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Heavy Seas “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2014)


Heavy Seas “Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 10% ABV.

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

Appearance: A mostly careful but slightly splashy pour produced a finger or so of frothy off-white head. This slowly reduced to a dollop still atop the beer, along with as a fairly thick ring along the sides of the glass. This also left the beginnings of some lacing. This has a beautiful rich orange color with reddish hues. It is mostly very clear, with a slight haze, and bubbles suggestive of moderate to heavy carbonation.

Smell: Bringing this to my nose gives me great aromas of roasty pumpkin, bourbon, strong round oak, some very mild sourness, subdued hops, and a complex and well-incorporated spicing. The spicing is hard to pin down, but I get something like nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. It has a nice rich malty sweetness with caramel and some brown sugar. I also get some good vanilla in this as well. Great complex, rich, and round aroma. Now I get to taste it.

Taste: The first sip is wonderful, strong, and stays with me for a while. It has great complexity in flavor from the somewhat roasty pumpkin and spices, which are set against a strong and sweet malt backbone and rounded out with bourbon and oak. This is a cold weather sipper for sure. The pumpkin is present, and strong. There is enough by way of hops to add some brightness here and there, and a little floral dimension. The bourbon and oak really add great roundness and warmth to this, and are well-balanced. The bourbon does have a bit of a bite to it. In any case, the sweet but not heavy malt, the brown sugar flavors, and the vanilla bring this all together like a piece of pumpkin pie with some finely aged bourbon, served neat. This finishes dryer than I was expecting, letting the round complex bourbon, vanilla, and oak linger in this fairly prolonged aftertaste. Really successful.

Feel: This is medium bodied plus, with moderate carbonation. It has a very rich and round feel to it. There is great complexity, but the edges of the barrel really come through with vanillin and some softening of the otherwise rich and strong flavors. There is a little alcohol bite, but nothing major. Really great feel.

Drinkability: Given the strength of flavors with this, and the bourbon barrel aging, its not something to chug. But its roundness and balance of sweetness does really help it to drink really well. I would guess something like 10%. Not incredibly drinkable here, but that’s not really to be expected. For all the flavor and complexity,I say this is still really successful here.

Overall: This is a must try. I’ve spoken about its complexity and roundness. There is great bourbon and oak, wonderful balance, and the sweet malt, brown sugar, and vanilla are all equally effective contributions to this rich and warm offering. There is also great pumpkin and well-done and importantly, not overdone spicing. Some might find this boozy, I would guess. I say, if you like bourbon barrel offerings, especially pumpkin ales done in bourbon, you need to try this. For the price, about 8 or 9 bucks, it is a steal.

Overall Rating: ****1/2

DSC03813About Heavy Seas and their offering: Heavy Seas opened in 1994 (under the name, “Clipper City Brewing”), and is located in Baltimore, Maryland. I wrote about them last year in my 2013 review of “Great’er Pumpkin”.

Before this beer is aged in bourbon barrels, the brewers use pumpkin, brown sugar, and some spicing of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and clove to make this beer. More info can be found in last year’s review of this beer. This year is, I think, my favorite year having this beer.

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Heavy Seas “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2013)


Heavy Seas “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 10% ABV.

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

Appearance: This got a steady pour, and tossed up a half finger of light tan foam. This was gone in a minute or so, and left minimal lacing. The color on this is a very clear and bright orange/amber. Beautiful color. This looks like it has moderate carbonation.

Smell: Starting out I get a slight acidic or cidery quality along with some warm and inviting bourbon. This has some spicing which seem to consist of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. This also has some great round vanilla and oak, lending more complexity to the aroma. The more I smell this, the more the aroma builds for me. Some brown sugar and smooth lightly toasted malt round out a great aroma.

TasteI get very powerful flavors up front. This has some roasted pumpkin, strong but not harsh bourbon, vanilla, oak, and some enjoyable spicing. Like the aroma, there is a faint cidery quality to it, though it is less pronounced than the aroma led me to think it would be. The beer is quite bold. The bourbon, strong vanilla, and oak are all round and wonderfully complementary. As for spicing, I get some warmth from the spicing and maybe some cinnamon and allspice, though nothing so clear. The flavors really marry together in this beer. The sweetness in this is well-balanced with the other flavors. It seems to consist in some brown sugar and some almost rum-like qualities. Though the sweetness is strong, it doesn’t get syrupy. This has great sort of rugged flavors that are rounded on the corners. It has great complexity and depth, without totally overwhelming the palate. Delicious.

