Editor’s Note: This column is sponsored by Georgetown Square Wine and Beer (10400 Old Georgetown Road).
Well, it was inevitable…the back-to-school sales are almost over, the pools are closing down and temperatures in the DC area will start dropping. So what does this all mean for the connoisseur of malted beverages?
Pumpkin beer season is among us. It seems every fall the market sees more and more brews infused with the flavors of orange gourds. I genuinely look forward to this time of year. I am a bit of a pumpkin-head — in a soufflé, in a pie, the roasted seeds, as a soup, breads…again in a pie. I can’t get enough.
I realize some see the pumpkin beer trend as just another fad and some breweries treat their beers with about as much respect (throw a couple of rinds in the vat and cash in).
But there are plenty of breweries out there that do give the autumnal brews their due respect, carefully developing the right balance of pumpkin, ginger, cinnamon, and clove to evoke the essence of the season. Given the number of these seasonal brews that are starting to hit the shelves, we thought we’d endeavor in a two-part exploration of what this year’s crop has to offer.
Shipyard PumpkinHead Ale Portland, Maine
Shipyard was the first brew here with sting pumpkin flavor. They really did a great job of balancing the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and ginger without completely overpowering the flavor of the pumpkin itself. There is definitely a sweetness to this entry, but again not overpoweringly so. It’s not cloying, but instead reminded me of a lightly sweetened pumpkin soufflé.
I really quite enjoyed this one and can’t wait to crack open another one soon. With the Shipyard Pumpkin, balance is the name of the game, and they really seemed to nail it on all fronts. Definitely a must grab for any other fellow pumpkin heads out there.
Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale Boston, Massachusetts
Samuel Adams’ foray into the pumpkin beer world is pretty much what one would expect. Sam Adams is not a bad brewery by any means and it does offer some really good and unique beers, but it has a tendency to cater to the lowest common denominator. That seems to be the case with the Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Ice cold out of the bottle, it doesn’t really offer too much.
The flavor of pumpkin, cinnamon, and all spices are definitely muted. You really only pick up on a whisper of the flavor as you exhale. Pour it in a glass or serve only slightly chilled and the flavor notes open up a bit, but still remain mostly in the background. This of course makes it a great pick up for a fancy fall festival where you’ll have a number of varying palettes you’re trying to appease all at once.
Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat St. Louis, Missouri
This was an interesting choice and tastes exactly as it sounds — a wheat beer mixed with pumpkin. As mundane as that might sound, Shock Top manages to pull off something rather unique and pretty delicious.
Again, the pumpkin notes aren’t overpowering but that’s not what I really want out of this hybrid. It’s came a great transition brew — perfect to help ease you into the cooler months. It’s great on a cooler August night or warm September day. The wheat side of the beer brings about that cool crispness that is so refreshing in the heat, but the subtle pumpkin spices bring about warm memories of the first day of school and football season.
Southern Tier Pumking Lakewood, New York
Finally, we have what seems to be the perennial pumpkin champ: Pumking.
If you’ve had a pumpkin-flavored beer, it was probably this one. (I know it was my first). It is often lauded as the best pumpkin-flavored beer out there, but in past years I disagreed. I usually found its use of some of the traditional pumpkin spices particularly heavy-handed. It was also often way too sweet for my tastes, especially for a 22-oz. serving.
But I’m happy to say that I’ll retract most, if not all, of my criticism with this year’s offering. I don’t know if they changed their recipe, but the one I had really was the perfect pumpkin ale. The balance of spices was spot on, the flavor of actual pumpkin shone through and, while still rather sweet, noticeably less so than what I had been used to. If calling yourself the Pumking had seemed like boastful hubris, they certainly earned the right to wear the crown this year.
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