Monthly Archives: August 2013

Epic/DC Brau “Fermentation Without Representation” Imperial Pumpkin Porter (2013)

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Epic/DC Brau “Fermentation Without Representation” Imperial Pumpkin Porter is 8.1% ABV.

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

Appearance: I poured this one steadily, then vigorously at the end. This produced just a half inch of thin beige bubbles that quickly bubbled away, leaving almost nothing left of a head. The color of this beer is a very dark brown with some definite red hues throughout it (especially when held to light). This has a little murkiness to it, and looks to have light carbonation.

Smell: At the outset I get that wonderful rich roastiness that the good porters have. There is also some nice pronounced vegetal pumpkin, as well as definite toffee, cocoa, and some spicing of cinnamon and nutmeg. The malt in this is great and roasty. This has absolutely great aroma.

Taste: The first sip was so pleasant: strong, bold, and rich. This has great dark roasty flavors. Flavors of coffee, toffee, and some nice spices come through. I get cinnamon, and maybe some nutmeg; though the dark and roasty malts really have a powerful hold on the flavor profile, making it harder to discern the spices. Maybe some clove. This has clear and pleasant vegetal pumpkin, which is a nice clean backdrop to the bold and roasty character of the other flavors. There is some strong sweetness of light brown sugar and molassas that comes in clearer towards the end. This finishes pretty sweet, to leave a bold and coffee-bitter aftertaste that hangs on for quite a while. These flavors are here to stay.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with medium carbonation. The carbonation is more pronounced than I was expecting, maybe a little higher than I’d want with this. This beer also comes of as fairly thin-bodied, compared to how much powerful and pronounced roasty flavor this exudes. The feel on this is warm, and has nice texture with strong and almost coarse sugar at the end, followed with the bitterness that hangs on.

Drinkability: This big 8.1% porter is good on this score. This isn’t a fast sipper, but it could easily get away from you if you aren’t watching; for it goes down pretty easily. The intense roastiness does hang on the palate some, though I wouldn’t say it drags.  The strong sugar is the only thing, really, that might keep this from being legitimately dangerously drinkable.

Overall: I picked up a bottle of this when I saw it hit market. I’ve had it the past two years, and enjoy coming back to it. I’m also a fan of both breweries that work on this one. DC Brau is a cool spot that makes great beers like “On the Wings of Armegeddon”. I’ve had a good time rolling through their brewery when I’m in the area. And Epic’s beers like Big Bad Baptist just demand serious attention. But, back to this beer. I of course like it. This is the first dark pumpkin beer I’ve come to this season. I love how the roastiness grabs you and stays with you. I love the dark flavors. I do wish the pumpkin were a little more prominent, at least when I think of this as a pumpkin beer. Also, after about 5 0z of this, the strong sugars are hanging some on my palate, which might make it harder to acknowledge the vegetal pumpkin that operates among all the roast. Again, though, overall, this is a good beer!

Overall Rating: ***

DSC03391Epic, DC Brau, and this beer: Peter Erickson and David Cole founded Epic Brewing in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2010. With their head brewmaster, Kevin Crompton, and in the land of 4% beers, where anything higher can’t be sold in supermarkets or places with a beer only license, Epic said they’d rather go for the bolder, more…epic styles! So they set out to make high point beers and be relegated to 22oz bottles to sell in liquor stores and places with liquor licenses. What did Utah say? More! So I’ve heard, anyway. I spoke with Matthew Allred, their communications director, and he talked about how they’ve become very popular in these 3 years. This has helped them to expand into another brewery in Colorado, and a brewpub in Salt Lake City. They now have 39 different beers they market!

1 year earlier, and 2000 miles east of Epic was the time and place of the beginnings of DC Brau. Brandon Skall, sales and business manager, and Jeff Hancock, master brewer, founded DC Brau in Washington D.C. in 2009. They were the first brewery inside the city since 1956! They put a focus on helping to develop the craft beer scene in D.C., since there was a genuine lack of craft beer in stores, bars, and restaurants. And, with their flagship beers “The Public”, “The Corruption”, and “The Citizen”, they have done that. They certainly bring delicious beer to the good (though, perhaps, too aggressive-driving) people of Washington D.C..

