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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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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Back Bay “Witch of Pungo” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Back Bay “Witch of Pungo” Pumpkin Ale is 7% ABV.

I was served a 12 oz goblet on tap at the brewery.

Appearance: This was served with less than one finger of cream-colored head. Color is a very murky and opaque toasted orange/amber. Not much light is getting through, and you can’t see much by way of bubbles.

Smell: I notice some spicing of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and some slightly sour vegetal pumpkin. This has a little bit of toasted malt, but the overall aroma is a bit muted. Mild spicy nose.

Taste: This starts with vegetal pumpkin, as well as some spice of (I think) clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I also get a little bit of banana in this. This offering is definitely on the malty side. The malt is smooth, and almost has a sort of smokey character to it. The spice in this is also interesting and warm, with something sort of like rye or something a bit woodier. I do get more spices than pumpkin, and a good dose of sweetness. This finishes with some of the bitter spicing alongside the vegetal squash and banana notes. These also linger some in the aftertaste, with some strong sugar. I think the flavors in this are good, and the spicing is interesting. The flavors are not as strong as I would have expected for something 7%.

Feel: This is medium bodied with mild carbonation. It has a nice creaminess to it, almost as though this were served on nitro. It is a bit on the sweet side, but I think that sugar works pretty well with the vegetal tones and the spices to achieve some balance. One detractor is that this has has some hard sugar hanging around on my palate for a while after I sip. So I’d say this has a decent to good feel.

Drinkability: This does okay here. The punchy sugar that hangs detracts some for me. The creaminess helps a lot. I would have guessed a number right around the 7% ABV that this beer actually is, as it has a hint of alcohol.

Overall: I like the flavors in this. It has enjoyable vegetal squash, interesting spices, and some banana. It also has a pleasant creaminess. Sitting up at this dimly-lit bar, not far from the beach on a grey Sunday, there are a good number of folks coming and going. There is a nice breeze. This feels like a beach brewery. Many of them are getting this pumpkin beer. I’d say it is definitely worth trying. It is not the most balanced beer, and has some of that sugar that drags. But it still has a lot going for it.

Overall Rating: **3/4

photo 2About Back Bay Brewing and “Witch of Pungo”: Back Bay Brewing opened in VA Beach, Virginia in March of 2014. Its 3 owners were duck hunters, partly explaining the duck on their logo. There is, as well, the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is home to lots of fowl. I caught up with John O’Reilly, assistant brewer of Back Bay. He and head brewer, Dan Yarnell handle all of the brewing for the brewery. This job gets a bit demanding because of the high volumes of beach business they get, especially during vacation season. I tried a flight of their other offerings as well: an IPA, a lager, an amber ale, and an imperial stout- Queen Anne’s Revenge. Queen Anne’s Revenge was really full and flavorful, with great roastiness and some nice coffee notes to it. I’m looking forward to Back Bays’ next seasonal- a Christmas ale done as an imperial nut brown. I also learned that they have 3 bourbon barrels and 2 cognac barrels they are trying to employ for their barrel program.

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Back Bay released their “Witch of Pungo” Pumpkin Ale (named after the rural community of Pungo in southern Virginia Beach) 2 weeks ago. Many patrons had been asking when they were going to put out their pumpkin ale, but the brewers deliberately planned for late September or early October. So they aren’t yet bothered enough by the problem of seasonal creep. To make their pumpkin ale, they mash with pumpkin puree- about 11-12 pounds of pumpkin per barrel- and add spices of cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. O’Reilly also noted that they include some lactose sugar for creaminess. This is a limited offering that is not bottled or offered in growlers. So you gotta visit for it. They expect to have it through Halloween.

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Ardent “The One” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Ardent “The One” Pumpkin Ale is 8.7% ABV.

I was served a 12 oz goblet from on tap at the brewery.

Appearance: This beer was served without any head at all. Its color is a very clear medium burnt orange/amber. It has a beautiful color. Few bubbles rising suggest mild to moderate carbonation.

Smell: The aroma of this is not incredibly strong, but had great roasted pumpkin, as well as a pleasant spice blend. I noticed cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. This smells sweet, like from gingersnap cookies, brown sugar, and some toasty and caramely malt. I also get some vanilla, making for a great pumpkin pie aroma. There are some minimal hops joining the otherwise sweet pumpkin pie aroma.

Taste: This has a strong sweetness up front along with some roasted pumpkin, though has less pumpkin than the nose suggested. With the first sip, some bitterness moves in quickly, as from the spices. I get a dry kind of white pepper/ginger spice with a little bit of smokiness. This has more of a pronounced bitterness than I was expecting. This beer is certainly very sweet with a hearty malt backbone and flavors of brown sugar and caramel. This finishes with a lot of that bitterness setting in, and just a touch of bright hops. This bitterness hangs out some in the aftertaste, with some extra sugar. This has good flavors, but is very sweet and not as warm or complex as the smell suggested.

Feel: This is medium bodied plus, with mild to moderate carbonation. The sweetness is pretty heavy, and not quite balanced enough for the feel. It is a bit heavy because of all the sugar. The sugar also kind of hangs, as does some of the bitter spicing. The spicing feels more on the sharp and dry side, rather than something warm and complementing. This could use more balance, I think.

Drinkability: This doesn’t bombard with alcohol, probably because of the high sugar content. So it’s 8+% is not so noticeable. Even so, it is sweet enough that I think I wouldn’t want more than 10 or so oz of this.

Overall: This beer does have some nice roasty pumpkin up front, which I like. This quickly gets crowded by the bitterness as from some dry spice. The spicing keeps this from being warm and round. The sweetness definitely puts this in the pumpkin pie style of pumpkin ales, and aids in keeping the bitterness from being the only focal point. For my tastes, this is a bit too sweet, and still lacks the complexity many of the other imperial pumpkin ales have. It does have good flavors, but I’d want more balance. This is a local option worth trying, but not quite a destination pumpkin beer for me.

Overall Rating: **3/4

About Ardent and this offering: Ardent Craft Ales opened in Richmond, Virginia in June 2014. They are located in Richmond’s Scott’s Edition neighborhood. They are just a stone’s throw away from Isley Brewing, another newer small craft brewery to Richmond. Ardent’s head brewer Kevin O’Leary (not to be confused with the venture capitalist on the popular show Shark Tank) previously worked at Cambridge Brewing Company before he moved to Richmond in 2010. That same year O’Leary joined a co-op with other Ardent co-founders Paul Karms and Tom Sullivan, both of whom had beer beginnings in homebrewing.

Ardent uses roasted pumpkin and other “gourds” in this beer, as well as some classic pumpkin spicing. It sits at 8.7% ABV and has 14 IBU’s. Ardent’s main line of beers also includes a “Virginia Common”- a sessionable ale/lager hybrid, a saison, an IPA, and an american mild ale. You can find their beer on tap in and around Richmond.

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