Hardywood Park “Farmhouse Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Hardywood Park “Farmhouse Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale is 8.5% ABV.

I poured some of a 750 ml bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: Carefully pouring produced under 2 fingers of frothy white head, which reduced over about two minutes to leave a little lacing and settle into a bubbly ring atop the beer. This has a beautiful bright orange color, with a lot of haziness and no real sediment to speak of. It looks to have moderate carbonation, judging by the many tiny bubbles rising.

Smell: I get roasted pumpkin up front, with some vegetal dimensions. This is paired against a funky and earthy yeast presence, some spices- think I am getting nutmeg and clove- as well as a bright citrus quality like from tangerine. There is also some warm sweetness as from brown sugar or molasses. The yeast comes off as almost having some smoke to it.  This smells complex, and warm and inviting. 

Taste: Really rich and enjoyable flavors. You get the roasted pumpkin up front, and it is clear. You also get more sweetness than the nose suggested, some brown sugar and some honey-like sweetness. The spices are nicely balanced, and I think again include nutmeg and clove. The yeast presence isn’t as pronounced as it is in the aroma, but is still a major part of the flavors in this. The spices work well with this to add more complexity to the sweetness and roasted pumpkin. Real earthy with some slightly bitter notes, and some restrained funkiness. The yeast gives off something like smoke and white pepper and earth. This finishes a little dryer with that sweetness and roasted pumpkin moving into mild earth and white peppery yeast. The earth and yeast hang out for a while in the aftertaste. The finish is long on this one. I say this has wonderful flavors, great complexity, and great roasted pumpkin presence.

Feel: I’d say this is medium bodied plus, with moderate carbonation. The carbonation is very pleasant. This has a very warm feel, and has the spice and yeast notes set against the sweet sugar and roasted pumpkin. This adds complexity to the feel. This is heavier than I remember it with respect to the sugar. Still, really nice feel, especially for a saison-style beer.

Drinkability: Given its 8.5% ABV, I say this does pretty well. There is a little bit of an alcohol bite to this, but nothing too much. For an 8.5% farmhouse ale, it drinks pretty smoothly. The spices and the yeast do interrupt the smoothness, but they pay huge dividends in flavor and complexity. Good here.

Overall: I like this one a whole lot this year. I have always really enjoyed this offering, but am particularly liking it this year. It has great roasted pumpkin, and wonderfully complex and rich flavors. The more I drink this the more I get more tangerine too. There is that alcohol bite, but I’d rather have that than a ton more sugar to knock that out. Unless you actively dislike saisons, I’d call this a must try among pumpkin beers in VA. I included this in a blind VA beer tasting, where I didn’t put in any votes, and no one voted for this for gold, silver, or bronze. That was surprising to me, as I think this is just a great offering. Soon I’ll be trying their rye whiskey pumpkin offering!

Overall Rating: ****

DSC03805About Hardywood and this offering: Hardywood Park Craft Brewing hails from Richmond, Virginia, and has made quite a splash there since they opened in October of 2011, when I first reviewed this beer. I enjoy it every year.

Last year, they also made a “Rum Pumpkin“, a version of this beer aged in rum barrels.

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Twisted Manzanita “Witch’s Hair” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Twisted Manzanita “Witch’s Hair” Pumpkin Ale is 8.8% ABV.

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

Appearance: A careful pour with a splash at the end put up about a finger of light tan/grey head, which slowly dissapeared to just a light dollop on top of the beer. The color is a very deep red/orange, with some cloudiness. Really rich looking color. This looks to have mild to moderate carbonation.

Smell: Up front I get strong warm spicing with prominent clove, as well as what seems to be some cinnamon and nutmeg. Really nice spice profile. There is also some strong  roasty pumpkin with some vegetal qualities, some light brown sugar and some caramel, as well as a slight sourness. The pumpkin really does have that roasty quality, almost like some beers I know that use butternut squash instead of  pumpkin. The spice gives this a kind of woody aroma, which is perfectly inviting. Very nice aroma.

Taste: This tastes quite similar to how it smells, with really nice spicing of clove and some of the other pumpkin pie spices- cinnamon adn nutmeg. This does a little more of a sour tinge to it than I was expecting, and a bit more booze. Even so it bursts with flavor. The pumpkin is on the roasty side, with some vegetal components. And this beer almost tastes like it has pumpkin seeds that were used as part of it. Really interesting. On top of the strong spiciness is a great amount of sweetness, as from brown sugar. This hangs out more towards the still-sweet finish, leading to an aftertaste with the spice gaining clearer focus. Really enjoyable flavors here.

