Southern Tier “Pumking” Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.6% ABV.
I poured some of a 22 oz bottle into a “craft beer” glass.
Appearance: I poured this one heartily, producing a finger of off-white, thick, and frothy foam. The foam held on for a good number of minutes. This beer is colored bright golden-orange, and has great clarity. It also looks to have pretty heavy carbonation.
Smell: To start I get nice and strong buttery graham cracker, along with some vanilla. I smell some pumpkin pie spicing of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove, and a nice tempered sweetness of light brown sugar. This has some caramel to it, and definite, though not aggressive pumpkin. Finally, there is some nice smooth toasty malt with some grassy notes. The graham cracker is so strong with this one.
Taste: I get strong vanilla, (mostly) vegetal pumpkin, some strong grassy notes, and the restrained sweetness of brown sugar hiding behind the pumpkin pie spice profile. The spices are as they seemed from the nose; but the ginger I get in the taste seems much more like candied ginger. The flavors in this are really nice, and there is a substantial bright hops presence in this one. I don’t remember the hops being this forward in the previous years batches of this beer. (See my 2012 and 2011 reviews.) In any case, the strong vanilla, along with the sweet but not overly sweet pumpkin, make for great flavors. And really, the bright hops and grass make the flavor profile a bit more dynamic. This finishes with sugary vanilla and graham cracker, giving way to some greener flavors of hop and grass. The aftertaste is vanilla and some slight bitter and grassy notes.
Feel: This is medium bodied, with medium to heavy carbonation. Really, the body is pretty thin for a beer approaching 9%. The vanilla and sweetness work with the grass and hop flavors to keep the feel from being flat. This does have a little bite to it, though there is also definite melted butter to the feel. I’d say the strong flavors in this contribute to a mostly smooth and buttery feel.
Drinkability: I think the sweetness and smooth flavors do make this dangerously drinkable. It is sweet, though not sappy. It is fairly thin for a beer this big, especially since it doesn’t have a ton of alcohol poking through. There is just a little bit of that, though not something that could keep this 22 from disappearing quickly.
Overall: I quite like this beer; I like the butter, the graham cracker, the sweet vanilla, and the smooth flavors. I really enjoy the spicing, which adds some richness without taking over. I also just love how this drinks. So this is such a successful beer. The things that hold it back, so I think, are the tinge of metallic artificiality that I get in this, the almost marshmallow-like sweetness that keeps the pumpkin from shining through, and the grassiness that interrupts the otherwise total pumpkin pie experience. I’ve previously thought of this as akin to drinking pumpkin pie. And it goes pretty far down that road, in impressive ways. But I do think that I found earlier years more impressive. I think the 2011 batch of “Pumking” I had was more successful as a good craft beer that succeeds as pumpkin pie in a glass. And I think the Schlafly I recently reviewed has more warmth, and more pumpkin that is central to the overall flavors. Nevertheless, “Pumpking” is still a serious competitor, and a very tasty and smooth beer. Butter and graham cracker all the way.
Overall Rating: ***3/4
Southern Tier and “Pumking”: Southern Tier has been rolling since 2002, making a lot of bold beers, and having a reputation for solidly good beer. They were founded in Lakewood, New York, by Phineas DeMink and Allen Yahn, who had the aim of “reviving the practice of small batch brewing to a region rich in brewing tradition”. Southern Tier is also one of the companies that experiments quite successfully with modeling beers after specific, perhaps commonly loved, flavor profiles. Beers including “Pumking”, “Creme Brulee”, and “Choklat” all work to really well capture these long-loved flavors into solid and unforgiving craft beer. They have grown quite a bit since 2002, and now have a 110 barrel brewhouse, while producing 60,000 barrels a year.
I remember the first time I had “Pumking”. It was on draft at a phenomenal beer spot in the Charlottesville area: Beer Run. This was in 2010, and the beer blew me away. Since then, I’ve been so happy to revisit it. It has become so coveted by folks that many retailers can sell out of it in a day, or even hours. This year, so I’m told, Southern Tier has really upped production, making it available (at least, in the central VA area) a month earlier than last year, with hopes of having it fully-stocked on the shelves through October time. This is quite a difference, and really speaks to how much many people demand this beer. You can even visit Southern Tier’s website right now, and the first thing to pop up are pictures of cases of “Pumking”, with the caption, “Looking for Pumking in your area, or want it delivered to your door? Check this link!” This is indeed a big industry beer.