Feel: This is medium bodied plus some, and has moderate carbonation. A great warmth exudes from this beer, as does some nice woody oak and a strong vanilla and brown sugar sweetness. This is certainly a strong beer, and it is clear it is an imperial. Although, the 10% doesn’t come through so clearly to me. Great warm feel with some texture.

Drinkability: This is a bold and textured imperial ale aged in bourbon barrels. So it is not really made for drinkability. Even so, there is some definite roundness from the vanilla and the oak. The sweetness also helps to keep the 10% from coming through and burning. Not something you’d want to chug, though not something you’ll have to choke down either.

Overall: I’m quite happy with this beer. It has good roasty pumpkin flavor and a barrage of other flavors that work off each other. It has bourbon, persistent vanilla, oak, some clear cinnamon and allspice, brown sugar, a cidery quality adding a bit of acidity, and some other sugar reminiscent of rum. It is also warm. Though it is a little aggressive in places, it has some roundness. I think this is a very successful full-flavored pumpkin ale, with well-incorporated bourbon that doesn’t take over. I like this even more than I did last year. So I’m glad I decided to pick up a bottle this year. This is a must try.

Overall Rating: ****1/4

DSC03683About Heavy Seas and “The Great’er Pumpkin”: Hugh Sisson founded Clipper City Brewing in 1994 in Baltimore, Maryland. Hugh had previously worked as lead brewer for Maryland’s first brewpub, “Sissons”, which was only allowed to make the jump from tavern restaurant to brewpub by Maryland law in 1988. This was due in part to lobbying Hugh participated in. Clipper City ended up having a few different brands they brought out over the years. Heavy Seas, which came to the scene in 2003, became their most popular. Heavy Seas is now the only brand by Clipper City, and working hard to keep up with demand is what they do.

I had the privilege of touring Heavy Seas a year or two ago, which was a lot of fun. The brewery operation is fairly small and not glamorous. It is rugged, like a lot of the flavors in Heavy Seas’ beers. Like many brewers, the brewers at Heavy Seas started with home-brewing, and found their way into a pretty big business, which can involve a lot of change. Recently a number of the Heavy Seas beers have been renamed and re-branded under their now familiar pirate theme. I’ve heard that the aim was to bring the beers into a more cohesive set. I like some of the new art, though this overhaul in branding and names has caused some confusion.

“The Great’er Pumpkin” is part of the “Uncharted Waters” series, comprising Heavy Seas’ barrel-aged beers. They use pumpkin, brown sugar, and spicing of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and clove. Their main malt is a British crystal malt. After fermentation, the beer is aged in bourbon barrels, which impart some oak, vanilla, and bourbon. I don’t know what barrels are used. They are great, whatever they are. In years past, Heavy Seas made “The Great Pumpkin”, which was a non-barrel aged imperial pumpkin ale. I haven’t seen that at all this year, and have good reason to believe they have retired it. In any case, I’m glad “The Great’er Pumpkin” is still around, and hasn’t been marooned.

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Full Tilt “Patterson Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2013)


Full Tilt “Patterson Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 9.0% ABV.

I poured all of a 12 oz  bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: A careful pour produced some off-white bubbles, but nothing much by way of head. This has a very hazy deep reddish orange color. There is also some definite sediment to this beer. It looks to have moderate carbonation.

Smell: From the moment of pouring I get a strong aroma of spicy and mostly vegetal pumpkin, which brings with it some pleasant sour notes. This is joined by intense spicing and brown sugar. For spicing I am getting some warm and aggressive cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice (I think). This also has some nice vanilla to the aroma. Some strong citrusy and piny hops rounds out a great aroma.

Taste: The first sip is just absolutely full of flavor. Strong spice, vegetal pumpkin, brown sugar, vanilla, and  hops. This has a very strong hops presence, especially given most all of the others in the pumpkin ale style. There is a lot of flavor with this beer. It demands attention. The spicing is strong, with a little bit of bite to it. I get strong cinnamon, as well as some ginger, and nutmeg. The cinnamon really comes on strong. The sweetness is forthright with brown sugar and something like vanilla going on with it. As for the hops, there is some citrus and some pine. This finishes with the strong spice and the hops taking over more, leaving some hoppy bitterness and some spice in the long aftertaste. Overall, good and strong flavors.

