Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.0% ABV.

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

Appearance: The pour was easy at first, but had a bit of gusto at the end. This gave about a finger of almost gray off-white foam, which was gone after about a minute and left just a thin ring of foam around the edges of the glass. This has a mostly very clear medium burnt orange/amber color. Very nice looking color. Bubbles rising suggest moderate carbonation.

Smell: This has a clear roasty pumpkin aroma that is joined by some vegetal notes, and then a warm and inviting spice presence. For spicing I get good nutmeg, as well as some cinnamon and ginger. I think I get some allspice too. This has a strong and sweet malt aroma, as from some caramel malt with something like dark caramelized brown sugar. Not much of a hop aroma. The pumpkin and spices really come through. Great aroma.

Taste: This starts out with some roasty pumpkin and spices. The pumpkin flavor has both roasty and vegetal dimensions, but hangs more on the roasty side. The spices come through as nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger. I also get a metallic-like taste towards the front, which dies down a bit as I have more sips. There is also a heavy sweetness with this one, like from a hint of dark cherry and some brown sugar. This does give off a bit of yeast and something like mild white pepper, especially towards the end. Not much by way of hops, save for a hint of citrus that hits towards the middle. This finishes with the sweetness of the brown sugar and slight cherry making way into a bit of bitterness from the pumpkin pie spices, something like white pepper, and very mild citrus. The aftertaste has some of the lingering brown sugar sweetness, and a slight metallic tinge. Overall the flavors in this are really inviting.

Feel: This is medium bodied plus, with moderate carbonation. The strong sweetness makes this pretty smooth, but doesn’t weigh one down too much. The metallic hint in this does interrupt the otherwise velvety feel of this.

Drinkability: I’d say this is really quite drinkable. For a beer of 8%, it drinks really well. The warm spicing does well working with the sugars in this to make it pretty drinkable. The metallic tinge that I get here and there does detract a bit.

Overall: This is not the first time I’ve had this beer. I always look forward to trying this one. I got a bottle of this in late July, and have stored it in my refrigerator until now. This is certainly a great beer. But the metallic aspects to it are detracting a little for me. I wonder if this batch was just slightly off for some production reason. I am getting the metal a bit in the aftertaste too. I bought the beer at a reputable store, where it was stored at good temps, and I never let it warm up. So I’m not sure what could be going on. In any case, this is certainly an enjoyable beer, just not absolute top of the pack quality. I’m gonna try to taste another bottle (or have it on tap) at some point this season to see whether this could be just a batch thing. But, in any case, I will have absolutely no trouble working my way through my 6-pack this season. If you haven’t tried this beer, you really should. Even with some slight non-ideal flavor notes, I am really enjoying it.

Overall Rating: ****

image (4)About Schlafly and their pumpkin offering: Schlafly beers are produced by The St. Louis Brewery, founded in ’91 in St. Louis, Missouri. Last season I wrote more about Schlafly and their pumpkin offering in my 2013 review. I’m hoping to visit sometime in the next couple years.

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Southern Tier “Pumking” Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Southern Tier “Pumking” Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.6% ABV.

I poured some of a 22 oz bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: With a tilted glass and a gentle-at-first pour, the beer tossed up a few bubbles which turned into a more substantial head as the glass became more vertical. I got about 1-2 fingers of off-white head, which bubbled away in about 1-2 minutes, leaving no real trace. This has a mostly clear golden/light amber color, with a little bit of sediment floating in it. It looks to have mild to moderate carbonation. Now for the much anticipated smell.

Smell: The smell on this reminds me of previous years reviewing it. I get some graham cracker, some sweet whipped cream like aroma, and a nice spice blend that seems to have good nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. This beer also has a slight diacetyl tinge. Otherwise I get some roasty pumpkin, and some vanilla. Not a lot by way of hops in the aroma, save for a bit of pine towards the end. Good sweet smell. Great graham cracker.

