Back Bay “Witch of Pungo” Pumpkin Ale is 7% ABV.
I was served a 12 oz goblet on tap at the brewery.
Appearance: This was served with less than one finger of cream-colored head. Color is a very murky and opaque toasted orange/amber. Not much light is getting through, and you can’t see much by way of bubbles.
Smell: I notice some spicing of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and some slightly sour vegetal pumpkin. This has a little bit of toasted malt, but the overall aroma is a bit muted. Mild spicy nose.
Taste: This starts with vegetal pumpkin, as well as some spice of (I think) clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I also get a little bit of banana in this. This offering is definitely on the malty side. The malt is smooth, and almost has a sort of smokey character to it. The spice in this is also interesting and warm, with something sort of like rye or something a bit woodier. I do get more spices than pumpkin, and a good dose of sweetness. This finishes with some of the bitter spicing alongside the vegetal squash and banana notes. These also linger some in the aftertaste, with some strong sugar. I think the flavors in this are good, and the spicing is interesting. The flavors are not as strong as I would have expected for something 7%.
Feel: This is medium bodied with mild carbonation. It has a nice creaminess to it, almost as though this were served on nitro. It is a bit on the sweet side, but I think that sugar works pretty well with the vegetal tones and the spices to achieve some balance. One detractor is that this has has some hard sugar hanging around on my palate for a while after I sip. So I’d say this has a decent to good feel.
Drinkability: This does okay here. The punchy sugar that hangs detracts some for me. The creaminess helps a lot. I would have guessed a number right around the 7% ABV that this beer actually is, as it has a hint of alcohol.
Overall: I like the flavors in this. It has enjoyable vegetal squash, interesting spices, and some banana. It also has a pleasant creaminess. Sitting up at this dimly-lit bar, not far from the beach on a grey Sunday, there are a good number of folks coming and going. There is a nice breeze. This feels like a beach brewery. Many of them are getting this pumpkin beer. I’d say it is definitely worth trying. It is not the most balanced beer, and has some of that sugar that drags. But it still has a lot going for it.
Overall Rating: **3/4
About Back Bay Brewing and “Witch of Pungo”: Back Bay Brewing opened in VA Beach, Virginia in March of 2014. Its 3 owners were duck hunters, partly explaining the duck on their logo. There is, as well, the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is home to lots of fowl. I caught up with John O’Reilly, assistant brewer of Back Bay. He and head brewer, Dan Yarnell handle all of the brewing for the brewery. This job gets a bit demanding because of the high volumes of beach business they get, especially during vacation season. I tried a flight of their other offerings as well: an IPA, a lager, an amber ale, and an imperial stout- Queen Anne’s Revenge. Queen Anne’s Revenge was really full and flavorful, with great roastiness and some nice coffee notes to it. I’m looking forward to Back Bays’ next seasonal- a Christmas ale done as an imperial nut brown. I also learned that they have 3 bourbon barrels and 2 cognac barrels they are trying to employ for their barrel program.
Back Bay released their “Witch of Pungo” Pumpkin Ale (named after the rural community of Pungo in southern Virginia Beach) 2 weeks ago. Many patrons had been asking when they were going to put out their pumpkin ale, but the brewers deliberately planned for late September or early October. So they aren’t yet bothered enough by the problem of seasonal creep. To make their pumpkin ale, they mash with pumpkin puree- about 11-12 pounds of pumpkin per barrel- and add spices of cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. O’Reilly also noted that they include some lactose sugar for creaminess. This is a limited offering that is not bottled or offered in growlers. So you gotta visit for it. They expect to have it through Halloween.