Monthly Archives: September 2014

Wild Wolf “Howling Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Wild Wolf “Howling Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale is 7.0% ABV.

I was served a 16 oz pint glass from tap at the brewery..

Appearance: The beer was served with about 1 finger of off-white foamy and whipped egg-white head, which was gone in about 2 minutes and left minimal lacing. The color was a beautiful toasted orange/red. This had bubbles rising to the pace of mild to moderate carbonation.

Smell: I get some vegetal pumpkin with some slight and crisp sour notes, a slight smokiness, and some mild spices of cinnamon and ginger. The spices are not so up front on the nose. This also has a caramel-like sweetness with some brown sugar. It also smells warm, though this doesn’t have a very strong aroma.

Taste: At the outset this is sweet, with vegetal squash and some caramel and brown sugar. This quickly fades into some more notable bitterness, with something of a mentionable hops presence. I get a grassiness, and some warm and restrained spices- cinnamon, ginger, and not sure what else. Towards the end there is also something smooth like vanilla setting in. This has a nice balance- the spices don’t overwhelm, the pumpkin/squash is there, and the grassiness brightens up an otherwise sweet and warm brew. This finishes with some slight fizz, and a fine-particulate spice setting in- white pepper and ginger. There is a sour pinch at the end too, with an aftertastes of slight sour notes and mild bittereness. Great balanced flavor.

Feel: This is medium bodied with light to moderate carbonation. The feel has a nice balance of textures from the sweet and the spice, and also a dryer finish than the first wave of flavors suggested. The bitterness does hang some, but mostly just to invite another sip. Good feel.

Drinkability: At 7%, this is really nice. It could certainly sneak up on you. The mild bitterness keeps this from being a clear “sessionable” pumpkin ale. But that doesn’t seem to be the aim. For its ABV and strength of flavor, it drinks well. I could certainly see having a few of these without being held back by how it drinks.

Overall: This beer has a great balance. It has a good pumpkin presence, nice restrained spicing, and a notable grassiness. This is all very positive. It is warmer than, say, Southern Tier’s massively sought-after “Pumking”. I also prefer it to the 2014 “Pumking” I reviewed. Wild Wolf’s is overall more balanced. The more I drink Wild Wolf’s, the more the grassiness subdues itself. I’d say the nose on this is somewhat underwhelming, and doesn’t advertise the great taste very well. “Howling Pumpkin” is overall a really good, warm, pumpkin ale. Among the Central Virginia breweries, I’d say it is the best non-barrel-aged pumpkin beer. (I feel it can’t quite be compared to Blue Mountain’s bourbon-aged “Spooky”, which I’ll review in a few weeks.) Sitting here at Wild Wolf, I finally decided to stop writing about this beer after 35 minutes of so, so I can dig into my BBQ nachos. The beer is a lovely pairing for this fall meal.

Overall Rating: ***3/4

image (10)About Wild Wolf and “Howling Pumpkin”: Wild Wolf Brewing opened in November of 2011 in Nelson, County. The brewery is housed in a 100-year-old building that was the schoolhouse for Nelson County. There they offer a restaurant, a patio for live music, and some refurbished tobacco barns which are used to host events. Since opening, Wild Wolf has worked their way into distribution, now offering canned and bottled beer across the state of Virginia. They are one of the fastest-growing breweries in Central VA. They are also clear that they value and work to put a lot of effort into both their restaurant and brewery operations. I caught up with Casey Cramer, director of marketing during my visit. I learned that Wild Wold is on track to produce 4,000 barrels of beer in 2014 from their 15-barrel system. Casey spoke of their “controlled growth model”, which is  aimed to let them still pursue more distribution without sacrificing quality. Currently their Brewmaster, Danny Wolf works with two brewing assistants to make all of that beer! As for other news, you can find Wild Wolf at this year’s Folk Festival in Richmond, VA, again offering their “Folktoberfest”. They also sponsor the beer for the Richmond Kickers, a session IPA collaboration called, “Kick It”. For smaller batch offerings, they are looking forward to releasing their Belgian ale aged in cabernet barrels from local Pollak Vineyards.

image (9)Wild Wolf makes “Howling Pumpkin” by adding pumpkins into the mash, and using a proprietary or “secret” blend of “grandma’s pie spices”. That was about all the info I could get on the beer. It was first released in late August, which is earlier than last year. They just brewed their last batch last week, and expect it to be available through October! I should say that Wild Wold used to offer a beer by this very same name, that was a very different lower-ABV pumpkin ale. Whatever motivated the change in recipe, you can tell that they put a lot of work into this newer recipe, which was first brought to market in 2013. You can buy Howling Pumpkin in (I’d say, well priced) 22oz bottles, and also at various places on tap.