Feel: This has a medium plus body, with moderate carbonation. It has a bit of a boozy bite, and a bit of intensity with the strong sweetness and the strong spice of clove. So a real waking up of the palate.

Drinkability: This is not your incredibly drinkable pumpkin beer. This is your drink it with a hearty turkey dinner, something you could enjoy with some fall food. The intense spice, sweetness, and boozy bite are great, but hold it back a bit here.

Overall: I say this beer is nice. I love the warmth of the spices and the roasty character of the pumpkin. The spice profile is powerful. It reminds me of a more clove-heavy and perhaps more complex spice profile than Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin, which has just a great spice profile. So great marks there. The heavy sweetness is not ideal for my palate, but is not detracting too much for this beer. This is a great one to try.

Overall Rating: ***1/2

IMG_3340About Twisted Manzanita and their offering: Twisted Manzanita Ales and Spirits is located in San Diego, California. They opened in 2010, and like Dogfish Head, also have a distillery component to their operations.

This beer sits at 8.8%, and is made from real pumpkins and a spice blend of cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg. They also note than brown sugar and vanilla are used in the brewing process, making this beer one of their “fan favorites”.

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Almanac Dark Pumpkin Sour (2014)

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Almanac Dark Pumpkin Sour is 7% ABV.

I poured all of a 375 ml bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: I got about between a quarter and a half inch of light brown and creamy foam atop the beer, which had good retention and stuck well to the sides of the glass. As I hold this to bright light, the color is a murky and very dark reddish brown, with some sediment towards the bottom and a little light coming through. This looks to have mild carbonation.

Smell: I get some great round sour notes, some nice oak, some sweet molasses and definite dark malt, as well as some bright vegetal squash. I get a little mild nutty spice, but not much by way of a hop profile. This smells round, complex, like a nicely blended sour. Great dark malt.

Taste: This has a complexity in flavor from a lot going on, all contributing to a pleasant sourness with lots of additions from dark malt, oak, and what seems like other adjuncts. I get good strong sour notes, which are smooth and round and rich, with nothing biting or sharp. These are complemented by the dark malt adding a mild pleasant dark sugar sweetness. This is sour and earthy. I maybe get some vegetal squash, but there is not a whole lot of pumpkin or spice that is easy to pick out among the bold sour tones in this. Maybe some nutmeg. This does have great wood tones, but nothing peaking my interest by way of a hop profile. This finishes with some of the bold sour tones fading a bit to reveal some earth and bark, which linger in the aftertaste along with some hints of sourness.

Feel: This is medium bodied plus, with moderate carbonation. It has a bite to it, as one might expect from a sour. For a sour, it has a nice roundness, and nothing that makes my lips pucker. The mild sweet dark malt works nicely with the sour tones, as does the mild spice, oak, and earth. So good complexity in feel.

Drinkability: This drinks nicely for a sour. As mentioned, the dark malt really helps along the sour tones and makes the sips a bit rounder. It is certainly a sipper, and something that demands attention. So, for the style, pretty good here.

Overall: I think this is a nice, round, and enjoyably complex offering. It doesn’t showcase much pumpkin. In fact, the more I drink it the harder it is for me to pull out pumpkin. It has a lot of good things going for it. I like how the dark malt and wood work with the sour tones. This makes for a pleasant drinking experience. The earth and bark in the aftertaste invite another sip, which bursts with nice flavor. So all of that is really good. I’d definitely try this one if you are a sour fan and like pumpkin offerings. Even so, again, this doesn’t showcase the pumpkin so well. So not a big winner for me. This is the first year Almanac put this beer out, and it sits alongside another pumpkin barleywine I already reviewed. For my money, I’d go for the barleywine over this. That has much more pumpkin flavor, and has a richness that this doesn’t. It is also the style that I prefer a bit more.

Overall Rating: **3/4

DSC03801About Almanac and their offering: Almanac started in 201o, with an emphasis on Northern California agriculture in their beers. I reviewed their Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine last night, but wrote more about them in my 2013 review of Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine.

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Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine (2014)

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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: ****

photo 4 (1)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.

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Troegs “Master of Pumpkins” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Troegs “Master of Pumpkins” Pumpkin Ale is 7.5% ABV.