Taste: This beer gives off more hops than the nose suggests. At the front I get some hoppy pumpkin (which is on the roasty side), as well as some more bitter spicing than the nose indicated. I get some nutmeg, allspice, definite punchy ginger, and (I think) cinnamon. There is also a nice vanilla presence among the flavors of this, as well as some somewhat artificial tasting graham cracker. The malt backbone is not as strong as I expected, and it seems to have some caramel dimensions. This beer is definitely on the sweet side, and adds a little light brown sugar into the mix of sweet flavorings. Towards the finish more of the piney hops and punchy spicing take hold, making way into an aftertaste of slight diacetyl and some somewhat restrained bitterness. I get a little bit of alcohol bite in the aftertaste.

Feel: I’d say this is medium bodied, with light to moderate carbonation. It has some texture with the hops and spicing breaking through the otherwise thinnish malty backbone. Alright feel.

Drinkability: This is alright here. It isn’t as round or as rich as I remember it in previous years. And the medicine-like diacetyl and slight alcohol in the aftertaste detract some. The sweetness helps this, of course. So I’d say this is decent here.

Overall: This has some interesting and good flavors, no doubt. It even has that interesting graham cracker flavor in it, and something vanilla-like that is reminiscent of whipped cream. Even so, the flavors don’t entirely come together with this for me. I bought this when it came to my area on July 17th, after being bottled on June 25th (at 1:56.51pm , according to the bottle). I immediately put it in my refrigerator, and left it there until I reviewed it today. So it has had some time since bottling, though at a fairly cold temp which tends to slow the “aging” process. I’m not a huge fan of this beer this year. There are so many other really great pumpkin beers out there that I can’t quite be a big champion of this beer. It was top of my list, when I reviewed it in 2011. My palette has no doubt changed, and I’ve also had the opportunity to taste a lot more pumpkin beers. But this beer has also changed.

Overall Rating: ***

image (2)About Southern Tier and their “Pumking”: Southern Tier is located in Lakewood, New York, and has been brewing good beer there since 2002. Last year’s review of the Pumking included a bit more about them, and some of their great beer. I quite enjoy a number of their other beers.

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Welcome Back, Year 4!

Hello all! Pumpkin beer started hitting shelves in my area on July 17th. This was the arrival of Southern Tier’s Pumking and Warlock, which were bottled on June 24th. Terrapin’s “Pumpkinfest” was also hitting market around that time. I’ve held off on writing a first post, because I wanted it to be at least August before I started the blog back. Now, here we are! Early August, and a lot more pumpkin beers are coming in now. There are lots of questions folks might ask about this “seasonal creep”, both from the consumer’s and the brewery’s perspective. I will leave those for my next post. For now, I will simply, as I have in years past, state the aims for this season. This is the 4th year of this blog, and I want to do things just a little differently than last year.

Last year I put more emphasis on smaller up-and-coming breweries, and wrote little pieces about the breweries and how they make their beer. I will continue on that train of thought this year, trying to feature as many new breweries as I can. I will revisit some of the old beers I’ve reviewed before, in part to see how (or if) the beers have changed from year to year. Beers that weren’t stand outs or good exemplars of their particular style won’t be revisited. As in previous years, I will be using the 5 star system. You can read more about the rating system and its motivation here.

* = poor

** = decent

*** = good

**** = great

***** = exceptional

This season I will try to put even more emphasis on smaller and up-and coming breweries. There are so many great craft breweries out there, with just great offerings. Brewers also take a lot of time and care to make serious beer, which often requires some serious time-intensive processes- especially if you have pumpkin flesh in the mash! And so, another facet to this year’s blog is that I will be featuring more of the time-intensive barrel-aged or blended pumpkin offerings that are on the market. I plan to write a bit more about barrel-aged beers in general. Finally, I plan to put a little more emphasis on the ingredients, exactly what they are, where they come from, and the typical flavor contributions they make to the beer. Many offerings have special or unique hop combinations, spices, or various other adjuncts. So it will be nice to hear more about where these things come from.

