It’s that time of year again – colorful leaves falling off the trees, a crisp chill in the air, and light jackets removed from their closet summer homes. All of this is happening elsewhere, of course. Here in Southern California, it’s still ninety degrees out with a relentless sun that just won’t simmer down like it usually does in October. But that doesn’t keep beer lovers here out of our yearly October traditions – drinking pumpkin ale brews! To celebrate, there will be three rounds of head-to-head competitions between east coast and west coast pumpkin ales made by some of the finest craft breweries in the business. A point is given to the beer that is both delicious and tastes like pumpkin, while half points are distributed to beers that don’t quite meet the pumpkin-tasting requirement. Zero points are given to beers that are duds and don’t taste like pumpkins. Let’s begin!
The east coast is up first, with industry giants Dogfish Head and their “Punkin Ale.” For as magnificent Dogfish Head is at making amazing IPA’s, their pumpkin ale leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, you’d be hard pressed to find even a trace of pumpkin in this beer, as it is bland, boring, and containing no standout flavors whatsoever. The label makes you think you’re in for a good Halloween time – a demented-looking demon bear is biting into a large pumpkin, spilling pumpkin guts everywhere. Unfortunately, that’s about as creative as this beer gets, as the taste doesn’t hold up to the promises of its nose – cinnamon, nutmeg and flour hit your nostrils before a disappointing brew follows. And with nary a pumpkin taste to be found, the east coast kicks off to an awfully poor start, indeed. Zero points.
Miles and miles better is Shipyard Brewing Co.’s “Smashed Pumpkin,” which also has traces of cinnamon and brown sugar on the nose, but unlike Dogfish Head’s dud of a brew, this ale is practically overflowing with pumpkin sensations. The front is very sweet and sugary, but the finish is an avalanche of pumpkin, making you feel like you’re eating a pumpkin pie in liquid form! Full point! The east coast is redeemed by Shipyard’s delicious concoction, but will it be enough to compete against its west coast counterparts? Let’s see…
First up is San Francisco’s Almanac Beer Co. and their “Heirloom Pumpkin” ale, which is a part of their seasonal “Farm to Barrel” line. Right off the bat, the west coast has a leg up on the competition, as this beer tastes like a spiked apple cider, as if a gang of teenagers poured some booze into the cider bowl at the local faire. Tangy apples hit at the front, leading to a smooth cider finish. But with a 12% ABV, it is a dangerous ale, as it tastes so light and smooth that it’d be easy to get too carried away drinking it. The only strike going this beer is the very minuscule trace of pumpkin in it. Drinkers are probably going to want to taste more of the famous squash plant it advertises. Half point.
Finally, we have the undisputed winner of the group, Anderson Valley’s “Pinchy Jeek Barl,” a bourbon barrel pumpkin ale. Silly name notwithstanding, this beer will win you over by its sheer abundance of flavors. Turkey with gravy, butternut squash, marshmallow and beef jerky are just some of the items you will taste with each sip, as well as… pumpkin! Hooray! But before you sip, this dark black brew (was a Guinness accidentally poured?!) hits you with the scent of liquorice, butter and pie cooling in the window. This is truly an entire Thanksgiving feast for your mouth, and is a beer that fellow beer nerds simply must go out of their way to track down. Perfect not only for Halloween, but into the month of November, as well. Full point!
So, at the end of round one, the west coast has won by the score of 1.5-1. The east coast has some catching up to do after that dud of a beer by Dogfish Head, so stay tuned for round two later this month!
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
You can find much, much better pumpkin ale’s on the market than the one offered by Dogfish Head. Especially if you want a pumpkin ale that actually tastes like pumpkin.
Anderson Valley’s Pinchy Jeek Barl
Less a pumpkin pie and more an entire Thanksgiving meal, this beer has a little bit of everything, and that’s a good thing! You must make it your mission to track down which local stores in your area are selling this gem!
Almanac’s Heirloom Pumpkin
A delightful brew, but lacking in sufficient pumpkin flavoring. It does have plenty of apple and is definitely worth a tasting after an afternoon of apple picking.
Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin
Tastes like you’re eating a pumpkin pie! Perfect! If you paired this beer with actual pumpkin pie, you might die of pumpkin overload! (There are worse ways to go.)