Tasting Blind, Great Pumpkin Edition
Seasonal offerings from breweries have reached a fever pitch. It seems you can't experience a solstice, equinox, change in barometric pressure, or Hallmark-sponsored holiday without a slurry of commemorative beers hitting the shelves. But what seasonal beer outsells them all? You'd be out of your gourd if you didn't say pumpkin. In fact, pumpkin beers even garnered their own category for the first time at last month's Great American Beer Festival.
Brian Yaeger Our lineup of pumpkin brews, their identities cleverly hidden.
Alas, none of the GABF pumpkin medalists are distributed locally. For that matter, while some autumnal squash-flavored brews have already sprouted on shelves, the one local specimen that is bottled ― Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale ― could not be procured in time for this tasting.
Other than this blogger, panelists for our October blind-tasting included City Beer Store purveyor and this month's host Craig Wathen, and John Heylin of NorCal Beer Guide, ringleader of the Bay Area Beer Bloggers. The list that follows is every pumpkin ale we could find at this time ― scored on a scale of 1 to 10 based purely hedonistically, with 30 being the highest possible score ― listed in order of overall preference.
(Note: "ABV" indicates alcohol by volume; prices are approximate)
1. Shipyard Smashed Pumpkins (Portland, Maine): 22 points. Both creamy like whipped cream and grainy like graham crackers, the cinnamon, allspice, and cloves (not to mention a pumpkin patch's worth of the sweet squash) compelled Heylin to give high marks for tasting like "pumpkin pie in a bottle." (9 percent ABV, $8)
Brian Yaeger Our pumpkin beer lineup revealed.
2. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Milton, Del.): 19 points. Brewed with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and pumpkins aplenty, Wathen preferred this medium-bodied sample for its "nice spice nose and good balance of flavor." (7 percent ABV, $2)
3. Bruery Autumn Maple (Placentia, Calif.): 17 points. Buoyed by the addition of molasses and maple syrup, this actually features yams instead of pumpkins, resulting in a sweet beer that Heylin dubbed a "Belgian spice explosion" but which this blogger felt lacked that certain Thanksgiving je ne sais quoi. (10 percent ABV, $11)
4. Cape Ann Brewing Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout (Gloucester, Mass.): 16 points. The ringer in our lineup was actually shipped from across the country and aged for a year. We included it to demonstrate that it's time brewers brew outside the box. By building it on a stout base instead of the traditional golden ale, it felt less gimmicky. Shouldn't roasted malts complement roasted pumpkin nicely? (6.75 percent ABV)