If you have any suggestiosn for beers you’d like to see, or kinds of things you’d like to see talked about this season, comment here or drop an email to thoughtsonpumpkinbeer@gmail.com. Happy almost pumpkin beer season!

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Pumpkin Beer Ratings and Rankings in 2013

This table has the ranking list, from my least favorite (in the first row) to my most favorite (in the last row) of the 84 beers I reviewed during the 2013 season! For all of the beers, I wrote full reviews. These reviews can be reached by clicking on the underlined beers in the first column. As can be seen, the overall ratings of the individual beers are in the second column. Click here for the first post of this 2013 season, where I explain the goals for this year. Click here for my first post that kicked of the 2011 season and the beginning of the blog, where I explain the rating system as well as the aim of the blog. Click here for more about me, and the making of this blog.

Overall Rankings in 2013

Kennebunkport Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale *
Indian Wells Spicy Pumpkin Ale *1/4
Eerie “Johnny Rails” Pumpkin Ale *3/4
Beer Works “Black O Lantern” Imperial Pumpkin Stout **
New Belgium “Pumpkick” Pumpkin Ale **
Redhook “Out of Your Gourd” Pumpkin Porter **
Three Notch’d “Three Chopt” Pumpkin Ale **1/4
Penn Brewery “Pumpkin Roll” Pumpkin Ale **1/4
Devil’s Backbone “Ichabod Crandall” Pumpkin Ale **1/4
Flat 12 Bierwerks “Flat Jack Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale **1/4
Harpoon “UFO” Unfiltered Pumpkin Ale **1/4
Traveler “Jack-O Traveler Pumpkin Shandy **1/2
O’Connor “Punkelweisse” Pumpkin Dunkelweisse **1/2
Fire Island Pumpkin Barrel Ale **1/2
Dogfish Head “Punkin” Pumpkin Ale **1/2
Elysian “Hansel and Gretel” Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner **1/2
Lakefront Pumpkin Lager **1/2
Horny Goat “HornyCopia” Pumpkin Ale **3/4
Beer Works “Pumpkin Works” Pumpkin Ale **3/4
Alley Kat “Pumpkin Pie” Spiced Ale **3/4
Two Beers Pumpkin Spice Ale **3/4
Thirsty Dog Pumpkin Ale **3/4
Howe Sound “Pumpkineater” Imperial Pumpkin Ale **3/4
Saucony Creek “Captain Pumpkin’s Maple Mistress” Imperial Pumpkin Ale **3/4
Stone/The Bruery/Elysian (2011) “La Citrueille Celeste de Citricado” Pumpkin Ale **3/4
Shipyard Pugsley’s Signature Series “Smashed Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***
Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus ***
Fordham Spiced Harvest Ale ***
Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. “Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale” ***
Big Muddy “Pumpkin Smasher” Pumpkin Ale ***
Mendocino Pumpkin Ale ***
Granville Island “The Pumpkining” Pumpkin Ale ***
Southern Tier “Warlock” Imperial Pumpkin Stout ***
Full Tilt “Patterson Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***
St George “Pumpkinfest” Pumpkin Beer ***
Champion “Kicking and Screaming” Pumpkin IPA ***
Cambridge “The Great Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale ***
Epic/DC Brau “Fermentation Without Representation” Imperial Pumpkin Porter ***
21st Amendment/Elysian “He Said” Baltic-style Porter ***
Anderson Valley “Fall Hornin’” Pumpkin Ale ***
Champion “Spice Must Flow” Pumpkin Spice Ale ***1/4
Flying Dog “The Fear” Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***1/4
Terrapin “Pumpkinfest” Pumpkin Beer ***1/4
Urban Chestnut “Count Orlok” Black Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Jolly Pumpkin “La Parcela No. 1″ Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Wolaver’s Organic Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Nøgne Ø Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Ithaca “Country Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Rogue Chatoe Rogue “Pumpkin Patch” Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Grand River “Highballer” Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Big Boss “Harvest Time” Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
McAuslan St-Ambroise Citrouille “The Great Pumpkin Ale” ***1/2
Sam Adams “Fat Jack” Double Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Three Brothers “Five Pound Fall Ale” Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Fat Heads “Spooky Tooth” Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
21st Amendment/Elysian “He Said” Belgian-style Tripel ***1/2
Lickinghole Creek “Pumpkin Ain’t Easy” Pumpkin Ale ***1/2
Elysian “Night Owl” Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Strangeways “Gourd of Thunder” Imperial Pumpkin Porter ***3/4
Thomas Creek Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Southern Tier “Pumking” Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Avery “Rumpkin” Rum Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Upslope Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Hardywood Park “Rum Pumpkin” Rum Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Uinta “Oak Jacked” Imperial Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Hardywood Park “Farmhouse Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Two Roads “Roadsmary’s Baby” Pumpkin Ale ***3/4
Hoppin’ Frog Barrel-Aged “Frog’s Hollow” Double Pumpkin Ale ****
Crown Valley “Imperial Pumpkin Smash” Imperial Pumpkin Stout ****
Blue Mountain Barrel House “Spooky” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale ****
Alaskan Pumpkin Porter ****
Horseheads Pumpkin Ale ****1/4
Saint Arnold “Pumpkinator” Imperial Pumpkin Stout ****1/4
Heavy Seas “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale ****1/4
Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale ****1/2
Shipyard Bourbon Barrel Aged “Smashed Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale ****1/2
AleWerks Pumpkin Ale ****1/2
Lakefront “25th Anniversary” Brandy Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Lager ****1/2
Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine ****1/2
Stevens Point “Whole Hog” Pumpkin Ale ****3/4
Cigar City “Good Gourd ” Pumpkin Ale ****3/4

