Road Trip: Pumpkin Beer Tap Takeover in Philadelphia (Notes) (2011)

My lovely camera girl and I ventured north for a pretty big pumpkin beer tap takeover. We stayed with some friends, and were at the venue before 10AM to get a good sampling of some pumpkin beers. What a great way to start off October. There were some beers there that aren’t distributed in central VA, and some not anywhere in Virginia. This was a good chance to get a sense of some of these beers.

In what follows, I’ll relay some of the comments that I made on the beers we tasted. To preserve the essence of the tasting notes, I’ll simply make them more grammatical and such. I will not try to make them more illuminating or expressive. They are admittedly very sketchy, but such is often the case when you’re hanging with friends while you try 10 different pumpkin beers, some of which are up there for ABV . I didn’t break things up into the standard categories. We drank and talked, and I wrote some impressions and gave some ratings.

At the event, I tried 10 different pumpkin beers, 9 of which were completely new to me. (I also tried a non-pumpkin stout, but I’ll flag that experience for later.) Two of these nine I more straightforwardly drank, with the rest being more of a tasting with revisiting. In what follows I’ll give my ratings and comments of the 9 new ones. (I already have an earlier post about the Williamsburg Alewerks, which is the one of the ten that wasn’t new.) Here goes.

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Elysian “Night Owl” Pumpkin Ale (2011)

Here is a picture of the beer’s head and lacing.

I tasted, shared a bit, and eventually finished a pint glass of this beer on tap. This beer is 6.1% ABV.

This beer had some frothy head that hung on for a little bit. It smelled and tasted pretty spicy, having significant ginger but also something non-standard in the flavor/spice profile. This didn’t just have the traditional pumpkin pie spices that you see so often. There was something nice and woody, but not like it was barrel aged. This woody… “spicing” may have come from the pumpkin seeds Elysian says they add. This tasted unique, and the taste hung on and lingered for a bit giving a bit more noticeable pumpkin on the back end. I liked this beer, especially considering it among its competitors in the category of lower-ABV-pumpkin-beers that seek to impart some good flavor.

Overall Rating: **3/4

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Terrapin “Pumpkinfest” Pumpkin Beer (2011)

I tasted this one from a friend’s pint glass served from the tap. This beer is 6.1% ABV.

This beer smelled spicy and was really inviting. It tasted like more of the same, being very spice-forward. The spicing was heavy with a lot of allspice and some good sweetness. It was enjoyable and gave off a warm flavor profile. A lot of this flavor and feel came towards the front, leaving minimal finish or aftertaste (especially compared to the Elysian “Night Owl”). For the style of pumpkin beer (i.e., not being a heavy hitter with ABV, and still going for flavor), I liked this beer. I didn’t think it was anything terribly original or unique, but it was good. (We don’t always need to reinvent the wheel.)

Overall Rating: **3/4

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A flight of four: Bavarian Barbarian, Southampton, Rock Art, and Dock Street

Here is a picture of those beers (in the order mentioned above).

Let’s take these in turn.

Bavarian Barbarian “Grumpy Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Porter (2011)

I tasted this beer from the flight I got, which was served in a 5 oz plastic tasting glass. This was 9.0% ABV.

This beer looked quite different for a porter. It was dark brown, cloudy, and murky looking. This was not a wonderfully appealing look, and didn’t have much by way of head. It smelled great though, what I called a “cloves-in-oranges smell”. The taste was similar, giving some good pumpkin as well (though not a huge amount). It was very creamy and not too heavy for a porter (maybe even being too light for a porter – I’m not sure). The taste lingered, leaving some of the cloves and a nice feel which slowly dissipated. This was well balanced, the whole experience being smooth with nothing overly prominent or ostentatious. There was nothing in the experience that reflected that this was 9.0%. I really liked this beer, especially as a pumpkin porter. It was definitely better than Starr Hill’s pumpkin porter, and it was certainly unique!

Overall Rating: ***

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Southampton Pumpkin Ale (2011)

I also tasted this beer from a 5 oz plasting tasting glass. This beer came in at 5.5% ABV.

This was the first beer to be somewhat of a let down. The appearance was a sort of hazy copper. And the smell was sharp, with more citrus notes. This smell was appealling. The taste was more of what you got in the smell, but also a bit sour. It comes off as a light beer, being decently well balanced, but not very interesting or inviting for flavor.

Overall Rating: *1/4

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Rock Art Imperial Pumpkin Spruce Stout (2011)

This was the third of the 5 oz plastic tasting glasses. This was 8.0% ABV.

