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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Granville Island “The Pumpkining” Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Granville Island “The Pumpkining” Pumpkin Ale is 6.0% ABV.

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

Appearance: A hearty pour tossed up two fingers of off-white head, which dissipated to a thin layer of foam in about five minutes, and left some medium lacing. The color is a very clear medium burnt orange/amber. This looks to have heavy carbonatation.

Smell: I get strong toasty and bready malt and some spicing up front. There is some definite nutmeg and ginger to the spicing. This has some slight sour notes to it with some banana and some pleasant vegetal pumpkin. For sweetness there is a bit of tame molasses. Not so sweet on the nose. Great malt to this.

Taste: This has good and complex toasty and bready malt, along with some notable spicing that I think combines nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. There are also some brighter fruity tones, with some banana and vegetal pumpkin. It tastes a bit darker than it looks. Some restrained sweetness from some malt and molasses is good with the bright fruit. This finishes with the great toasty malt holding strong with some fruity notes on the end. Mild bitter notes and smooth malt are present for the aftertaste. Great flavors, wonderful malt base. Not a ton of pumpkin.

Feel: This is light to medium bodied, with moderate carbonation. The smooth malt adds a nice base which the spicing and mild sour notes add some complexity to. There is a little creaminess. Nothing is overdone or heavy. Great balance, and great feel.

Drinkability: This is definitely drinkable. It is darker than I was expecting, but certainly smooth. The toasty bready malt draws some attention, as do the fruit notes. But this is still very smooth and good on this score.

Overall: This is the fifth Canadian beer I’ve reviewed here. And this is a successful pumpkin ale. For my tastes, it could use a little more pumpkin. I get great toasty and bready malt, which is a great base. There is also some banana and a bit of vegetal pumpkin that I enjoy. My favorite thing about this beer is how the malt comes through, and the overall balance. This is great for its balance, as a lot of pumpkin ales go too heavy on the spicing.  The label suggests that this would be more aggressive with its spicing than it is, given the “sinister spices” tag. In any case, this has great balance and great malt. I want to try more Canadian beer, as I’ve only recently started sampling such offerings.

Overall Rating: ***

DSC03726About Granville Island and their pumpkin offering: Granville Island Brewing opened in Vancouver, BC in 1984 as Canada’s first microbrewery. Their first beer was their “Island” Lager, soon joined by a number of other self-proclaimed “West Coast inspired” beers. Granville Island has taken on a number of new brewers over the years, and has also expanded into new facilities outside of Vancouver. In 2009, the company was purchased by Molson Coors Canada.

This pumpkin offering has very little information given out about it. It is 6.0% ABV, has an OG of 14 degrees Plato, and  has 15 IBU’s. The bottle mentions “sinister spices” and “killer pumpkin”. Little else is said about the making of this beer, other than that the recipe came out of the notebook of brewer, Vern Lambourne.

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Southern Tier “Warlock” Imperial Pumpkin Stout (2013)

 

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Southern Tier “Warlock” Imperial Pumpkin Stout  is 8.6% ABV.

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

Appearance: A moderate pour gave a a finger of light tan head, with audible fizzing as the head grew. The foam didn’t last long, and settled into a very thin cloud atop the beer. This has a dark brown color with some reddish hues to it. When held to light, it looks to have good clarity, and lets a good bit of light through. This looks to have moderate carbonation.

Smell: I notice strong graham cracker pie crust, like Southern Tier’s “Pumking” has. This is combined with some heavy spicing of strong nutmeg, cinnamon, and (I think) ginger, as well as a hearty dose of brown sugar. This has a smooth and strong vanilla presence, some anise, and a little pumpkin that is on the roasty side. Finally, the malt is just great with this, with some roasty elements and some toasted and bready notes. Good and very sweet aroma.

Taste: I get strong roasty notes, like from coffee, with some strong bitterness up front and that graham cracker pie crust flavor. This is definitely on the sweet side. There is the vanilla and the strong brown sugar, as in the aroma. But the flavors aren’t as smooth as the aroma suggested. There is a lot more roast, which is enjoyable in parts. There is also strong spicing, from nutmeg, cinnamon, and I think ginger. I get some pumpkin in this, but it takes sort of a backseat to the strong roasty notes. This finishes sweet with the slightly coarse bitterness from the spice and roast. A good bit of roasted and lingering vanilla sweetness hangs out in the aftertaste. Good flavors, and real sweet.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate carbonation. It doesn’t have the full feel of a stout, or the smoothness or richness one might expect. It sort of feels like a much lighter stout with some extra sugar added in. Nothing great on this score.

Drinkability: This drinks decently, though the roast hangs on more than I’d want. After a bit, the sweetness starts to weigh me down and hang around. There is a slight alcohol to this one near the end. Overall, decent though.

Overall: I have to say, I do like the flavors in this beer. I wish the pumpkin came in clearer. I also wish this wasn’t so sweet. This comes of as if Southern tier just mixed their pumking with an imperial stout, giving the body of something not so clearly a stout, but strong enjoyable roastiness. It doesn’t feel so cohesive. What is nice, as in their “Pumking”, is the buttery graham cracker crust, and the strong vanilla. These are very pleasant flavors. I think this doesn’t really make the real high ranks for successful pumpkin ales or successful pumpkin stouts. If the sweetness were toned down, and there was more front and center pumpkin, this could be really very nice.

Overall Rating: ***1/2

DSC03720About Southern Tier and their “Warlock”:  I spoke a bit about Southern Tier in an earlier post about their very well known “Pumking“. They are a good brewery out of Lakewood, New York which produces some great beers, and a lot of flavored beers.

Southern Tier’s “Warlock” is brand new this year. I heard some beer industry people say that the brewery wanted to try to combine the strengths and talents of their famous “Pumking” with those of their popular “2X Stout”. I don’t know whether that was Southern Tier’s plan or not. In any case, Southern Tier isn’t so open about what goes into this beer, other than saying that the recipe includes pumpkin, ale yeast, four types of malt, and two types of hops. There is obviously some spicing in this one too. In any case, it is quite a bold beer. I get the impression that they plan on having this one around for a while. Thanks so much to Nathan at Southern Tier for helping make this review possible.

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