* = poor
** = decent
*** = good
**** = great
***** = exceptional

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Jolly Pumpkin “La Parcela No. 1″ Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Jolly Pumpkin “La Parcela No. 1″ Pumpkin Ale is 5.9% ABV.

I poured some of a 750 ml bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: A very careful pour tossed up almost three fingers of bright dull white foam, which clung on for a long time, and left very frothy and thick lacing. This has a beautiful moderately hazy burnt orange/amber color, and its many bubbles rising suggest heavy carbonation.

Smell: This has a rounded sour aroma, with some woodiness. The sour notes are vegetal and citrusy. I get lemon, some earth, funkiness, and yeast. There is some squash present, but the sourness sort of overtakes this. There is some faint spice, though it is hard to tell if this is coming from the yeast and earthiness, rather than some spice additions. Overall this has nice complex sour tones with some rounded wood.

Taste: This has nice complex sour flavors. I get some vegetal squash, as well as some bright citrus, like from lemon and grapefruit. There is a round woodiness which complements the sour tones well. Adding more complexity is some earthiness and some funkiness. This has a kind of mild spice profile with light pepper and something bark-like. Not a lot of sweetness in this beer. This finishes with the bright citrus giving way to more of a bitter hop profile and some dulled bitter spice. Some dull spicing and sour notes hang around in the aftertaste. Great complex flavors to this one.

Feel: This offering is medium bodied, with heavy carbonation. The bright sour tones work well with the round wood, earth, and funkiness. So the feel is interesting. There is also a kind of unfiltered texture to this. Good feel.

Drinkability: This has fairly prominent sour notes, but this drinks pretty well. The sour notes get tamed some by the wood in this and the earth.

Overall: I think the flavors in this are nice. This has great complexity, a nice texture, and doesn’t drag. This is a non-traditional pumpkin ale style, foregoing the strong brown sugar sweetness and heavy “pumpkin pie” spicing. It has nice complex sourness and wood. And it is refreshing. The more I drink this, the more the white pepper and mild spicing comes out, which I enjoy. I think this is definitely worth trying if you like beers on the sour side. It is a bit off the beaten path of pumpkin ales.