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Strangeways “Gourd of Thunder” Imperial Pumpkin Porter (2014)

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Strangeways “Gourd of Thunder” Imperial Pumpkin Porter is 9.2% ABV.

I poured some of a 32 oz growler into a wine glass.

Appearance: The pour was easy, and tossed up just a little bit of thin beige head, which lasted less than a minute. The color of this is a dark and murky brown, with some reddish hints to it. This fizzes such as to suggest light to moderate carbonation.

Smell: To start I get some vegetal pumpkin, which is quickly followed by a whole lot of earthy, dark, and woody spices. I get definite clove, as well as some candied ginger, nutmeg, and as some banana. This smells sweet with dark malt and molasses and burnt sugar, and has an intense aroma from the bold spices. Really enjoyable aroma.

Taste: This tastes a good bit like it smells. And it is rich. It has some mostly vegetal and somewhat caramel-like pumpkin, and a legion of spices following it up. I get woody and toasted spices of clove, allspice, ginger, and maybe some nutmeg too. The spices are bold and interesting. This is also on the sweet side, with burnt sugar, molasses, vanilla, and a kind of candied ginger sweetness. The more I sip it, the more the spices come through and sit with me. Not as much pumpkin after a few sips. This finishes with the strong dark sugar sweetness quickly fading into some woody clove-like bitterness, and a touch of vegetal pumpkin sourness. This dark woody spice sits on the palate in the aftertaste for quite a while. Good rich flavors, and interesting and enjoyable spices.

Feel: This is more medium bodied, thinner than I was expecting. It has moderate and just perfect carbonation. It is also a little on the sticky side, with some of its dark malt and heavy sugar. But the feel has some complexity because of all the bittering components from the spices. Not a whole lot of presence from the high alcohol, which is good. Pretty nice feel, save for the spices adding more bitterness than I’d ideally want.

Drinkability: For something surpassing 9 percent, this is pretty drinkable. The heavy sweetness helps hide the ABV, but does weigh me down a bit. Given how rich this is, and how bold the spices are, I couldn’t have a whole lot of this at one time. The strong bitterness from the spices hangs on my palate, and makes this a bit less drinkable. So, decent here.

Overall: I tried this beer last year, and remember really enjoying it. I also really enjoy it this year. I think the spices are bold and really interesting. This isn’t for the faint of Fall, or err, the faint of spice, or… something. This is spicy. I like the mostly vegetal pumpkin up front, but could go for a bit more vegetal pumpkin overall to balance out the heavy dark spices, which weigh me down after a bit of sipping on this. But I have to say I really like the dark sugar and molasses and the candied ginger. So I say this is a good imperial pumpkin porter. It isn’t my absolute favorite. For that, I’m currently stuck on Alaskan Pumpkin Porter. I also think this is overpriced. The 32 oz growler fill for this was 18 dollars. For that price, I could buy two 22’s of some other imperial pumpkin porters- Epic/DC Brau’s, for example. This beer has a more interesting spice profile than the Epic and D.C. Brau collaboration. Not 18 dollars worth, though. If you haven’t tried this, go for it on tap, get it as part of a flight, or ask for a small sample before you commit to an expensive growler. I don’t think they are bottling it this year.

Overall Rating: ***1/2

image (6)About Strangeways and their offering: Strangeways opened in Richmond, Virginia in may 2013. This is the second year they have made Gourd of Thunder, which is made with roasted local pumpkins, bourbon vanilla beans and spices of cinnamon, ginger, and clove. See my 2013 review of the Gourd of Thunder for more info about them and this brew.

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Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.0% ABV.

I poured all of a 12 oz bottle into a stout glass.

Appearance: An easy pour allowed less than a finger of greyish off-white head, which was thin to start with and gone in about a minute, save for a little ring around the sides of the glass. This has a beautifully rich burnt orange/red, which is mostly transparent with some tiny bubbles fizzing up towards the center of the glass.

