Monthly Archives: August 2012

Terrapin “Pumpkinfest” Pumpkin Beer (2012)

Terrapin “Pumpkinfest” Pumpkin Beer is 6.1% ABV.

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

AppearanceA steady pour produced absolutely no head. The beer is a bright and rich red/orange. The appearance is very clear, with no noticeable haziness. It appears to have heavy carbonation. This has a beautiful and rich color.

Smell: I get roasted pumpkin and spices. The spices seem to be cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. This smells warm, and somewhat sweet. The pumpkin flavor pairs well with the spices, such that neither is too dominant. Overall, nice and inviting smell.

Taste: I get roasted pumpkin up front, which is followed by some  sweetness and warm spicing. The spices I am getting are cinnamon, (I think, some) nutmeg, and a good dose of ginger. This starts out roasty with the pumpkin flavor, and then turns to sweetness and spice. The malt is caramel-like sweet, and this pairs with the white-peppery spicing. These flavors are very nice. As the spices take shape, the peppery (I think) ginger takes over a bit, leaving a sweet but slightly bitter finish that has some notes of lemon. The aftertaste is mostly the peppery bitter spicing, which hangs on for a good bit.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with light carbonation. The beginning is smooth and warm. This is nice. As the spices come in, the feel gets more complex. The sweetness of the malt and the spices add interesting additions to the feel. This ends to leave a bitter aftertaste that lingers for a good bit. This is dynamic, though I wished the aftertaste wasn’t so bitter.

DrinkabilityThis is decently drinkable. The flavors are nice and round. The ABV is sort of middle of the road, so no impediments there. The one detraction is the bitter aftertaste that just hangs on. The flavors up front and throughout are quite nice and warm, though. So this gets alright marks for drinkability.

Overall: I was excited to see the Terrapin “Pumpkinfest” in the store, especially this early in the season. Last year, I only got to taste it on tap at a pumpkin beer tap takeover out of town. I wanted to be able to sit down and focus more just on this beer, without the distractions of many other pumpkin beers. This is what I did this year. This is a good one. It is like the Williamsburg Alewerks in having the roasted pumpkin and warmth, though it has some more bitter aspects towards the finish and aftertaste. So its flavor and feel are dynamic. The Terrapin “pumpkinfest” isn’t as warm as the Williamsburg, nor does it have as much roasted pumpkin flavor as the Williamsburg. Nevertheless, it is pretty good. My main complaint is with the bitter aftertaste that hangs for (I think) too long. I’m really glad I got to try this one in a more relaxed setting this year.

Overall Rating***

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Dogfish Head “Punkin” Pumpkin Ale (2012)

Dogfish Head “Punkin” Pumpkin Ale is 7.0% ABV.

I poured all of a 12 oz bottle into a Dogfish Head glass.

Appearance: A steady pour gave about one finger of egg shell colored head, that settled down to about half its size and left some frothy fairly thick lacing. The color is a substantially bright orange/amber. The beer is very clear, and seems to have the bubbles reflective of heavy carbonation.

Smell: I get some strong vegetal pumpkin, and a good bit of brown sugar sweetness. There is also some prominent toasted malt, and of course some spices. I get some cinnamon and maybe a bit of  allspice. This smells warm, and fairly hearty.

Taste: The first flavors I get are the somewhat vegetal pumpkin, and some strong brown sugar sweetness. Really, the pumpkin flavor is less vegetal than the smell suggested. The pumpkin flavor is nice and fairly strong, and is met with some roasted flavors as well. So this doesn’t just give you that raw vegetal pumpkin. I like that. The spices noticeable in the taste are cinnamon, and something slightly peppery- perhaps a little ginger. The sweetness in this is raisin-like, or something you might compare to dark fruits. This is pretty sweet. The finish in this lets some of the spices linger, which end up a little coarse on the palate. The aftertaste provides some bitterness from the spices.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate to heavy carbonation. This has a thickness to it, which is nice. I wouldn’t call it syrupy, but you can tell the body inherits some of this strength from the sugar. The spices add a little bit of coarseness to the end of the feel, which adds a nice change. I like the feel on this. It is warm, and not monotonous.

DrinkabilityThis one is definitely on the drinkable side. The sweetness allows it to be pretty smooth. The ABV will have an effect on one’s ability to roll through these, at some point. Other than that, this is pretty easy to drink.