Overall Rating: ***1/2

2013-12-02 23.09.09About Jolly Pumpkin and “La Parcela No. 1″: Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales opened in Dexter, Michigan in 2004. They use open fermentation and a lot of wine barrel aging to produce some exceptional quality saisons, American wild ales, as well as some other styles. Their Oro De Calabaza (Bière de Garde) won the gold medal at the GABF in 2004 for the Belgian- and French-style ale category. “La Parcela No. 1″ is Jolly Pumpkin’s first and only pumpkin beer, which is a little funny given their name. (This is apparently a popular overly-used joke, so I’ll leave it at that.) For this beer they use some light pumpkin pie spicing, real pumpkins, and a little bit of cacao to add subtle richness complexity to this beer. It is then aged in oak barrels, to round it out and impart more flavor. This beer is a bit pricey ($13.99 for a 750ml) given its ABV (5.9%), however it has great complexity of flavor and is certainly very enjoyable. I say definitely grab one of these if you can, if you like this style. Thanks to Ron for helping make this review possible.

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Avery “Rumpkin” Rum Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Avery “Rumpkin” Rum Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 18.53% ABV.

I poured some of a 12 oz bottle into a small wine glass.

Appearance: This got a steady and then aggressive-at-the-end pour. This did not produce any lacing, but did kick up a few bubbles. This has a dark auburn red color, with substantial flakes of sediment in it. As I tilt the glass, it has “legs”.

Smell: This beer has a strong and sweet aroma with some notable booziness. I get some banana and dark fruit like cherry and date. This has a very strong syrupy sweetness aroma, as from the dark fruit. There is also some mentionable spicing to it, like from strong clove and some nutmeg, cinnamon, and maybe allspice. Overall, this smells sweet with strong banana and dark fruit and a good bit of booziness. Rich.

Taste: This is certainly very strong. The flavors are also very bold and sweet. I get rum, banana, sweet dark cherry, and notes of date and fig. I do get some pumpkin or squash, though the other strong flavors make it hard to focus on the pumpkin. There is a strong vanilla presence in this, which binds some of the flavors together. The sweetness in this gives off dark fruit, vanilla, and molasses. The spicing in this stronger towards the end, and stronger than I remember this beer having last year. I get clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. And there is of course very strong rum to this with an alcohol bite. This finishes sweet and with strong alcohol, setting up an aftertaste of lingering dark fruit sweetness and sticky rum.

Feel: This is heavy-bodied with minimal carbonation. The strong sugars put this one on the sticky and syrupy side. The spices add a little texture, and the alcohol notes give it a bit of a punch. Alright feel.

Drinkability: This is not so easily drinkable. It is very strong, very sweet, and has alcohol that grabs hold of you. It isn’t as harsh as other higher ABV pumpkin ales I’ve had. But its no easy drinker. This is a sipper, especially given its not so well hidden 18.53% ABV.

Overall: I like how bold and strong the flavors are. I enjoy the banana and dark fruit flavors, as well as the spicing. I find the spicing stronger than I remember from reviewing this beer last year. I think the vanilla is also nice, and stronger than I remember. There is some pumpkin to this, but it doesn’t stand out so well among the other flavors. I don’t like how sweet and sticky this ends up, nor the alcohol which comes through too much at the end. It has more alcohol than I remember. It must be hard to round out a beer this high in alcohol. This could age. In any case, this has good flavors, but isn’t quite a top tier for me. They really upped the price of this beer, going from $10.99 a 12oz retail last year to $14.99 for a 12 oz retail this year. I do not think it is worth the price, but I’ve enjoyed it. It was hard enough to think it worth 11 bucks for a single. At this point, I think it would need some serious improvement to justify that cost. This is also my least favorite rum-aged pumpkin ales. Hardywood made one that was less bold but a much better drinker, and Two Roads made a really enjoyable offering that has been my favorite rum aged offering this year.