This beer was piney on the nose. It tasted like a medium-bodied stout, but didn’t have an overly strong or powerful flavor. The pine was present in the taste, along with some roasted malt elements. The pine also continued with the finish and contributed to the strong, slightly bitter… “pine-y” aftertaste. The pumpkin was certainly lacking here. It was hard to tell whether you could sense a little pumpkin, or whether this was something like deluded wish-fulfillment. This was an interesting idea for a pumpkin beer. I really liked it, but wished it had more pumpkin.

Overall Rating: **3/4

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Dock Street “Great Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale (2011)

This was the fourth beer in the 5 oz tasting glasses, coming in at 5.5% ABV.

This beer was golden-orange in color, with a little bit of head that didn’t hang on for long. The smell gives you some standard pumpkin pie spicing and some pumpkin. The flavor is better, with the pumpkin being more prominent than in the nose. The flavor is also sort of unique for a more easy drinking pumpkin ale, with something like a hint of lime (though not very sour). There is quite a bit of carbonation in this beer, with the bubbles forming clear dense paths up through the beer. (See the additional picture below this paragraph.) The finish is a little citrusy. I liked this beer, especially as it was sort of effervescent and fresh. Still the flavors weren’t all that unique or compelling, which was the main downside.

Overall Rating: **1/2

 

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Ardmore Brewing Pumpkin Ale (2011)

At this point, we ran into a really generous and nice guy named Tyler Flynn, who offered us a taste of one of his beers. It was a pumpkin beer with which he had won the Sierra Nevada Homebrew Cup at Philly Beer Week in 2011. He ended up bringing over a bottle of this pumpkin ale, as well as a bottle of one of his stouts. Both were good, but the pumpkin was also really interesting. We didn’t get a picture of this beer then, but later got in touch with Tyler through some friends and scored a couple of his beers to taste back home with friends. Here is the only picture I could find that revealed what the pumpkin beer looked like.

This beer was poured out of 12 oz bottles into small glasses. Tyler said it is 7-8% ABV.

The color on this beer is more of an orangish light amber, with some cloudiness. The smell was nice and oaky, with noticeable spicing. The taste was powerful and wonderful, with a lot going on. The pumpkin was there, and it was sort of masculine. Tyler described it as a “walk in the woods” pumpkin ale, as opposed to a “pumpkin pie” pumpkin ale, and we all agreed. It had oak, and a lot of vanilla. There was also cinnamon in the spicing. This left the flavor profile quite unique, unlike any pumpkin beer I’ve ever tried. Tyler said he was going for more of a malty pumpkin ale, rather than pumpkin pie flavors. I think this beer is really good, certainly with a lot of complexity. I think it ranks up there with the heavy hitters like Dogfish Head’s “Punkin” and Heavy Seas’ “The Great Pumpkin”. Even so, I think it is not quite as good as them. One thing I noticed was that this beer had a lot going on, but didn’t feel quite as cohesive as Heavy Seas’ “The Great Pumpkin” or Dogfish Head’s. Given that, I don’t know that I could drink more than one of these, maybe two. With that said, it was still an awesome beer. I’m glad I had the chance to taste it.

Overall Rating: ***

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The Final Two of the Day: River Horse and Flying Dog

Here is a picture of the final two, in order (as above).

Let’s take these beers in turn.

River Horse “Hipp-O-Lantern” Imperial Pumpin Ale (2011)

This beer was served in a 10 oz goblet from the tap, and it came in at 9.0% ABV.

The appearance was a cloudy, slightly dirty light amber, with some head that disapeared to leave some light bubbly foam at the top. The nose gave a lot of pumpkin! It was enticing. This tasted great, with tons of pumpkin. It was heavy hitting, with some balanced bitter notes and good consistent spicing. The beer was smooth and creamy, and quite enjoyable to drink. The alcohol did come through some, making it a little boozy, which isn’t suprising for something with 9% ABV. This was, at this point (and later overall), my favorite beer of the day. I find it comparable to Shipyard’s “Smashed Pumpkin”. This beer stood up.

Overall Rating: ***3/4

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Flying Dog “The Fear” Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2011)

I tasted and then finished this beer, which was also served in a 10 oz goblet from the tap, again coming in at 9.0% ABV. (What a way to end the tasting!)

This beer came with quite a bit of head that chilled for a few minutes before fizzing away with the carbonation. This left some lacing on the glass. The color was very dark, almost black, something like a dark soda (but perhaps more opaque). The aroma had pumpkin pie spicing, giving off dark malty characteristics. The taste was sort of hoppy and pumpkin-y, but nothing really sweet to balance it out. This beer was thick, and its bitterness hangs on the palate, leaving you wondering whether you are drinking a pumpkin ale. Overall it was pretty dark and bitter, which could have been balanced with more roasted pumpkin flavor and something to tone down the bitter notes.

Overall Rating: **1/4

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