Feel: This ale is medium to full bodied, with moderate carbonation. It is full-flavored, and has a warmth and a richness to it. The strong spicing does give some texture to the feel, and hangs on in the aftertaste. The spicing is a bit more coarse than I typically want, but adds some character. There is an alcohol bite to this, but is nothing major given how the strong sweetness and the other strong flavors come to demand attention.

Drinkability: This is a bold, full-flavored beer. It has an aggressive spice presence, strong hops, and some noticeable alcohol. So it is not a paradigm drinkable pumpkin ale. Even so, especially given how strong this is for flavor and ABV, it drinks pretty decently.

Overall: This is a serious pumpkin offering from Full Tilt. There is strong pumpkin flavor and strong spice, especially with the cinnamon. Really all the flavors in it are sort of bold and unforgiving. As noted, it has a notable hops presence, which balances pretty well with the other flavors. This is nice and fairly unique in this style. As for criticism, I wish there was a little less of an alcohol bite, and that the spicing wasn’t as intense. Even so, one can easily see why they picked ‘Full Tilt’. Strong and serious unrelenting flavor out of Baltimore, Maryland!

Overall Rating: ***

DSC03671About Full Tilt and their “Patterson Pumpkin”: Full Tilt opened around early 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland. Co-owners Nick Fertig, and Dan Baumiller, who are also cousins, began thinking about this venture in 2008. They talk about their brewery as “grassroots”, and from what I can tell, their brewery is a great example of the phrase. Both Nick and Dan still have other jobs, and also work full-time on the managing of Full Tilt beer. Currently their beer is contract brewed local in Baltimore, enabling them some freedom to get their own set-up going on their own clock. I had a great conversation with Nick, who explained that before the brewery started, him and Dan were constantly having parties to share their beer with friends. These events quickly gained a big following, as Nick and Dan furiously experimented and brought new and often full-flavored beer to these events. Nick said that the name Full Tilt came as an explanation for how they made and shared their beer. Interestingly, some of Full Tilt’s grassroots growing from home-brewing, as well as their pursuing strong and serious flavor, reminds me of their neighbor, Heavy Seas. I look forward to trying more of Full Tilt’s beers.

Full Tilt makes their tasty “Patterson Pumpkin” with 2-Row Pale, Carapils, Dark Munich, and Red Wheat malts. They add pumpkin right into the mash, something that takes some patience as pumpkin can clog things up. Also added is some brown sugar, and some spicing of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. Crystal, Sterling, and Willamette hops take this bold beer to 48 IBU’s. Enough of that beer that is “reminiscent” of pumpkin or pumpkin spice. This offering from Full Tilt makes sure you can’t miss it.

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Heavy Seas “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2012)

Heavy Seas “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 9.0% ABV.

I poured some of this 22 oz bottle into a Heavy Seas pint glass.

Appearance: A steady pour gave basically no head, but a thin and incomplete off-white and fizzy ring around the sides of the glass. The color is a fairly clear but just slightly hazy reddish orange. Some small sediment can be seen floating in the beer. This also appears to have heavy carbonation.

Smell: To start I get strong bourbon, oakiness, and vanilla. These give the beer a warm aroma. This smells just great. I am getting some slight pumpkin, but it definitely isn’t the strongest smell because of the strong bourbon, oakiness, and vanilla. There is also some spiciness in the smell that is hard to pull apart from the bolder flavors up front. I think I am getting cinnamon and something peppery. Again, this smells wonderful.

Taste: I get the bourbon strong and bold upfront, along with the vanilla and oak from the barrels. This is quite nice. The pumpkin also comes in strong, roasty, and somewhat sweet. Along with all of the really strong flavors in this, there is a surprisingly smooth dark caramelized sugar sweetness. The bourbon isn’t overpowering, like I was expecting. It is strong, don’t get me wrong. But it complements. The intense oak and vanilla and pumpkin make for a really bold flavor profile. The finish on this gives way to a little more of the spices, which add some character but don’t poke through the other really intense flavors. My guess is that the spices consist of cinnamon, nutmeg, and maybe clove. The aftertaste lets the bourbon hang for a good bit with some of the intense dark sweetness. You won’t go to sleep drinking this (unless you drink too much and the 9 percent goes to work on you). All of these flavors are decently well-balanced and work really well together.

