Heavy Seas “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 10% ABV.
I poured some of a 22 oz bottle into a Belgian ale glass.
Appearance: This got a steady pour, and tossed up a half finger of light tan foam. This was gone in a minute or so, and left minimal lacing. The color on this is a very clear and bright orange/amber. Beautiful color. This looks like it has moderate carbonation.
Smell: Starting out I get a slight acidic or cidery quality along with some warm and inviting bourbon. This has some spicing which seem to consist of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. This also has some great round vanilla and oak, lending more complexity to the aroma. The more I smell this, the more the aroma builds for me. Some brown sugar and smooth lightly toasted malt round out a great aroma.
Taste: I get very powerful flavors up front. This has some roasted pumpkin, strong but not harsh bourbon, vanilla, oak, and some enjoyable spicing. Like the aroma, there is a faint cidery quality to it, though it is less pronounced than the aroma led me to think it would be. The beer is quite bold. The bourbon, strong vanilla, and oak are all round and wonderfully complementary. As for spicing, I get some warmth from the spicing and maybe some cinnamon and allspice, though nothing so clear. The flavors really marry together in this beer. The sweetness in this is well-balanced with the other flavors. It seems to consist in some brown sugar and some almost rum-like qualities. Though the sweetness is strong, it doesn’t get syrupy. This has great sort of rugged flavors that are rounded on the corners. It has great complexity and depth, without totally overwhelming the palate. Delicious.
Feel: This is medium bodied plus some, and has moderate carbonation. A great warmth exudes from this beer, as does some nice woody oak and a strong vanilla and brown sugar sweetness. This is certainly a strong beer, and it is clear it is an imperial. Although, the 10% doesn’t come through so clearly to me. Great warm feel with some texture.
Drinkability: This is a bold and textured imperial ale aged in bourbon barrels. So it is not really made for drinkability. Even so, there is some definite roundness from the vanilla and the oak. The sweetness also helps to keep the 10% from coming through and burning. Not something you’d want to chug, though not something you’ll have to choke down either.
Overall: I’m quite happy with this beer. It has good roasty pumpkin flavor and a barrage of other flavors that work off each other. It has bourbon, persistent vanilla, oak, some clear cinnamon and allspice, brown sugar, a cidery quality adding a bit of acidity, and some other sugar reminiscent of rum. It is also warm. Though it is a little aggressive in places, it has some roundness. I think this is a very successful full-flavored pumpkin ale, with well-incorporated bourbon that doesn’t take over. I like this even more than I did last year. So I’m glad I decided to pick up a bottle this year. This is a must try.
Overall Rating: ****1/4
About Heavy Seas and “The Great’er Pumpkin”: Hugh Sisson founded Clipper City Brewing in 1994 in Baltimore, Maryland. Hugh had previously worked as lead brewer for Maryland’s first brewpub, “Sissons”, which was only allowed to make the jump from tavern restaurant to brewpub by Maryland law in 1988. This was due in part to lobbying Hugh participated in. Clipper City ended up having a few different brands they brought out over the years. Heavy Seas, which came to the scene in 2003, became their most popular. Heavy Seas is now the only brand by Clipper City, and working hard to keep up with demand is what they do.
I had the privilege of touring Heavy Seas a year or two ago, which was a lot of fun. The brewery operation is fairly small and not glamorous. It is rugged, like a lot of the flavors in Heavy Seas’ beers. Like many brewers, the brewers at Heavy Seas started with home-brewing, and found their way into a pretty big business, which can involve a lot of change. Recently a number of the Heavy Seas beers have been renamed and re-branded under their now familiar pirate theme. I’ve heard that the aim was to bring the beers into a more cohesive set. I like some of the new art, though this overhaul in branding and names has caused some confusion.
“The Great’er Pumpkin” is part of the “Uncharted Waters” series, comprising Heavy Seas’ barrel-aged beers. They use pumpkin, brown sugar, and spicing of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and clove. Their main malt is a British crystal malt. After fermentation, the beer is aged in bourbon barrels, which impart some oak, vanilla, and bourbon. I don’t know what barrels are used. They are great, whatever they are. In years past, Heavy Seas made “The Great Pumpkin”, which was a non-barrel aged imperial pumpkin ale. I haven’t seen that at all this year, and have good reason to believe they have retired it. In any case, I’m glad “The Great’er Pumpkin” is still around, and hasn’t been marooned.