OverallI like the DFH pumpkin ale. I like to try it every year. This year it seemed like, at least with the smell, I got more vegetal pumpkin than I remember. But hey, I don’t have the best memory. I like the warmth in this, and I like the strength of the pumpkin flavor. I like that it has that sweet raisin-like flavor, and that it isn’t so sweet that it is syrupy. These are all good things, and some of these things that make for a good pumpkin ale, so I think. I think of a paradigm pumpkin ale as having strong pumpkin and warmth. The flavors in this aren’t knock you over powerful, nor is this an incredibly complex ale. Even so, this is still a good pumpkin ale. I will continue to look forward to trying it every year.

Overall Rating***1/4

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Uinta “Punk’n” Harvest Pumpkin Ale (2012)

Uinta “Punk’n” Harvest Pumpkin Ale is 4% ABV.

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

Appearance: A vigorous pour left over a finger of off-white head that did hang on for a few minutes, settling in to about an 1/8 of an inch of frothy foam with thin but determined lacing hanging on. The color is a dark red orange/amber. The beer is fairly clear, with just a slight haziness, and what appears to be heavy carbonation.

Smell: For the aroma, I get soft spices: some (stronger) ginger, and then nutmeg and cinnamon.There is also some vegetal pumpkin hanging around, with a bit of subdued malt. To round this out, there is some breadiness and yeastiness that is mellow. Really, the whole aroma is both soft and mellow, though it isn’t boring or lacking smell.

Taste: The flavor of the pumpkin is stronger than the smell gave on, though it isn’t actually strong. I would like some more pumpkin flavor, really. The spices complement, but don’t overwhelm. For the spices, I get cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. There is also a light brown sugar sweetness that seems to be mixed with some rock sugar. There is some subdued malt flavor, that has some toasted wheat to it. The finish lets some of this toasted wheat hang on and adds just a small touch of citrus and some slight bitterness towards the end. The aftertaste is mellow with some hint that I may have just had some spices. Really the whole flavor profile is mellow. This can be nice.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with heavy carbonation. I can feel this beer just fizzing off of my tongue as I first sip it. Outside of (and after the initial burst from) the carbonation, the beer turns interestingly creamy. This is pretty smooth and mellow. Nothing real dynamic or stand-out in terms of feel.

Drinkability: This beer is certainly drinkable. Nothing really jumps out at you. With this low ABV, and the creaminess, one could go through a number of these without realizing it.

Overall:  I like this beer alright. The flavors are OK, and the feel is soft. Sometimes one may want a creamy and not too robust in flavor beer to go down smooth. I am rarely that someone, but these people exist. This beer reminds me of the couple times I just wanted a small pour of a fresh and low in ABV stout to just sip on. All this said, the same point can be put in quite an unenthusiastic way by saying: there is not a whole lot going on here. Sure, this is not bad for flavor or feel. It is also not unbalanced, such that one thing doesn’t pop out and leave everything else behind. It is, however, too mellow and chill for what I think of as a paradigm pumpkin beer. The pumpkin flavor was certainly weak. This beer won’t warm you up on a chilly fall evening.

Overall Rating*3/4

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Shipyard Pugsley’s Signature Series “Smashed Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2012)

Shipyard Pugsley’s Signature Series “Smashed Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 9.0% ABV.

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

AppearanceA steady pour gave about 2 fingers of off-white head that dwindled after about two minutes to just a very thin film. There is some thin lacing noticeable. The color on this is a bright and just slightly hazy deep orange. There is fairly heavy carbonation visible.

Smell: I get strong flavors of pumpkin, malt, and spice. The pumpkin is roasty and is matched with considerable fruity sweetness. There is also a heavy dose of very bready malt in this. The spices I am getting are cinnamon and nutmeg. This smells warm, and is ushering me to finish up this section and move on to taste.

Taste: I get strong, very warm, and wonderfully roasty pumpkin up front. This is matched by a strong malt backbone. The malt is bready, as in the nose. The malt also brings with it serious sweetness. This beer is quite sweet. I get rum-like and fruity flavors. This drinks like it has notes of dark cherries, and some bright hints of lemon or tangerine. Really interesting sweet flavors. I am getting cinnamon and strong nutmeg in the spicing, which adds a nice addition to the complex and rich flavors. The spicing is done nicely in this one, and isn’t just a punch in the face. The finish on this gives some dark fruit and sweet malt, which leaves a spicier and slightly bitter aftertaste giving the palate some more movement. Overall, good, rich, and intense flavors.