Feel: This is on the heavy side of medium-bodied, with fairly heavy carbonation. This beer is warm, and has a surprisingly smooth feel for the strong bourbon and other notes. It does have some notable booziness. Even so, this is not a great detractor, I think in part because one expects and wants some bourbon flavor in a bourbon barrel-aged beer. In addition, the feel is also somewhat dynamic. You get strong bourbon up front, which settles into a smoother sweetness that lets the spice gain a (fatefully limited) presence. I think, despite the booziness, the feel on this is nice.

Drinkability: Drinkability is not an aim for a beer like this. That is, for an intense, bold, and higher ABV beer that is supposed to impart some bourbon flavor, this beer is not too much or overwhelming. Even so, this isn’t one you want to go through a couple of while you watch the game. Although, perhaps that might make “the game”- whatever that happens to be- more interesting.

Overall: I am surprised by how much I like this one this year. I don’t remember liking this anywhere near as much last year. I actually wonder whether the bottle I got last year was somehow off. It was no where near as well-balanced, pleasant, or warm. I guess it is also possible that bourbon barrel-aged beers are more palatable for me now. Anyway, what a beer! This is wonderfully complex, but still keeps its strong pumpkin flavor. The vanilla is quite nice, and the spicing adds some depth of flavor, though doesn’t (and really, couldn’t) overwhelm. I could see how some would be turned away by the strong and intense bourbon (and other) flavors. I, however, am not. I think this is great, and up there for pumpkin beers. It isn’t as smooth (in great part because of its somewhat unpleasant booziness) or subtle as some other pumpkin ales. It is less smooth and subtle than Schlafly. It is also less well-balanced than Williamsburg Alewerks and Southern Tier’s “Pumking”. Even so, the bold and intense flavors give this a leg up on other similarly heavy-bodied beers like Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin and Long Trail’s Imperial Pumpkin. I sort of regret not asking my lovely girlfriend to grab more of this when she was in Chesapeake. Last night I tried “The Great Pumpkin” by Heavy Seas. That was nice. But oh! This is… greater?! Definitely try this one if you get the chance. Seriously good beer.

Overall Rating: ****

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Heavy Seas “The Great Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2012)

Heavy Seas “The Great Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.0% ABV.

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

Appearance: A steady and hearty-at-the-end pour gave about a finger of thin off-white head. This lasted about a minute to leave a small thin foam ring around the sides of the glass. The color of this is a bright and clear orange/light amber. This appears to have light to medium carbonation.

Smell: Up front I get strong roasty pumpkin, strong spices, and a bit of booziness. The strong spices seem to be cinnamon, maybe some nutmeg, and something punchy like ginger. There may be other spices too, but I’m not getting much else by way of distinct spices in the smell. This smells warm, strong and bold, and gives off a caramel-like sweetness.

Taste: I get sweet malt, roasty pumpkin, and punchy spices up front. This is very flavorful, and full of pumpkin. The roasty pumpkin and caramel/light brown sugar sweetness are stronger up front, and then give way to more of the earthy and slightly bitter spices. These spices are not too strong, and seem to consist in cinnamon, a little nutmeg, and some something slightly peppery. The malt in this is strong, and adds a nice body to the beer. There is some slight booziness that comes out more towards the end. This finish is also a bit more bitter with some slight peppery notes. This leaves an aftertaste of gentle bitterness and subdued malt.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with light carbonation. It is on the sweet side, but not syrupy. For its ABV, the feel is not too heavy. It is warm, has a nice spice character to it (without overloading the palate), and is decently smooth (especially for something this flavorful and heavy). The slight booziness is a bit of a detractor, but isn’t a major problem.

Drinkability: This does decently for drinkability. It is certainly not the most drinkable, but that is hard to do with something this bold and flavorful. Its flavor and warmth help the drinking, though the slight booziness does detract just a little bit.

Overall: I had this beer tonight with my good friend, Nick. It was a great experience, and I am definitely a fan of this beer. I like how strong and proud the pumpkin is, and how the spices kick in and add some complexity but don’t overwhelm. I also really enjoy the warmth in this. These are all great qualities for a really successful pumpkin beer, in my opinion. Tomorrow I will be trying the bourbon barrel-aged version of this, which I am particularly jazzed about. Anyway, for this one, the alcohol does poke through and detract a bit. It has warmth, strong pumpkin, pretty good spicing, but lacks the smoothness that would put it in the top tier of pumpkin ales for me. Even so, it is quite a good beer, and something I recommend trying. The flavors are good and forthright, even if they aren’t so novel. I really enjoyed doing a tour of Heavy Seas about a year ago, and always look forward to trying their pumpkin (and other) offerings each year. They talk about bold and intense flavors, and craft a nice narrative about how their hearts are in home brewing. I guess this forms a big part of the story there. This comes through in their beers, I think. With this particular pumpkin ale, you do get the strong and intense flavors. Check them out if you are in the Baltimore area.

