Southern Tier “Pumking” Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.6% ABV.
I poured some of a 22 oz bottle into a “craft beer” glass.
Appearance: A steady pour gave just a little bit of thin off-white foam that settled to just barely make a layer across the top of the beer. As I tilt the glass I notice some thin lacing. The color is a bright and quite clear copper/orange. It also appears to have medium carbonation.
Smell: Off the bat I get intense sweetness of bready gingerbread, along with strong vanilla and pumpkin pie spices. This is most definitely in the pumpkin pie style of pumpkin ales. It smells wonderful, and has some forthright pumpkin. The smell of the spices is like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, though the vanilla and sweetness are strong enough to keep the spices in check. That is, the spices don’t bowl you over like a lot of pumpkin pie ales do. The gingerbread-y sweetness in this has some light brown sugar and butter scents to it. It is really incredible. It smells just like pumpkin pie, but certainly on the sweet side (like there was a dollop of whipped cream on top). Some compare this beer to a pumpkin pie with a gingerbread crust. This is quite apt as a description.
Taste: Up front I get sweet pumpkin with strong vanilla, but also strong spices. The spices are stronger than the smell suggested, and stronger than I remember them being last year. The spices seem to be cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. The sweetness has some of the notes I would expect due to the smell. It is brown sugary and buttery. This is quite nice. There is also a breadiness to this, though it smelled more bready than it tastes. This beer comes in with some very bold and intense flavors, and exits similarly. The finish lets some of the sweetness dissipate, and lets the strong spices take over. These settle in to offer some earthy and bitter notes that are a little coarse. They form a good contrast to the very sweet flavors up front. The aftertaste has some dulled bitter notes. This is different than what I remember from last year. I like the spices being stronger, and letting the flavors be a little more dynamic. There is, however, a loss of some of the smoothness that I remember from previous years.
Feel: This is medium bodied, with medium carbonation. It is smooth, fairly buttery (at least up front), and quite warm. One thing the spices do is add a depth to the warmth of this beer. This is nice. Really enjoyable feel, except for perhaps some of the lingering bitterness that (despite helping the feel to be more dynamic) drags a little.
Drinkability: This is quite drinkable. It is definitely smooth and buttery, and has a nice sweetness that lasts for most of the experience. This is 8.6%, and you really wouldn’t know it from the taste. You wouldn’t think it was as low as 4% ABV, but you could certainly be surprised by the higher ABV. The bitterness does drag some and keeps this from being unyieldingly buttery from start to finish. Even so, pretty good marks here.
Overall: I am really drawn to this beer, and also somewhat surprised by how different it seems from last year. The spicing is more prominent, and it is more bitter towards the finish. It seems like a deliberate attempt to make this beer a little more complex than the pumpkin-pie-in-a-bottle that it has the reputation for being. Personally, I liked the pumpkin-pie-in-a-bottle. I like this new rendition too, but find it a bit less smooth than when I’ve had it in the past. I like that this has a more earthy warmth to it, but am not sure I like the aftertaste as much. I also miss some of the smoothness. Deciding how to rate and rank this one this year is quite difficult, so much so that I decided that I needed to open both a bottle of the Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale and a bottle of the Williamsburg Alewerks Imperial Pumpkin Ale (both of which I’ve already reviewed and rated). I need to compare these on the spot, instead of relying on what I remember or wrote down. I called some friends to see if they could come over and help me drink some of this beer, since I didn’t want to be committed to 46 ounces of beer ranging between 7.3 and 8.6 percent. Plus I have a good time seeing what others think of these beers.
Alright, I’ve carefully deliberated with my good friend, Nick, and my lovely camera girl. The lovely camera girl has also helped by providing encouragement, and pumpkin-seed-topped chocolate-pumpkin brownie puffs. I’ve decided that this year’s “Pumking”, for me, has fallen a bit. I don’t like it as much as the Schlafly or the Williamsburg. The Schlafly is the clear winner, and is bold and well balanced and delicious. Past that, the Williamsburg, while it doesn’t have the depth of flavor of the Schlafly, is still phenomenal, incredibly roasty, and so smooth. So the Williamsburg is clearly better than this year’s “Pumking”. This was quite a surprise; I should add that everyone did not agree with my view. Lovely camera girl did, but Nick disagreed, finding them more closely competitive and lauding “Pumking” as the winner, followed by Schlafly and then Williamsburg. I think this is wrong, but it is good to keep in mind that others palates can be quite different. This was a fun night. Pumking is still quite good, but it really isn’t as good as I remember it from last year.