By Joe Carrel, Buffalo Exchange Tempe
Think of the last thing you ate or drank. Now try to describe how it tasted. For many of us this is tricky business. Putting words to senses is not something we’re accustomed to, and if pushed for an answer we’ll generally say something, well, pretty general. We simply don’t have the vocabulary for it.
So, in an attempt to branch out a wee bit, I’ve chosen a subject to focus my senses on—namely, beer. Pumpkin beer to be seasonally specific. So read on as I gamely attempt to convert tastes into words, like a kid awkwardly stomping around in his dad’s shoes. But with beer.
To stave off complete embarrassment, I’ll refrain from wielding terms that are outside my comfort zone (like “bouquet”, “undertones,” and “mouthfeel”) and keep it brief—say, ten words or less. I tracked down three pumpkin ciders and 17 pumpkin beers, so let’s go from lightest to darkest and see if any of ‘em are worth a try.
Wild Cider (Firestone, CO) – Hard Pumpkin: Decent taste, but heavy spice does not a pumpkin make. C+
Ace Ciders (Sebastopol, CA) – Ace Hard Pumpkin Cider: Cinnamon and allspice successfully nudge this into sweet pumpkin territory. B
Woodchuck Cidery (Middlebury, VT) – Private Reserve Pumpkin Hard Cider: Candied apple anyone? Sweet, but with almost no pumpkin flavor. C-
Shipyard Brewery (Portland, ME) – Pumpkinhead Ale: Shipyard’s normally good, but this is a flavorless mess. D-
Dogfish Head Brewery (Milton, DE) – Punkin Ale: Not particularly pumpkin-y, but an enjoyable hops/spice balance. B+
Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI) – Pumpkin Lager: Subpar finish, but just enough spice in this refreshing lager. B
Shock Top Brewing (St. Louis, MO) – Pumpkin Wheat: Not offensively bad or noticeably good, it’s simply… there. C-
New Belgium Brewing (Ft Collins, CO) – Pumpkick: Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cranberry (!) combine for a true pumpkin taste. A
Blue Moon Brewing (Golden, CO) – Harvest Pumpkin Ale: Wheat flavor mutes the spice, and not to great effect. C
Uinta Brewing (Salt Lake City, UT) – Punk’n (Harvest Pumpkin Ale): Too subtle with the pumpkin and sweetness to truly enjoy. C
Mudshark Beer (Lake Havasu City, AZ) – Peaceful Pumpkin Ale: The generously-spiced (standards + coriander), dessert-like taste almost comes together. Almost. B-
Wasatch Brewery (Park City, UT) – Pumpkin Ale: A clove-heavy spice confection without much else going on. C+
Southampton Publick House (Southampton, NY) – Southampton Pumpkin Ale: Stronger smell than taste, relying more on vanilla than spice. B-
Buffalo Bill’s Brewery (Hayward, CA) – Pumpkin Ale: Spice-led fare that’s easy-drinking but ultimately forgettable. C
Boston Beer Co (Boston, MA) – Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale: The malt and spice blend fails to satisfy. C-
Magic Hat Brewing (South Burlington, VT) – Wilhelm Scream Pumpkin Ale: Nutmeg dominates this thin offering – nothing to text home about. C+
Tommyknocker Brewery (Idaho Springs, CO) – Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale: Truly pumpkin? No, but a tasty, molasses-charged brown ale? Yes. A
Anderson Valley Brewing (Boonville, CA) – Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale: Slightly bitter, but bold spicing and heavy malt combine nicely. A-
Red Hook Brewery (Woodinville, WA) – Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter: Subtle maple syrup gives it a rich, sweet, taste. A-
Alaskan Brewing (Juneau, AK) – Alaskan Pumpkin Porter: More smoky/sweet than pumpkin-y, but the taste is there. B
AND THE WINNER IS: While Anderson Valley’s Fall Hornin’ was pleasingly spicy and Tommyknocker’s Small Patch was sweetly flavorful, The Great Pumpkin award goes to the closest thing to pumpkin pie I tasted, the spicy and sweet New Belgium Pumpkick.
Amongst the slew of brews I wasn’t able to get my paws on (but would really like to) are Southern Tier Brewing’s Pumking, Cigar City Brewing’s Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale, and Almanac Beer’s Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine. If you’d like to dive deeper into the frothy waters of pumpkin beer, check out the folks who actually have the vocabulary for it at The Great Pumpkin Beer Review.
So whether you pick your pumpkin from a pumpkin patch or simply uncap it from the fridge, here’s wishing you a well-spiced fall season.
An appreciator of good beer and bad cinema, Joe is the Internal Marketing Coordinator for Buffalo Exchange. An artist and children’s author, he can often be found perusing Phoenix thrift stores for obscure trophies and cheesy album covers.