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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