FeelThis is medium to heavy bodied, with carbonation on the heavy side. It is fairly thick, but isn’t too sticky or chewy. The sweetness does weigh this one down a bit, but the bold flavors allow this to be more than just heavy. The sweetness also allows the beer to be fairly smooth. This isn’t the smoothest pumpkin ale. It is rich and strong, but some of the spicing and bold flavors get a bit coarse and bitter, which detracts from the smoothness. The alcohol is also noticeable, and doesn’t blend in so smoothly. It really stands up with a rich and bold feel, but is somewhat stiff as a beverage.

Drinkability: This is very rich and flavorful, has a high ABV, and doesn’t have  an uninterrupted or perfectly smooth feel. With these qualities, it is hard to just work your way through a whole lot of this beer. It doesn’t seem that drinkability was high on the agenda when making this flavorful, rich, and strong pumpkin ale.

Overall: This was a birthday present from my friend, Ryan (which was given to me along with some Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale). It was a great present. I seriously enjoy this pumpkin ale. It makes no apologies about giving you strong and bold pumpkin flavor. This one doesn’t pull off a really smooth feel so much, though the flavors and the warmth are quite successful. The flavors are also decently complex without being busy or losing the roasted pumpkin. There is something rum-like and something like dark fruit, and these are successful as notes in the beer and not the main flavor. Comparing this to last year’s Avery Rumpkin, it has some strength that is matched with other sweet and fruity flavors. However this Smashed Pumpkin is different from what I remember of the Avery in that it doesn’t lose the pumpkin flavor in the mix. Great marks for flavor here. This 22 goes for about 10 bucks, which is a bit steep. Even so, this one will keep you warm as the colder Fall nights come. We are no where near that kind of weather here. Still I am happy to have tasted this one again this year, and certainly would get it again next year. I know they make a bourbon barrel aged version of this which I’ve yet to see around. Perhaps that will be high on the agenda now.

Overall Rating***3/4

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Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2012)

Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.0% ABV.

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

Appearance:  A relatively steady and robust-ending pour gave one finger of off-white head that lasted about two minutes before bubbling down to leave a 1/4 of an inch layer of bubbly foam. The color is a dark amber with a strong orange hue. Tiny bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass reveal moderate carbonation.

Smell: Immediately I get very strong vegetal pumpkin, and a nice spice mix. The spices are pumpkin pie spices, but they don’t smell like you uncapped that “pumpkin pie spice” many of us have seen at the store (or perhaps even used- I have). I smell strong nutmeg, as well as some cinnamon and clove that is less prominent. (I had to get out my spices and compare the beer to them to see how pumpkin pie spice and the others compared to the beer!) The nutmeg is nice and strong, and the vegetal pumpkin is quite inviting. It smells like it would have some sweetness, but would also have some body to back it up. It smells like a strong beer!

Taste: The first sip was overwhelmingly flavorful. The vegetal pumpkin is nice and strong, forming a backbone for the flavor profile. Alongside of this is some wheat-like malt, and the spices. The spices are warm and methodical. I get nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon. The pumpkin opens up to reveal the spices, which nicely glide across the palate. The spices also have a slight punchy dynamic to them, as though something like white pepper or ginger was thrown in, though I don’t taste ginger.These spices last throughout the taste, and linger just a bit on the finish which is a little punchy with those slight white-peppery elements. The spices also don’t sit on top of the beer, if you know what I mean. (That is, they are incorporated into the flavor of the beer, and don’t hit too early or hang on strong when the pumpkin flavor is gone.) The taste is powerful, balanced, and still a bit restrained.

Feel: This is medium-bodied, with a nice feel. It coats the mouth and is warm and slightly thick with some of the sugar, though isn’t syrupy. The carbonation is medium, and adds a nice touch to the finish of this beer. The feel starts out warm and smooth, and then adds a bit of carbonation and some of the more peppery elements of the spice profile. This cuts the smoothness a bit and invites one for another sip.

Drinkability: This is nice and drinkable. Sure it is an imperial. But it is smooth, and warm, and luscious. Since the feel and flavors are dynamic, it also provides an interesting drinking experience.

