Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine is 12% ABV.
I poured some of a 375 ml bottle into a round wine glass.
Appearance: My pour gave less than a finger of thick off-white head, which had good retention. There was some settling of the head into a thick cloud atop the beer, and leaving definite frothy lacing along the sides of the glass. The color is a very bright red/orange, with a lot of haziness. It is a bit murky, with definite sediment to it. It looks like it has mild carbonation. Great color.
Smell: The aroma is not as strong as I was expecting, and gave off some nice pumpkin with both roasty and vegetal dimensions. I also get a warmth, as from oak, as well as some pleasant bright notes, as from hops of vegetal squash. This also has a fairly mild spice profile to it, with spices not coming across so clearly. I get some dark fruit like plum and date, adding to a complex sweetness like from a heavy malt offering. I get some mild rum as well. This smells like it has a real smoothness to it, with some good round sour notes.
Taste: This has a very complex and enjoyable flavor from the first sip. I get some pleasant and round sour notes, as well as strong pumpkin with that fleshy vegetal quality to it. This is not as sweet as I was expecting, and has great balance for all the richness and maltiness. The malt is very smooth, very little bread or toast. You get some spicing in this, as from some nutmeg and maybe cinnamon, but it is blended in very well. I also get something a bit peppery- like coriander and black pepper. This has vanilla as from wood aging, and some mild liquor notes to it, like from very smooth bourbon. As for hops, I get some bright hops, but they get lost in the sour notes, which are pretty strong for a barleywine. This finishes with that peppery spice setting in a bit more among some round sour tones. The wood and sour vegetal pumpkin linger a long time in the aftertaste. This is a very complex beer, with really great pumpkin and great wood and sour notes. Not a typical barelywine, and much more sour than I remember from last year.
Feel: This is medium bodied to heavy bodied, with mild carbonation. The feel has a lot of roundness to it, but the prominent and lingering sour tones, though adding complexity, detract a bit for feel.
Drinkability: This is a very strong beer, again with strong sour notes. So it is certainly a sipper. The sour notes linger more in a barleywine than I’d expect. But they aren’t so sharp. Nothing so great here by way of drinkability.
Overall: This offering is really complex. It has great roundness, wood, pleasant sour tones, good pumpkin, and some mild liquor around the edges. It is much more sour than last year, which is interesting. It also doesn’t have the sweetness I usually associate with barleywines. It is an enjoyable drink, and something I’d probably grab a bottle of again, but not what I was expecting. it is 11 bucks for this, which is not cheap. I’d say last years was definitely worth that. This years is either a ‘not quite’ or a ‘borderline’ worth it. Upon closer inspection, this bottle doesn’t say ‘Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine’ as last years did. It just says ‘Heirloom Pumpkin’. It does mention that caramelized pumpkins were added to an American-style Barleywine, which was then aged in barrels. Another difference in this year is that it was aged in rye barrels and brandy barrels, whereas last year was just in brandy barrels. I wonder what is up with the sour notes, which are admittedly not bad. Still, even given how smooth and complex this beer is, I’d rather have what it turned into last year. Almanac also makes a Dark Pumpkin Sour, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow. Given their having a sour pumpkin offering added in this year, I think it would have been better if this were a more typical barleywine. I wonder if there was an unexpected change during barrel-aging. Really great complexity, though the pumpkin gets lost a bit after a few sips.
Overall Rating: ****
About Almanac and their offering: The Almanac Beer Company was founded in 2010, and puts emphasis on Northern California agriculture in their beers. I wrote about them, and a bit about last years version of this beer in my review of their 2013 Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine.