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
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.
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.