Overall: What a way to usher in the pumpkin beer season! This beer has plenty of strong pumpkin, and a very nice spice-profile. There is nothing wildly unique in the spicing, as some common spices seem to have been added. (There may be something else I’m unaware of, though. The spicing is so…warm!) Nothing super unique or novel really needs to be there, though, especially if the balance and amount is right. And here I say, it is right. This is a paradigm wonderful pumpkin (and fall) beer. It is certainly not fall weather by any stretch, but I love having this beer. My good friend Ryan gave me this six-pack for my birthday. What a great present! I’m gonna save a few for colder weather. I’m happy tonight.

Overall Rating: ****3/4

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Pumpkin Beer Season, Year Two!

Hi, all. It’s hot, but the pumpkin beers have started to roll in. Really, I noticed that some of the first pumpkin beers to hit market came in mid-July. People usually have a lot to say about “fall beers” coming that early. I am of two minds about it. In any case, this means I’ll go to work collecting and preparing to do a lot of reviewing this year. Last year I went through and did either full reviews or some more low key notes on 43 different pumpkin beers. Here’s the final result of 2011. The aim this year is to only do full reviews, which’ll require being ready to take pictures and review at some unexpected times. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to try a new one and review! I also want to focus more on beers that are new to me this year as well as on really good one’s from last year, but not worry so much about reviewing the so so beers I did last year. Though, if I can get a cheap single and avoid a commitment to a whole six-pack, even for the beers I tried last year that I’m not a huge fan of, I’ll probably still go ahead and do a review. A central aim is still to get better at reviewing and describing, and it might be cool to see how  my thoughts have changed, or how the beers may have changed.

As for my methods, I’ve had some time to think about them. I’ve also had a lot of helpful input from some friends and online communities (most notably, Reddit). The suggestions I received included: doing a blind reviewing process such that I didn’t know facts about the beers I reviewed (i.e., brewery name, style advertised, abv, etc.), using a numerical rating system like 1 to 100, trying more (usually specific) beers (since many have a favorite they champion). After some discussions about costs, practical concerns about implementation, and what the aim of the enterprise here is (at least, now), I came down on this stuff as follows.

First, this season I will try more beers, and will make it a point to ask and keep my eye out for singles to keep costs more manageable. I will give a more serious focus on Virginia pumpkin beers, and try a good bit more of the offerings that we have around town. Since I am also planning on doing only full reviews with the aim of writing better and more informative reviews, I am not sure how many more I’ll get to. I should be able to review  more, though.

Moreover, I will have more of an emphasis on comparing the beers I’m reviewing to other beers I’ve previously reviewed, and linking to the respective reviews about those. This will allow the site to be more of a resource for people who might try beer X because it was compared to something else they liked. I do want the site to be more of a resource and to function to encourage people to try more craft beer.

Second, I will not be able to facilitate doing a blind reviewing process. It would be too difficult to implement, given the very small scale of an operation I have here. I do a lot of the work on my own. I know when I buy the beers, typically know how they are packaged (be them in 22’s or 750’s or 12 oz’s or kegs at a bar, etc.), and could not ignore enough of these things to actually make a lot of it blind for me. This is especially true for beers at bars. I would have to know what I’m ordering to find out that I should order it. A process that allowed some beers to be blind, but left others to be not really be blind wouldn’t be very good. To do a consistent and genuinely blind process, I would need a lot of other people to pour, buy, and acquire the beers. They would probably need to get growlers from the tap beers for me to taste as well. This would be costly and require other folks to do a lot of work. Also, sometimes special beers aren’t even sold for growler fills. My girlfriend is incredibly helpful and quite the perceptive taster and organizer. Still, even the two of us can’t facilitate a legitimately blind process, given that we want to try a good number of pumpkin beers this year.

Third and finally, I will not use a numerical reviewing system. I will stick with the 5 star (*) system.  I discussed this issue some in my original 2011 post that kicked off the blog. There I explained the rating system, the background for the rating system, and the aim of the blog. The main thing I say there is this: “I stray from using numbers. Part of the motivation for this is that it seems to reflect a rigor or technicality in evaluation that would be misleading and even disingenuous to my project here. My aim is to relay these thoughts and impressions. Hopefully I will improve over time.” I think I have improved since last year, and look forward to getting better at reviewing and describing the beers this season. I also still think that the (admittedly) sort of impressionistic manner used to rate and compare beers is the best for the project here. So I will keep it. On the original 2011 post (that I also linked to earlier in this paragraph) I give a rough heuristic for what the ratings mean, and explain the background for the rating system. I do always welcome more thoughts on this and any other parts of the blog.

In any case, I welcome you all to the 2012 Thoughts on Pumpkin Beer season! Cheers!

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