backbone is located in Roseland, Virginia. Head Brewer Jason Oliver has been leading them towards winning a number of medals since they opened in 2008. Last year I reviewed their “Ichabod Crandall”, which was a very similar beer to this Pumpkin Hunter. I’m guessing it is the same beer, but under a different name. I even went back and looked and the label picture is the same, unless I am missing some subtleties. I wrote more about them and the brewery in my 2013 review of the “Ichabod Crandall“.

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Blind Virginia Pumpkin Beer Tasting in 2014

Over the course of the last month or so, we picked up 9 different pumpkin beers from visiting Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Richmond, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. One was a 32 oz growler fill, which we bought yesterday evening in preparation for this tasting. We had wanted to include some others, but that wasn’t feasible at the time. We got a pretty good spread. All beers had actual pumpkin or squash in them, and all were brewed at breweries in Virginia. We invited 6 people over, who had no idea of the beers. We also wrapped the beers so as to make it as blind as feasible.

Now, of course, those with enough knowledge of VA pumpkin beer and the sizing of the bottles particular beers are sold in could glean some information. This is why the lady and I did not include our scores in this.

The Beers

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From left to right, we have:

(1) 3 Brothers “Fairgrounds Fall Ale” (Harrisonburg, VA) 5%,

(2) AleWerks Pumpkin Ale (Williamsburg, VA) 7.3%,

(3) Blue Mountain Barrel House “Spooky” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Arrington, VA) 8.2%,

(4) Back Bay “Witch of Pungo” Pumpkin Ale (Virginia Beach, VA) 7%,

(5) Hardywood Park “Farmhouse Pumpkin” (Richmond, VA) 8.5%,

(6) Starr Hill “Boxcarr” Pumpkin Porter (Crozet, VA) 4.7%,

(7) St. George “Pumpkinfest” Pumpkin Beer (Hampton, VA) 6%,

(8) Wild Wolf “Howling Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale (Nellysford, VA) 7%,    &

(9) Devil’s Backbone “Pumpkin Hunter” Pumpkin Ale (Roseland, VA) 5.1%.

Then the order for the tasting was picked. The order for tasting was (A) Devil’s Backbone, (B) 3 Brothers, (C) Starr Hill, (D) AleWerks, (E) Wild Wolf, (F) Hardywood Park, (G) St. George, (H) Back Bay, and (I) Blue Mountain Barrel House.

The Blind Tasting

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Each of the 6 people who attended were asked to write comments on every beer, sufficient for each of them to be able to award a gold, silver, and bronze medal at the end. We provided them with a sheet with the letters ‘A’ – ‘I’, space to write about each beer, and space for their gold, silver, and bronze awards. And pens. We did not ask for numerical values for aroma, taste, feel, and so on. We simply asked people to write about the beers so that they could record an overall impression for their medal awards. The prompt for choosing medals was to suppose you are going to the store and you want to buy a pumpkin beer, you have these 9 options, and then you must pick your clear gold winner, your silver, and your bronze. On the back of the tasting sheet, for those interested at the end, there was a map with dots for the cities where we got beers from, information about the beers, but no revealing information about the order of the tasting.

People were given 2 oz pours of all the beers in order of A-I, served in wine glasses. Each beer took about 10 minutes to write about. At the end, everyone was asked to award their medals. I took down information from everyone. Then we revealed the beers A-I.

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Since then I’ve calculated the overall winners, using a simple method. Gold medals were worth 3 points, silver medals 2, and bronze medals 1. I also included how many times a beer made it onto someone’s podium, as a tie breaker if beers ended up with the same point value. Here was the info for the 6 people, again, not including the scores of myself and the lady. The number to the left of the slash is the overall score for each beer, the number to the right of the slash indicates how many people’s podium the beer was on.

Results

(A) Devil’s Backbone: one gold [3] + one bronze [1] = 4/2

(B) 3 Brothers: one gold [3] + two silvers [4] + one bronze [1] = 8/4

(C) Starr Hill: one gold [3] + one silver [2] = 5/2

(D) Alewerks: two golds [6] + one silver [2] + one bronze [1] = 9/4

(E) Wild Wolf: one silver [2] = 2/1

(F) Hardywood Park0/0

(G) St. George: 0/0

(H) Back Bay: one silver [2] + three bronze [3] = 5/4

(I) Blue Mountain Barrel House: one gold [3] = 3/1

Overall Gold Medal Winner:

Alewerks Pumpkin Ale, 7.3%

Williamsburg, VA

Overall Silver Medal Winner:

3 Brothers “Fairgrounds Fall Ale”, 5.1%

Harrisonburg, VA

Overall Bronze Medal Winner:

Back Bay “Witch of Pungo” Pumpkin Ale, 7%

Virginia Beach, VA

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