Heavy Seas “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 9.0% ABV.
I poured some of this 22 oz bottle into a Heavy Seas pint glass.
Appearance: A steady pour gave basically no head, but a thin and incomplete off-white and fizzy ring around the sides of the glass. The color is a fairly clear but just slightly hazy reddish orange. Some small sediment can be seen floating in the beer. This also appears to have heavy carbonation.
Smell: To start I get strong bourbon, oakiness, and vanilla. These give the beer a warm aroma. This smells just great. I am getting some slight pumpkin, but it definitely isn’t the strongest smell because of the strong bourbon, oakiness, and vanilla. There is also some spiciness in the smell that is hard to pull apart from the bolder flavors up front. I think I am getting cinnamon and something peppery. Again, this smells wonderful.
Taste: I get the bourbon strong and bold upfront, along with the vanilla and oak from the barrels. This is quite nice. The pumpkin also comes in strong, roasty, and somewhat sweet. Along with all of the really strong flavors in this, there is a surprisingly smooth dark caramelized sugar sweetness. The bourbon isn’t overpowering, like I was expecting. It is strong, don’t get me wrong. But it complements. The intense oak and vanilla and pumpkin make for a really bold flavor profile. The finish on this gives way to a little more of the spices, which add some character but don’t poke through the other really intense flavors. My guess is that the spices consist of cinnamon, nutmeg, and maybe clove. The aftertaste lets the bourbon hang for a good bit with some of the intense dark sweetness. You won’t go to sleep drinking this (unless you drink too much and the 9 percent goes to work on you). All of these flavors are decently well-balanced and work really well together.
Feel: This is on the heavy side of medium-bodied, with fairly heavy carbonation. This beer is warm, and has a surprisingly smooth feel for the strong bourbon and other notes. It does have some notable booziness. Even so, this is not a great detractor, I think in part because one expects and wants some bourbon flavor in a bourbon barrel-aged beer. In addition, the feel is also somewhat dynamic. You get strong bourbon up front, which settles into a smoother sweetness that lets the spice gain a (fatefully limited) presence. I think, despite the booziness, the feel on this is nice.
Drinkability: Drinkability is not an aim for a beer like this. That is, for an intense, bold, and higher ABV beer that is supposed to impart some bourbon flavor, this beer is not too much or overwhelming. Even so, this isn’t one you want to go through a couple of while you watch the game. Although, perhaps that might make “the game”- whatever that happens to be- more interesting.
Overall: I am surprised by how much I like this one this year. I don’t remember liking this anywhere near as much last year. I actually wonder whether the bottle I got last year was somehow off. It was no where near as well-balanced, pleasant, or warm. I guess it is also possible that bourbon barrel-aged beers are more palatable for me now. Anyway, what a beer! This is wonderfully complex, but still keeps its strong pumpkin flavor. The vanilla is quite nice, and the spicing adds some depth of flavor, though doesn’t (and really, couldn’t) overwhelm. I could see how some would be turned away by the strong and intense bourbon (and other) flavors. I, however, am not. I think this is great, and up there for pumpkin beers. It isn’t as smooth (in great part because of its somewhat unpleasant booziness) or subtle as some other pumpkin ales. It is less smooth and subtle than Schlafly. It is also less well-balanced than Williamsburg Alewerks and Southern Tier’s “Pumking”. Even so, the bold and intense flavors give this a leg up on other similarly heavy-bodied beers like Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin and Long Trail’s Imperial Pumpkin. I sort of regret not asking my lovely girlfriend to grab more of this when she was in Chesapeake. Last night I tried “The Great Pumpkin” by Heavy Seas. That was nice. But oh! This is… greater?! Definitely try this one if you get the chance. Seriously good beer.