As my initial post on the Fermented Adventures site, I thought I’d taste a few of the pumpkin selections that are out this season. I honestly can’t remember there being so many pumpkin flavored beers in the past, but maybe it’s that old case of never noticing until you really go to look for it.
A brief introduction: I’m a writer living in the New York City area; Hoboken, New Jersey, specifically (and that’s the reason that I didn’t get this posted before Halloween as I’d hoped, we in Hoboken have had a hell of a few weeks thanks to hurricane Sandy). I started drinking beer in my early twenties, when, as a young lad in the United States Navy, I realized that a Budweiser was a heck of a lot cheaper than a Rum and Coke, and I could therefore get drunker faster and cheaper on inexpensive beer. Needless to say, those days did NOT start my appreciation of good beer.
My current fascination with beer started several years back. My wife and I love northern California wine country, and with several trips out there tasting great wines, and at the same time having developed a taste for good tequila, I began to think that perhaps beers had progressed as well. I started paying more attention in bars around the city. Most places you can get Sam Adams, Duvel, Smithwicks, Guiness, etc., which are all fine, but I dug a bit further, and with help from others, including Raj of this website, I found places that cater to really good beers: Dogfish Head, German lagers in bottles so old they’re covered in dust, and craft brews imported from all over, including the same wine country in Northern California that produces the wine I love. I’ve built of a nice little collection of beer in the past year — and drank a good chunk of it in the dark here over the past two weeks — and I have to say that beer has come a long way from Coors and Bud and Miller. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
I bought four different types, invited over my friends, and they and my wife gave them a whirl. Our likes and dislikes were universal, the notes on the flavors and scents are mostly mine.
Roy Pitz. Icabod’s Midnight Ride. Belgian style ale. 6.5%
Roy Pitz is the best brewery you’ve never heard of. I wouldn’t know about them if I wasn’t a Civil War nut that regularly makes trips to Gettysburg. Located 30 minutes west of Gettysburg, in Chambersburg, this place has only been around a few years and is doing amazing stuff.
Icabod’s is light in color and palate, slight pumpkin spice and hints of candy and actual pumpkin, very light sweetness on the finish. No bitterness at all. As the employees at Roy Pitz say, theirs are all “Beers first” and any flavors are subtle and mere enhancements to their beers, not the main focus. Love this beer.
Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale. 5.7%
This one is strong on the pumpkin, both in taste and on the nose. The beer itself is dark and just a little smoky, which is nice, but it’s overpowered by the “canned pumpking pie mix” taste that overpowers all else. Bitter on finish. I think that if this was the only thing out there, then I’d be easier on my judgement of this particular brew — I do find their October Fest and other styles agreeable — but I’m just not a fan of this one.
Dogfish Head, Punkin’ Ale. 7%
Dogfish is my favorite “hey, I can usually get that and not have to drive four hours to do it” brewery. I generally like everything they produce, and the Punkin Ale is no exception. Golden caramel color. Taste of light pumpkin, candy, nutmeg and cinnamon; especially cinnamon on the nose. Slightly bitter on hops, but in a good way, mellowed by the overall flavor of caramel, but it isn’t sweet at all. The alcohol is apparent in the taste of this one. Overall a really nice brew.
River Horse Hipp-O-Lantern Pumpkin Ale, 8.1%
Dark and somewhat cloudy, pumpkin and molasses on nose, along with slight chocolate. The taste is heavier than the others in this list, the thickness of the molasses comes through, with chocolate and cinnamon holding their own with the pumpkin. Light on alcohol taste. Very nice.
Of the four above, the Roy Pitz is easily my favorite. Roy Pitz just does phenomenal beers (if you can ever get their Ludwig’s Revenge or Watermelon beer, DO IT!), and this one is no exception. Since most people can’t get their product, unfortunately, I’ll give the “you should go and buy this” nod to the River Horse. It’s very close to the Dogfish Head in flavor and drinkability, but the slightly cloudy look and lower alcohol on the taste (even though it has higher alcohol content), gave it just a bit of an edge over the Dogfish. The Sam Adams just isn’t my thing, and it comes in last. The pumpkin is too forced, overpowering, and just didn’t fit with the beer.
An honorable mention not on this list goes to Weyerbacker’s pumpkin offering. It’s unique, sweet, strong on pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and just tastes like a slice of pumpkin pie. I don’t think I could drink a whole six pack of it due to the sweetness, but it’s great to have one for dessert after dinner.