Overall Rating: ***1/2

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Heavy Seas “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2011)

Heavy Seas’ “The Great’er Pumpkin” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale comes in at 9.0% ABV.

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

Appearance: A hearty pour left a finger of off-white thin head that pretty quickly dissolved into a very thin ring with no noticeable lacing. The color is a very bright orange/copper that is mostly transparent. There is some very thin haziness noticeable with moderate carbonation bubbles.

Smell: This smells strongly of bourbon right off the bat. I get some clear and bold malt, some oak, and vanilla. There is also strong spicing. There is noticeable cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. There is also something smelling bit peppery, perhaps ginger.

Taste: The flavor is moderately malty, with some oak and vanilla thrown in. The pumpkin flavor is clearly there, though takes a bit of a backseat to the strong spicing and the bourbon flavor. The flavors in this are really bold and interesting, though it tastes a bit boozy. The finish has some bitter spice with oaky bourbon. The aftertaste has some coarse bitter spicing.

Feel: This beer is medium bodied, with light to medium carbonation. The feel of it is somewhat warm, in part because of the bourbon. Though this isn’t perfectly smooth since the alcohol comes through a bit (though one might expect this at 9 percent alcohol).

Drinkability: This beer is higher in ABV, and has some punchy spicing and strong bourbon notes. So I don’t think of it as an easy drinking beer. It is fairly smooth with the oak and vanilla, but isn’t something I would want more than a pint or so of.

Overall: I like how bold the flavors in this beer are. I also like the oak, vanilla, and bourbon. Even so the bourbon is a bit strong. That and the heavy spices distract one from the pumpkin flavor, which gets sort of lost. The alcohol is also a bit punchy. This makes this an interesting pumpkin ale, though not a favorite. The $7.99 per 22 that this goes for makes this a not too terribly great option, especially given other similarly priced  (or cheaper) beers around that are smoother.

Overall Rating: **1/4

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Heavy Seas “The Great Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2011)


Heavy Seas “The Great Pumpkin” Imperial Pumpkin Ale sits at 8.0% ABV.

I poured some of a 22 oz bottle into a tulip glass.

Appearance: A liberal pour gave between 2 and 3 fingers of light tan foamy head that dissipated over the course of about 5 minutes. This left pretty thick lacing that clung to the glass during the retreat, and about a dollop of foam at the end. The color on this is a bright burnt orange. This was cloudy, and seemd to have moderate carbonation.

Smell: I noticed a lot of spice up front, with some caramel-like malt and strong yeasty notes. The spices noticeable are cinnamon, nutmeg, and a lot of clove. There is decent pumpkin smell there, though it takes a backseat to the spices. This also had some very clear booziness.

Taste: This is very bready up front, also having lots of malt and spices. The pumpkin comes through pretty well, and isn’t as overwhelmed by spice as the nose might suggest. The spicing has some peppery notes to it, perhaps some ginger thrown in. This also has some caramel sweetness, which does a decent job at combating the booziness. Even so, there is some booziness on the taste. The finish is sweet and malty, which leaves a spicy aftertaste that is more punchy and coarse. This is a strongly flavored pumpkin ale with relatively overt alcohol.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with medium carbonation. This has some nice warmth to it. The overall feel is candy-like, like sucking on a malty jolly rancher.

Drinkability: This has 8.0% ABV, and comes across as boozy. So I don’t think it gets great marks for drinkability. The strong flavors make it enjoyable to drink. Even so, this is more sluggish for drinkability than many others.

Overall: I like this beer. It is a flavorful pumpkin ale. For the heavy hitters (that is, beers with high flavor and ABV), I think it is a bit low on the totem pole. It isn’t as smooth as say, Dofish Head’s “Punkin” or Hoppin Frog’s “Frog’s Hollow”. Nor is the flavor profile all that unique. Even so, this is nice and warm. It is good, despite it’s booziness.

Overall Rating: ***

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