So, what brought these folks together to make a bold pumpkin porter? Well, apparently, since DC Brau was the first brewery to open in DC since prohibition, and Epic Brewing was the first to brew only heavy-hitting beer in UT since prohibition, these champions of the 1933 appeal got together to make this bold and flavorful brew.

“Fermentation without Representation” is proudly brewed with Muntons Maris Otter as part of the base malt. This malt is a specialty import from England, and a very popular base malt for U.K. style beers. The bottle I tasted of this beer is release #9. Though all of the releases have the same base malts and general recipe, the releases do vary from batch to batch, as noted by the differences in ABV with the previous batches I’ve reviewed: 2012 (7.7%) and 2011 (7.3%). In any case, check this beer out if you can. It goes great with the music of Michael Kiwanuka and Otis Redding.

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Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.0% ABV.

I poured a 12 oz bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: Pouring steadily gave about half a finger of off-white but very thin foam. This was gone in just a minute, leaving a barely-there frothy ring around the sides of the glass. This is slightly hazy and is a deep burnt orange/amber. It looks to have moderate carbonation.

Smell: Right at once I get overwhelmed with intense and almost roasty pumpkin, warm and sweet spices, and nice sweet malt. This smells incredible, like the best piece of pumpkin pie you’ll ever eat. This is your pumpkin pie’s kind of pumpkin pie. Perfectly balanced spices of nutmeg and clove come through, along with some roasty and sweet aromas. This is your forget the whipped cream, don’t want to mess it up type pumpkin pie.

Taste: Great roasty pumpkin flavor, perfect and warm spicing, sweet pumpkin, and strong brown sugar. The balance with the spicing is unparalleled. There is a raisin-like quality to this one, with some of the flavors being juicy and dark. Yet this doesn’t have the dark fruit/cherry taste that some bold pumpkin beers end up with. I’m thinking in particular of Sam Adams’ “Fat Jack” and Saint Arnold’s “Pumpkinator”. I love those flavors; but Schlafly manages to flirt with that kind of deep pumpkin flavor without losing its self-image as pumpkin. This beer has great caramel-like and smooth malt flavors. The finish has a touch of spice, and some prominent sweetness, leaving a very pleasant aftertaste with just a bit of bitterness.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with light carbonation. The feel is incredible. It is warm and smooth. It is bold, but not sticky. The alcohol doesn’t poke through. The feel is the warmth from a successful fire. I’m not a poet. But the feel is something like that.

Drinkability: For a bold beer of the 8% cloth, quite impressive on this score. As I noted, the alcohol doesn’t publicize itself. And because the spices and pumpkin are just right with this, the warmth of it ushers sip after sip.

Overall: It’s a shame I only picked up one six-pack. I have other great beers to review; but this one is spot on. Schlafly is consistently at the very top of my list for pumpkin ales. It is warm, and has and showcases delicious pumpkin. It has a nice sweetness and a great malt backbone that is so smooth. Drinking this, even though it is August, I know it is autumn. I have quite a hard time finding criticisms. Here’s a question: can I make a beer this good? No. Not so far anyway. So how can I criticize? Well, I drink beer, I suppose. But in any case, forced to criticize, I’d say there is some slight artificiality and perhaps too prominent sweetness in the taste that is noticeable here and there. I don’t remember this from previous years and it doesn’t create much of a problem for a beer that is already so great. In any case, this beer is so warm and so bold, with great pumpkin flavor. It is certainly a must try.

Overall Rating: ****1/2

DSC03383About Schlafly and their Pumpkin Ale: Schlafly, founded in 1991, was the first brewery in St. Louis after prohibition. I don’t know whether that is cool, or sad for the people of St. Louis. Both, I suppose. This brewery was the brainchild of Dan Kopman, who’s father worked with Tom Schlafly to found the brewery. Dan had worked at Young’s brewery in the U.K. And he came to St. Louis with the dream of making traditional style English and German beers. I spoke with Brennan Greene over at the Schlafly Tap Room, and he noted that Schlafly still has a serious investment in making these traditional styles; and, in fact, the pumpkin ale they make is sort of an exception.

