Monday, October 24, 2011

Pumpkin Beer Throwdown!

It seemed like only yesterday I was mocking the breweries for releasing their Oktoberfest’s in late summer.  Well apparently the joke is on me because now I’m rushing around to get my fall beer tastings posted before fall (or at least October) is over.  Judging by the wonderful weather it seems fall has still not really set in.  It has been somewhat brisk in the morning, but with daily temps in the 80’s it doesn’t seem very fall-esque.  Oh well, the fall beers will not wait for us so let’s jump into a Pumpkin beer throwdown. I grabbed 5 pumpkin beers the other day in a build my own sixer and pitted them against one another in a battle to the death. 

Pumpkin beer is a style that I largely avoided in the past much like Belgians.  I’m not a pumpkin pie fan so the idea of pumpkin in beer was never all that appealing to me.  Last year I picked up a sampler from none other than Sam Adams which had their Harvest Pumpkin Spice in it.  I was mad at first because I was sure pumpkin beer would be horrid and I had to buy it to get the sampler.  Sam Adams delivered and introduced me to another beer style I was not familiar with in pumpkin beers.  The funny thing is I actually liked it.  With the momentum from the Sam Adams Pumpkin Spice I pledged this year I would make an effort to try several pumpkin beers.  I rounded up my cousin Claydizzle and we tasted the 5 brews back to back.  This was not a blind tasting. 

Schlafly Pumpkin Spice

 8% ABV

16  IBU

I’ve heard and read a lot of about this pumpkin brew so I had high expectations.  The nose is bursting with straight-up pumpkin pie.  The brew had a good medium-thick mouthfeel which complimented the sweetness well.  The spices in the brew were completely overwhelming.  The brew starts with some malt sweetness and then your palate is slammed by pumpkin pie spices.  The brew finishes super sweet and the spice lingers all the way to the finish.  This brew is way too sweet.  All of the spice and sweetness really sends this past the point of actually being beer.  Any and all “beer” qualities get completely lost in this brew.  In conclusion, if you want liquid pumpkin pie with whipped cream crammed into a glass bottle then this is your brew.

Lakefront Pumpkin Lager

6% ABV

I’ve never heard of Lakefront Brewery so this choice was a gamble.  Halfway through the tasting I checked the internet to make sure this was a legit brewery and not a big beer puppet brewery.  Turns out Lakefront Brewery is located in Milwaukee, WI and has been brewing for over 24 years.  Ok it’s safe to drink lets try it.  The nose has very good pumpkin notes with some spice playing in the background.  The brew begins with a soft malt character resembling the likes of a pilsner.  A nice pumpkin taste starts showing up in the middle of the palate and persists discreetly into the finish.  The pumpkin pie spice shows up in the latter part of the palate and finishes very cleanly.  The beauty of this brew is how cleanly the big flavors play together.  The beer characteristics are not lost in this recipe with nice maltiness and the pumpkin/spice being used to complement the brew as opposed to overwhelming it.  I really like this brew.

Shipyard Pumpkinhead

5.1% ABV

The nose isn’t very strong w/ spice compared to some of the others.  There is some pumpkin aroma but the nose seems overall kind of flat.  Holy crap it’s super f’n pumpkin.  This brew is very very very pumpkiny.  It starts out ok but then your palate is steam rolled by a wet pumpkin flavor that seems to dry out your mouth.  The finish brings out some good spice character but doesn’t really save your mouth from all that pumpkin. 

O’Fallon Pumpkin Beer

5.6% ABV

11 IBUs

This is another local brew I thought I remembered hearing lots of good things about so hopes were high again.  The nose is nicely balanced with some sweetness and some pleasant spice.  This brew seemed to have a bit thinner mouthfeel than most the others but did lend to better drinkability.  The fist thing that stands out is how very very smooth and balanced this brew is.  This is one of the only brews that actually tastes like a beer as opposed to pumpkin pie disguised as beer.  Malt character is apparent throughout the taste with hints of wheat and nuts.  Several of the other beers are just simply sweet without any particular malt character.  Although minor, you can actually detect hop bitterness in this brew unlike any of the others.  There is pumpkin pie spice showing up in the finish but is very pleasant and balanced.  The pumpkin character is apparent in the middle of the palate but is very delicate.  I really like this brew too.

Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale

 5.7% ABV

14 IBUs

Here is the pumpkin beer that started it all for me in this style.  Could it hold off the O’Fallon and Lakefront offerings?  The nose is predominately a deep spice, cinnamon character.  This brew definitely has a much deeper, heavier taste than the others.  It seems the heaviness comes from the use of a fair amount of cinnamon in the recipe.  The Sam Adams offering was significantly darker in color than the others alluding to the use of darker caramel malts.  This darkness also lends to the heaviness of the taste but does balance the spices very nicely.  This reminded me of something but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  What is it?  Oh yeah, it reminds me of the cinnamon/spiced apples our family eats for Thanksgiving.  Compared to the balance of some of the others this brew is a little too sweet.


Well we started off with pumpkin pie and whipped cream and ended with spiced apples.  All of the brews were actually quite different and each had it’s own attributes.  My preferences gravitated towards the brews with subtlety and balance.  Claydizzle and I both picked the same top 3 and ranked them as follows.

1.  O’Fallon Pumpkin

2.  Lakefront Pumpkin Lager

3.  Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale

The O’Fallon was clearly the winner with its smoothness and balance.  The tastes all blended so nicely and the lightness made it a pleasure to drink.  Lakefront was a close second but didn’t quite have the flavor profile that O’Fallon did.  Sam Adams was less complex in its flavor profile than the other two but did have the unique dark cinnamon taste.  Although the heaviness of the flavor made the Sam Adams unique, it did hurt the sense of drinkability.


No comments:

Post a Comment