"Let the Pompion be beaten in a Trough and pressed as Apples" - An anonymous recipe for pumpkin ale appeared in the papers of the American Philosophical Society in February, 1771¹Pumpkin Ale is a much maligned form of beer, but I doubt that any Belgian would deny it beerhood. My wife and I love pumpkin ales. When walking the beer section of Whole Foods we often buy them whenever we see them and our excuse is always, "this is the only time of the year that we can get them." Of course, this period of time is always 3 months long, but we ignore that. This year we decided to conduct a blind taste test of the pumpkin ales available in our area. We tasted 6 beers with my wife pouring them for me and then later I poured them for her. We had Southampton Pumpkin Ale out of Southampton New York, Saranac Pumpkin Ale out of Utica New York, Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale out of Mooresville, NC, Dogfish Head Punkin Ale out of Milton DE, Post Road Pumpkin Ale from Brooklyn Brewery, and Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale from Easton, PA.
The Southampton Pumpkin Ale poured a light copper. The aroma was all of spices, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon but with little to no malt or pumpkin aroma to back it up. The taste was very similar with the cinnamon coming across a bit like bubblegum. I was wishing for a stronger malt flavor, possibly a caramelly background with a touch more body, but still it is a good beer for the style.
The Saranac offering faired even worse. It poured a deep copper, but with little to no spice aroma and no pumpkin. Just a touch of malt was present in the aroma. The slight spices that come across in the taste once again struck me as bubblegummy. There is an odd sort of sweet taste in it that I can't place. Overall this beer is lacking in any sort of defining character, perhaps it was ill treated.
The Cottonwood Pumpkin Spiced Ale is gold to copper with a nice balance of spice and caramel and Munich malt in the aroma with a discernible hint of squash-like pumpkin. The primary spices are nutmeg and cinnamon. The flavor follows the aroma with a nice melding of spice, malt, and a hint of pumpkin. This beer is so well balanced and so drinkable I wanted to have another.
The Dogfish Head Punk’n Ale takes the style in a new direction with a hint of alcohol in the nose coupled with sweet caramel and spice. The taste follows the lead of the nose with noticeable alcohol warming, but the cinnamon is too heavy overwhelming the little malt that comes through. There’s no hint of pumpkin in this brew, nor does there claim to be.
The Post Road Pumpkin Ale from Brooklyn Brewery is surprisingly hoppy for this style. It’s a nice lite coppery orangish, but the first scent to hit the nose is American hops. These fade away to a nice mixture of hops and spices where it becomes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The taste is also hoppy with a lite spice flavor and a grainy malt background. It is a nice crisp beer. As a beer this is one of the better beers of the bunch but its hoppiness distracts from the pumpkin ale concept.
Finally the Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin. This beer is very orange with a ton of allspice in the nose, and an orangy sweet smell. The allspice and the cinnamon in the flavor are overwhelming with the cinnamon coming across as bubblegumlike. There may be a dash of pumpkin flavor mixed in with the alcohol warming that this beer. Overall it came across a bit too astringent for my tastes.
So in the end, the Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale was by far the favorite of everyone who participated in the blind tasting - however it is the most local beer and could have benefited by the brevity of its travels. By the end of this tasting there was a lot of unfinished pumpkin ale and the spices just sat in my mouth really filling me with no desire to finish it all. Pumpkin ale seems like a good choice beer for a fall meal, or a starter beer, but it certainly isn’t a session beer.
¹...err...according to the internets.