I was told that no one at Schlafly knew that the pumpkin ale would take off the way it did. But they had to know they had something; in fact they did, as the spice ratios haven’t changed since day 1. (Nor have the hop proportions- this beer only gets to about 16 IBUs, leaving the malt to do the work.) Schlafly adds the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove) while filtering, before it hits the bright tanks. The main thing that has changed in the process of making it is how they get their pumpkin flavor into the beer. From what I hear, the first couple years in ’06 and ’07 were with pumpkin and butternut squash puree in the mash, followed by a year of so of using powdered pumpkin, and then finally a settling into of using pumpkin concentrate in the kettle on around 2010. I’ve heard that nothing else has really changed since James Ottolini (or “Otto”, as he’s known) came up with this recipe. So kudos to him.

Schlafly has really grown with this beer, as with their other beers. In 2013, they are producing about 6,000 barrels of this beer, compared with 3,000 in 2012, and about 1,000 in 2011. It has certainly got a real serious following. I asked about how Schlafly has been able to maintain quality control in the years this beer has grown. The answer was: with serious concern for good beer, and 4 full-time quality control workers. Schlafly is currently at capacity, and thinks that they are a few years off from being able to expand to accommodate more beer production. So drink your Schlafly pumpkin ales while you can get them, as this beer is only set to get more followers and increase in demand!

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New Belgium “Pumpkick” Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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New Belgium “Pumpkick” Pumpkin Ale is 6.0% ABV.

I poured a 12 oz bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: I gave a steady pour, which produced about one finger of bright white thin foam. This fizzed away in about 2 minutes, to leave just a very thin white cap on the top of the beer. The color is a slightly hazy deep orange/amber. Tiny bubbles rising from the center of the base of the glass suggest medium carbonation.

Smell: I notice spicy vegetal pumpkin and a pop of tartness. The spices are warm. I sense cinnamon, and some nutmeg. The more I smell, the more the tartness takes over, making it harder to notice the pumpkin. This also has some bright grassy notes, and a gives off a touch of brown sugar.

Taste: This is sweeter and warmer than the tartness in the smell suggests. I taste definite vegetal pumpkin, some grassiness, some light brown sugar, and a pop of cranberry. The spices, as in the nose, add warmth. Cinnamon and nutmeg are prominent. The pumpkin flavor does get a little crowded by the cranberry; but this is otherwise nicely balanced. The tartness has both lemon and cranberry to it. This has a nice dynamic flavor profile. It finishes slightly bitter and lemony, leaving a tart and lemony aftertaste.

Feel: This is light to medium bodied, with light to medium carbonation. The carbonation is just right with this. The warmth of the spices, along with the sweetness and pumpkin really work with the lemon and cranberry. This makes for a dynamic feel as well, with mellow leading into more of a punch. Good marks here.

Drinkability: The tart pop from the cranberry doesn’t make me want to gulp this. But who would want to gulp good craft beer? Nevertheless, the sweet and warmth of the other flavors keeps this from being caustic or assaulting my palate. The mildly sour aftertaste does hang on for a bit. So this gets ok or decent marks here.

Overall: I liked this beer a lot better than New Belgium/Elysian’s “Kick” collaboration of 2011. This “Pumpkick” has a more balanced flavor, and more of the traditional pumpkin ale elements, especially with the spicing. So this “Pumpkick” is better in this respect. I also really like the interesting and dynamic flavors, and how the cranberry and lemon duel with the other traditional pumpkin pie base layer in this beer. I don’t like the sourness that the aftertaste lets hang on for too long. But I do like the pumpkin in this. I wish it was more pronounced and had more depth. Overall, pretty fun and enjoyable pumpkin ale. Good interesting flavors. Not a top tier, but definitely worth trying.

Overall Rating: **

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About New Belgium and “Pumpkick”: New Belgium now has their first location in Fort Collins, CO, as well as a new location in Asheville, NC. Asheville sure is bustling with big and good craft beer companies. New Belgium tells the story of Jeff Lebesch being inspired to make beer by riding his “fat tire” bike in Europe, to return to Colorado with ideas and ingredients to start a brewery. Even though Jeff moved on from the company in 2009, New Belgium continues to be a pretty big company. So far as I have heard, they are quite wonderful to work for. Employees are said to be treated with a “Fat Tire” Bicycle after 1 year of work, and a trip to Belgium after 5. Who wouldn’t want to work for them? I can say that, though this company has been around for a few decades, they are newer to Virginia. I remember a few years ago when they first started marketing in Virginia. You couldn’t avoid seeing ‘New Belgium’. It was pretty wild.