Smell: As I bring this to my nose, I immediately notice a strong aroma with roasted pumpkin and nice bold spices. There are some vegetal and mildly sour aromatic notes as well. However the pumpkin and spices mostly come off as roasty and warm. For spices I get definite clove, cinnamon, nutmeg. The spices are sort of woody and appealing. This also has a vanilla-like sweetness to it, and a strong dark sugar malt sweetness. Great appealing aroma.

Taste: This starts off rich, hitting you with the bold spices and the roasty pumpkin. The spices are especially nice in this one- warm, nutty, and bold but not harsh or caustic. I get some combination of nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon. I happen to know this has cardamom as well. The nuttiness and earthiness of the spices is something noticeable – like it has some spicy pepper, roasted pistachio, and a touch of persimmon. The roasty pumpkin flavor sits alongside a very sweet but not syrupy malt backbone. The sweetness is ripe stone fruit- juicy plum, along with some dark or burnt sugar. This finishes beautifully, with the high malty sugar fading away into the bold but not overly aggressive warm spices. The aftertaste has some slight sour notes and some mild spice of white pepper and earth.

Feel: This offering is medium bodied plus, and has moderate carbonation. The sweet malt and the warm spice really makes for a nice feel. The pepper and sour notes allow the feel to be more dynamic, and do something other than give across that smooth pumpkin pie flavor. The slightly sour in the aftertaste is not ideal, but it functions more to invite another sip rather than to bother me. There is a little bit of a noticeable alcohol nip towards the finish. Overall good feel.

Drinkability: For something 8%, it does pretty well here. Given how rich this is, how sweet it is, and how bold the spices are, I wouldn’t be able to do much past this 12 oz bottle. It is in the imperial style. Given that style, it is pretty darn drinkable and doesn’t accost with alcohol.

Overall: I quite like this offering. It is well worth trying if you haven’t already. It has unique spicing that still fits into the warm and inviting pumpkin pie style pumpkin ale camp. The cardamom adds a lot, as does the nice dose of clove and nutmeg. This is definitely one to include in a tasting, or to have on a slow Friday night. I think I am enjoying it more this year than I have in the past. The spices are really working nicely for me this time. Think of bold, warm, somewhat woody and complex spicing in a strong pumpkin ale.

Overall Rating: ***3/4

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About Weyerbacher and their imperial pumpkin ale: Weyerbacher Brewing Company is located in Easton, Pennsylvania. They have been brewing seriously good beer there since 1995. See my 2013 review of Weyerbacher’s imperial pumpkin ale for more about them and the making of this beer.

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Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Schlafly Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.0% ABV.

I poured all of a 12 oz bottle into a “craft beer glass”.

Appearance: The pour was easy at first, but had a bit of gusto at the end. This gave about a finger of almost gray off-white foam, which was gone after about a minute and left just a thin ring of foam around the edges of the glass. This has a mostly very clear medium burnt orange/amber color. Very nice looking color. Bubbles rising suggest moderate carbonation.

Smell: This has a clear roasty pumpkin aroma that is joined by some vegetal notes, and then a warm and inviting spice presence. For spicing I get good nutmeg, as well as some cinnamon and ginger. I think I get some allspice too. This has a strong and sweet malt aroma, as from some caramel malt with something like dark caramelized brown sugar. Not much of a hop aroma. The pumpkin and spices really come through. Great aroma.

Taste: This starts out with some roasty pumpkin and spices. The pumpkin flavor has both roasty and vegetal dimensions, but hangs more on the roasty side. The spices come through as nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger. I also get a metallic-like taste towards the front, which dies down a bit as I have more sips. There is also a heavy sweetness with this one, like from a hint of dark cherry and some brown sugar. This does give off a bit of yeast and something like mild white pepper, especially towards the end. Not much by way of hops, save for a hint of citrus that hits towards the middle. This finishes with the sweetness of the brown sugar and slight cherry making way into a bit of bitterness from the pumpkin pie spices, something like white pepper, and very mild citrus. The aftertaste has some of the lingering brown sugar sweetness, and a slight metallic tinge. Overall the flavors in this are really inviting.

Feel: This is medium bodied plus, with moderate carbonation. The strong sweetness makes this pretty smooth, but doesn’t weigh one down too much. The metallic hint in this does interrupt the otherwise velvety feel of this.