I poured some of a 375 ml bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: My pour gave less than a finger of off-white head, which dwindled to leave some mild lacing along the sides of the glass, and nothing else on top. The color is a medium burnt orange amber, with some moderate haziness and definite sediment to it. It looks to have light to moderate carbonation.

Smell: This gives off a lot of spices up front, as well as some Belgian-like yeastiness and earhtiness, as well as some nice strong vegetal pumpkin. As for spice I have a hard time pulling them out, but get something like cinnamon and nutmeg, and ginger too. This has some sweetness, as from Belgian candi sugar and a little light brown sugar. There is also some nice brightness in hops, on the citrisy side. The malt is smooth with some toastiness. Overall a strong aroma, and a great aroma. Really looking forward to tasting it now.

Taste: This has a really nice complexity up front: strong roasty pumpkin with some vegetal tones, complex and strong earthy spicing, Belgian-like and somewhat peppery yeast, as well as some nice citrus from the hops. As for spices, I think I get ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The spice also has something earthy to it, perhaps some clove, though perhaps that is coming from the yeast. I also really enjoy this real sweet malt along with this good toastiness and a little bread. The hops have some good citrus notes. This finishes with some definite candi sweetness, fading into more of the punchy spice, which lingers with some roasted pumpkin and slight sourness in the aftertaste. There is overall a good balance of earth and spices to roasty pumpkin and strong but not over the top sweetness. Very enjoyable.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate carbonation. This has a lot of complexity in feel, strong sugar, strong spice and yeast, as well as some bright hops in the mix. You do get a little bit of an alcohol bite, and the earth and the spices do hang a bit on the palate. Still, I say this does pretty well.

Drinkability: This is a fairly bold offering, not for those looking for the light lager. It drinks at about what I’d expect for a 7.5% beer, maybe with a little more alcohol bite. The strong sugar does detract a bit, as does the aggressive spice and yeast. For the style, which I’m guessing is something like a belgiany farmhouse, it drinks pretty well.

Overall: I like this one. I was surprised by how much spice and earth you get up front. It also has just great complexity, with nice roastiness. I’ve had a few other belgiany pumpkins, and this is my favorite so far. It nicely balances the belgiany farmhouse side with the smooth, homey, roasty pumpkin and pumpkin pie elements that go so well in a pumpkin ale. I wish the alcohol didn’t have that mild bite. And I also think it is a bit on the sweet side, and maybe with a bit too much spice hanging out. Even so, I really like how it all comes together for a very rich and complex offering. This is certainly a good alternative to the typical pumpkin pie offerings you see. It came out a bit later in the season, at least in VA. I wonder why.

Overall Rating: ***1/2

photo 2 (4)About Troegs and their offering: Troegs Brewing was established in 1997, and is located now in Hershey, Pennsylvania. There is a lot to say about them, much more than I have time and space to get to here. Their impressive lineup of beers includes many great ones, especially their “Nugget Nectar” amber ale, “Troegenator” Doppelbock, and their monstrous and much celebrated winter seasonal, “Mad Elf”. I look forward to making it out there soon.

I know this beer was available some last year, but this is the first shot I’ve had at it. Troegs notes that this beer is made from Pennsylvania honey, cane sugar, and roasted Pennsylvania Neck pumpkins, as well as a spice bill of cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg. It is also a nice homage to the great Metallica album, “Master of Puppets”!

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Dogfish Head “Punkin” Pumpkin Ale (2014)

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Dogfish Head “Punkin” Pumpkin Ale is 7% ABV.

I poured all of a 12 oz bottle into a Dogfish Head IPA glass.

Appearance: I poured it pretty easy, giving a quarter inch of bright white and creamy foam. This dwindled a little atop the beer, still covering the surface a few minutes later. This has a bright orange/amber color. It has pretty good clarity, is mostly clear, but has some mild haziness and a bit of sediment floating in it. It appears to have very heavy carbonation.

Smell: To start, I get some vegetal pumpkin with some slight sour notes. There is also a nice spice presence, with some nutmeg, cinnamon, and maybe some ginger. The malt is smooth in this. This also has a sweetness to it like light brown sugar, and a little brightness as from some citrusy hops. Mostly vegetal pumpkin with nicely balanced spices.