In any case, I haven’t heard much of the minutia of how “Pumpkick” is brewed. I’m still waiting to hear back from a contact at the company. But, as the season begins, I cannot wait to review! What I do know is that this beer is said to be brewed with pumpkin juice, cranberry, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and lemongrass. Obviously this “Pumpkick” has some relation to “Kick”, both being pumpkin beers with cranberry made by the same brewery that also happen to have ‘kick’ in their name. What I do know is that Kim Jordan (New Belgium) and Dick Cantwell (Elysian) were/are dating. So the name ‘Kick’ was used for the Kim/Dick collaboration in 2011. I suppose that is a bit preferable to “Dim”. Though, for a fall seasonal, something like a dim cave or a dark graveyard could work. In any case, “Pumpkick” is the non-collaborative version from New Belgium, toning down the sourness quite a bit. This is kinda funny, since on the website for the “Kick”, New Belgium notes: “Kim brought sour from New Belgium; Dick brought pumpkin from Elysian”. One may have thought that, since this is a non-collaborative version from New Belgium, it would be all tart! But in any case, its a fun fall pumpkin beer.

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Welcome Back Pumpkin Beer, Year 3!

I purchased my first pumpkin beer of the season today, on the first of August. Breweries are getting them out early- some even came out in early July. Some rebel against this. What I’ve gleaned en route to an explanation of this phenomena of “rushing the season” is twofold. First, few will buy a seasonal beer when the season has ended, so breweries need to give as much shelf time as they can to avoid missing sales on a lot of beer. Second, many breweries, especially some of the ones producing more sought after pumpkin ales, are doing two different batches and so need time to produce their second batch before the season ends. This all makes good sense. I love pumpkin beer. Though, I myself will wait a couple of weeks before I get into tasting and reviewing. I usually like to begin this blog around the last week or so in August.

As per tradition, I’ll say a little bit about the aim of this 2013 season of reviewing. I’ll also touch on some questions about method and rationale.

New Aims of the 2013 Season

This season I probably am not going to try as many beers as I did last year. Last year I did full reviews of 62 pumpkin beers. This year I want to (i) have some of the one’s that I really like in order to review them again, and (ii) try as many new pumpkin beers as I can. I’d like to focus more on smaller and up-and-coming breweries. There are a lot of great breweries out there. So I’m going to try to get some of the less widely distributed craft beers on the blog this year. I want to extend the library of reviews, but also want to improve my tasting and reviewing. I’ve hit a point where I’ve tried many of the big breweries, so want to focus on and give more prominence to the smaller breweries.

Over the past couple years, I’ve had a good time rating and reviewing. But this season I want my reviews to tell more of a story, while also relaying the standard notes one makes when reviewing a beer. As before, I want this site to be a resource for folks who might try a beer because it was compared to something else they liked. I also want this site to function to encourage people to try more craft beer.

Method, Rationale

My method and rationale (with the exception of what was noted above about current aims) have not really changed since last year. I have previously discussed some questions and issues about my system for rating, and whether or not it is feasible to do a blind-review process. Where I come down is that my system is a non-numeric five star system: * = poor, ** = decent, *** = good, **** = great, **** = exceptional. Moreover, for genuine practical reasons I choose to not do blind-reviewing. (Few can adequately pull this off, without severely limiting the number of beers they review.)

For those interested in more details about the choices made about method, or for information about some of the background assumptions, see this post which kicked off the 2012 season. In that post, I discuss the issues surrounding the non-numerical rating system, and the review process. Also see this post, which kicked of the blog in its first season of 2011. In that post, I discuss some assumptions I make about the rating system, as well as my typical tastes for beer.

Anyway, moving back to the main aim of this post. I’d like to welcome you all to year 3 of the blog! I also welcome any recommendations or suggestions.

If you have a favorite local pumpkin beer, contact me and let me know about it! I’d love to try it. Cheers!

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