Overall Rating: ***3/4

2013-12-01 19.41.30Avery and their rum-barrel aged imperial pumpkin ale: Avery Brewing opened in Boulder, Colorado in 1993. They make some incredible beers, including their “The Beast” Grand Cru and their “Mephistopheles'” Stout, both in their “the Demons of Ale” series. Avery’s “Rumpkin” is part of their “Annual Barrel” series. This year marks the third batch of this beer, which uses Aromatic and Honey malts, as well as a good dose of roasted pumpkin and heavy spicing of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. The beer sits for 6 months in fresh dark rum barrels, creating rich and complex beers that vary in ABV (2011 was 15.9%, 2012 18.1%, and this year the biggest yet at 18.53%).

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Crown Valley “Imperial Pumpkin Smash” Imperial Pumpkin Stout (2013)

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Crown Valley “Imperial Pumpkin Smash” Imperial Pumpkin Stout is 10.6% ABV.

I poured all of a 12 oz bottle into a stout glass.

Appearance: A moderate pour produced a quarter inch of thin beige head, which quickly dissipated to leave  a very thin cloud sitting atop this beer. The color of this is a very dark brown/almost black, basically impenetrable to light. I see some small bubbles fizzing at the top, suggesting mild carbonation.

Smell: This has a sweet dark malt aroma, with some great nuances. I get some molasses, candied ginger, sticky toffee, and the dark chocolate and coffee notes of a good sweet stout. I am getting some fruit, like sweet caramelized pumpkin and a little cherry. The malt in this is rich and sweet-smelling. Just a wonderful aroma. I keep going back for more.

Taste: The flavors in this are really powerful. It has a great intense dark malt with some roasty elements, as well as some smokiness, though the smoke doesn’t overpower it. The spices come off as ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and some dark woody spices. This is dark and luscious. I get coffee, chocolate, toffee, and some nice fruit of roasted squash and light cherry. The flavors mirror the nose really well, and are a little darker and smokier than the nose suggests. I love these flavors, and the balance. There is a bit of alcohol towards the finish, which is dominated by a lingering molasses sweetness and some dark spices. The aftertaste has some roasty and bitter spices hanging around for a while, with a bit of alcohol bite.

Feel: This offering is medium to heavy bodied, with moderate carbonation. The feel has a nice velvety texture, which is interrupted a bit by some slight booziness. Even so, the dark bitter notes of chocolate and coffee work well with the smooth sweetness of molasses, toffee, and fruit. Overall good feel.

Drinkability: This does fairly well on this score, given the style. The booziness detracts some. But for a beer at 10.6%, I would say it does fairly well here. It is so tasty, and the lingering bitterness in the aftertaste invites another sip.

Overall: This was a bit of a sleeper for me this year. I didn’t really know what to expect of this, and was very pleasantly suprised. This had great dark and intense flavors. It has good complexity. The various notes of coffee, chocolate, molasses, toffee, and the fruit of pumpkin and light cherry do really well here. This reminds me a bit of Saint Arnold’s “Pumpkinator”, which I hold in high esteem. This doesn’t quite have the overall silky smooth texture and depth of flavor as Saint Arnold’s. But it is darn good, and I’m so happy I got to try it. I would certainly recommend this one as a must try.

Overall Rating: ****

DSC03758About Crown Valley and Imperial Pumpkin Smash: Crown Valley Brewing and Distilling began in 2008 in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. I’ve also heard that there is a winery that is part of Crown Valley. So a lot of things going on. Their head brewer, Jeremy Gilbert, studied at the Siebel Institute in Germany. So a commitment to it, and a bit of money put in to it. He joined Crown Valley in 2012, and has been making some great beer there  on their 15-barrel system.

Crown Valley’s Imperial Pumpkin Smash is 10.6% ABV and 48 IBU’s.

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