Drinkability: I’d say this is really quite drinkable. For a beer of 8%, it drinks really well. The warm spicing does well working with the sugars in this to make it pretty drinkable. The metallic tinge that I get here and there does detract a bit.

Overall: This is not the first time I’ve had this beer. I always look forward to trying this one. I got a bottle of this in late July, and have stored it in my refrigerator until now. This is certainly a great beer. But the metallic aspects to it are detracting a little for me. I wonder if this batch was just slightly off for some production reason. I am getting the metal a bit in the aftertaste too. I bought the beer at a reputable store, where it was stored at good temps, and I never let it warm up. So I’m not sure what could be going on. In any case, this is certainly an enjoyable beer, just not absolute top of the pack quality. I’m gonna try to taste another bottle (or have it on tap) at some point this season to see whether this could be just a batch thing. But, in any case, I will have absolutely no trouble working my way through my 6-pack this season. If you haven’t tried this beer, you really should. Even with some slight non-ideal flavor notes, I am really enjoying it.

Overall Rating: ****

image (4)About Schlafly and their pumpkin offering: Schlafly beers are produced by The St. Louis Brewery, founded in ’91 in St. Louis, Missouri. Last season I wrote more about Schlafly and their pumpkin offering in my 2013 review. I’m hoping to visit sometime in the next couple years.

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Southern Tier “Pumking” Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Southern Tier “Pumking” Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.6% ABV.

I poured some of a 22 oz bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: With a tilted glass and a gentle-at-first pour, the beer tossed up a few bubbles which turned into a more substantial head as the glass became more vertical. I got about 1-2 fingers of off-white head, which bubbled away in about 1-2 minutes, leaving no real trace. This has a mostly clear golden/light amber color, with a little bit of sediment floating in it. It looks to have mild to moderate carbonation. Now for the much anticipated smell.

Smell: The smell on this reminds me of previous years reviewing it. I get some graham cracker, some sweet whipped cream like aroma, and a nice spice blend that seems to have good nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. This beer also has a slight diacetyl tinge. Otherwise I get some roasty pumpkin, and some vanilla. Not a lot by way of hops in the aroma, save for a bit of pine towards the end. Good sweet smell. Great graham cracker.

Taste: This beer gives off more hops than the nose suggests. At the front I get some hoppy pumpkin (which is on the roasty side), as well as some more bitter spicing than the nose indicated. I get some nutmeg, allspice, definite punchy ginger, and (I think) cinnamon. There is also a nice vanilla presence among the flavors of this, as well as some somewhat artificial tasting graham cracker. The malt backbone is not as strong as I expected, and it seems to have some caramel dimensions. This beer is definitely on the sweet side, and adds a little light brown sugar into the mix of sweet flavorings. Towards the finish more of the piney hops and punchy spicing take hold, making way into an aftertaste of slight diacetyl and some somewhat restrained bitterness. I get a little bit of alcohol bite in the aftertaste.

Feel: I’d say this is medium bodied, with light to moderate carbonation. It has some texture with the hops and spicing breaking through the otherwise thinnish malty backbone. Alright feel.

Drinkability: This is alright here. It isn’t as round or as rich as I remember it in previous years. And the medicine-like diacetyl and slight alcohol in the aftertaste detract some. The sweetness helps this, of course. So I’d say this is decent here.

Overall: This has some interesting and good flavors, no doubt. It even has that interesting graham cracker flavor in it, and something vanilla-like that is reminiscent of whipped cream. Even so, the flavors don’t entirely come together with this for me. I bought this when it came to my area on July 17th, after being bottled on June 25th (at 1:56.51pm , according to the bottle). I immediately put it in my refrigerator, and left it there until I reviewed it today. So it has had some time since bottling, though at a fairly cold temp which tends to slow the “aging” process. I’m not a huge fan of this beer this year. There are so many other really great pumpkin beers out there that I can’t quite be a big champion of this beer. It was top of my list, when I reviewed it in 2011. My palette has no doubt changed, and I’ve also had the opportunity to taste a lot more pumpkin beers. But this beer has also changed.

Overall Rating: ***

image (2)About Southern Tier and their “Pumking”: Southern Tier is located in Lakewood, New York, and has been brewing good beer there since 2002. Last year’s review of the Pumking included a bit more about them, and some of their great beer. I quite enjoy a number of their other beers.

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