Taste: I get some vegetal pumpkin up front, followed by the pleasant spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, and maybe some clove. Not sure I get ginger on the taste. The spices are nicely balanced with the pumpkin, which brings some bright notes into this beer. This is also a bit richer than an otherwise standard 6ish% ABV pumpkin beer, with a little darker malts. This has some sweetness to it, like light caramel and light brown sugar. As for hops, there is some citrusy hops contributing but not taking the spotlight. The finish is on the dry side, and has some of the bright pumpkin flavor leading into an aftertaste with mild fine-bitterness from the spicing. Good flavors, nicely balanced spices. I remember this being sweeter and richer in the past.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate to heavy carbonation. It has some smooth malt for a base layer, and the pumpkin and spices adding some complexity. There is a kind of mild alcohol bite with this towards the end. Otherwise I’d say the feel is fine. The spices are nicely dosed in this, and contribute to a decent feel.

Drinkability: This does pretty well here. The mild alcohol bite, along with the slight sour tones form the pumpkin keep this from going down lile water. But eh smooth malt and nicely balanced spices really help. This doesn’t drag.

Overall: I used to like this a lot more. Not sure if this is best explained by my palate changing, or by the beer. Probably some combination. I remember the malt profile being differt, richer, and more robust. This feels a bit on the thin side. I also don’t really remember a notable alcohol bite. But in any case, this is a decent offering in terms of a good spice presence and some consistent pumpkin. Even so, it is not a standout for me. They have obviously re-branded it, with a new image, which I think is really fun and playful. But  I’d rather drink a few other DFH offerings above this. They are a great brewery.

Overall Rating: **1/2

DSC03797About Dogfish Head and this offering: Dogfish Head is a brewery located in Milton, Delaware. My partner and I head there every year or two to do a tour and see the great facility. It is really a blast, and is fun to see how it grows.

Last year I wrote more about Dogfish Head and their pumpkin offering in my 2013 review of “Punkin”.

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Beach “Jolly Roger” Pumpkin Porter (2014)

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Beach “Jolly Roger” Pumpkin Porter is 6.5% ABV.

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

Appearance: An easy pour from the growler tossed up very little light brown head, which was gone pretty quickly. The color is a dark reddish-brown, with some light coming through it. It looks to have moderate plus carbonation.

Smell: I get strong roast and smoke. This gives off smooth dark malt, and very little by way of hops. I get a little bit of dull spice to it, but nothing that advertises itself so clearly. There is some vegetal pumpkin, though it isn’t so strong. As for sweetness, maybe a touch of molasses. This doesn’t smell all that sweet. Not a whole lot of complexity in the aroma, but a good bit of smoke.

Taste: This has more complexity in flavor than it does in smell. I get roasted and smokey pumpkin, with some vegetal notes. There is also some dark and fairly smooth malt, with good roastiness there too. I’m getting some spice, a little earthy woody spice coming in more towards the end. This does have some restrained molasses sweetness to it. There are noticeable bittering hops, adding good balance. This finishes with the roastiness giving way to some of that spice and some lingering smoke in the aftertaste. Some vegetal tones also linger a bit in the aftertaste. Pretty good flavors, a good bit of smoke, and some present pumpkin.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate to heavy carbonation. The feel has some complexity, with the smooth malt interrupted by the smoke and the roastiness. It is thinner than I was expecting from pouring it, and thinner than I’d expect in a fall porter. The smoke and spicy bitterness does linger a bit. OK feel.

Drinkability: The body is not too heavy, which helps out here. It doesn’t have an alcohol bite. It also doesn’t weigh you down with a lot of sugar, like a lot of other pumpkin porters. The smoke does hang and makes this not drink so smoothly. So this does OK here.

Overall: I like this beer. I like that it is not overly sweet, and that there is good roast and something a bit different than a pumpkin pie style pumpkin porter. I enjoy the hops presence, which I think is just right. I don’t enjoy the (I think) overdone smoke. Perhaps many people will not be bothered by this much smoke. For my tastes, it is more than I’d like. But again, I still enjoy it. This beer isn’t as complex as some other pumpkin porters I’ve had, and is surely not as porter-like in body as some of those others. So I’d think that this is an interesting alternative, but not a destination beer for me. If I were in VA beach looking for a local pumpkin offering that is on the dark side, I’d probably rather go for Back Bay’s “Witch of Pungo”.

Overall Rating: **1/2

photo 3 (2)About Beach Brewing and their offering: Beach Brewing is located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They have been around for a few years, producing some really enjoyable beets. Among my favorites is their “Hoptopus” double IPA, and their “Seadevil” imperial stout.

This beer was picked up in growler form from the brewery. They smoke the pumpkins themselves for this beer, and end up releasing it a bit later than a lot of the “early creep” pumpkin beers that hit market.

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