Flying Dog “The Fear” Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 9.0% ABV.
I poured all of a 12 oz bottle into a porter glass.
Appearance: I poured this steady, then fairly aggressive at the end. (It has been a hot day.) I got about 2 fingers of light chestnut head, which dissipated to about an 1/8 of an inch of thin and airy head that left some sticky lacing. This has great clarity, and a color of bright though darker red/brown. The red really comes through when held to bright light. This looks to have light to moderate carbonation.
Smell: There is clear vegetal pumpkin up front, along with some spicing that has a little bit of fine pepper to it. The spice profile seems to have the standard fare pumpkin pie spicing. I get something like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. I also get some light roastiness from dark malt that comes out the more I smell this. The aroma is, overall, on the light side.
Taste: To start I get strong and sweet dark malt. This is definitely on the sweet side, giving off molasses, some dark brown sugar, and some chocolate. There is also a nicely balanced spice profile that fits well with the malt: some nice woodiness, like from clove, allspice, and something that gives off… bark-like qualities. The spicing is nice. This does have some vegetal pumpkin to it that comes out the more I drink it; but the dark malt, the sweetness, and the woody and earthy spices don’t give the pumpkin much space on stage. Overall, the flavors in this are good, and really bold. It is a bit sweeter than I might typically prefer. Really, the flavors in this beer are kind of surprisingly bold, given how faint the aroma was. This finishes fairly sweet, to give way to some of the woody, earthy, and warm spicing. The spicing hangs on some in the aftertaste, but is pleasant.
Feel: This is medium bodied, with light carbonation. This is fairly heavy with its sweetness. The roastiness and spices really add something dynamic to the feel. It has nice warmth and smoothness (though some of the alcohol does break through in places). Overall this has a nice feel.
Drinkability: This is bold, roasty, and high in ABV. So it is much more of a sipper. The spices, though forthright, don’t detract. So, other than the alcohol that comes through in places, this is pretty decent on this score (for an imperial).
Overall: I think this is a really good pumpkin ale. It is very malty, with some dark roast, and some nice and well-balanced earthy spices. It has some vegetal pumpkin to it, which is of course nice in a pumpkin ale. If the alcohol didn’t poke through like it does, and the pumpkin had a bit more presence in this beer, this would be closer to my top tier. In part because of the heavy malt, it does feel a bit more like a winter seasonal than a fall seasonal. As it stands, though, it is still very good.
Overall Rating: ***1/4
About Flying Dog and “The Fear”: George Stranahan and Richard McIntyre founded the Flying Dog Brewpub in 1990 in Aspen, Colorado. The name ‘Flying Dog’ comes from a painting that George was inspired by on an experimental adventure climbing the second highest mountain in the world. From the vibes I’ve gotten from visiting Flying Dog, and in the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson, experimental drugs seemed to be nothing unusual in the course of some of these adventures. In any case, this brewpub bloomed into a larger brewery in 1994, and later inspired a move to a very large brewing facility in Frederick, Maryland. I remember touring this Frederick, Maryland location, and being blown away by how large and well-organized it was.
If you have ever had much contact with Flying Dog, you know that they speak a bit about the ‘gonzo’ lifestyle. This aesthetic comes out in their marketing quite a bit, and in some of the rich flavors of their beers. But the drug-driven and experimental Hunter S. Thompson motivated ‘gonzo’ lifestyle is a bit of a misnomer for their brewery, for they have quite serious lab-driven quality control, as well as pretty darn consistent good beer. It would be hard to pull this off were one living “gonzo” while working at the brewery. Flying Dog makes some pretty incredible beers, from their “Gonzo” imperial porter (which on its own or aged in bourbon is a delight) to their now popular “Raging Bitch” Belgian-style IPA, their flavors are bold, well-balanced, and worthy of a try. They are far from gonzo.
Flying Dog makes their “The Fear” Imperial Pumpkin Ale with “local pumpkin puree” as well as some spices that they would rather not divulge. I can say that the woodiness and the earthiness in the spicing is quite nice. So maybe it is worth keeping a secret. With warrior and willamette hops, and at 45 IBUs, this beer is still quite a bit on the malty side. I had the distinct privilege of tasting this beer bourbon-barrel-aged in December of 2012 at a tap takeover. It is well-crafted, and a great representation of the darker side of imperial pumpkins. If you like this one, you’ll probably like Epic/DC Brau’s “Fermentation Without Representation” Imperial Pumpkin Porter.