It’s the Great (and not so great) Pumpkin Beers, Charlie Brown!

My pumpking beer round up. Except for ST's PumKing. I don't know what happened to that bottle.

A short time ago one of the people I follow on Twitter challenged us to admit a beer confession.  You know, that deep dark secret about beer you don’t want your other beer geek friends to know about.  Something along the lines of “I think all Victory beers taste bad”.  I thought for a minute and I tweeted back, “I don’t get all this revelry about pumpkin beers.  I’m sorry, I just don’t.”

And I don’t.  My Twitter and Untappd feeds have been swamped with people drinking and espousing upon the greatness of this yearly seasonal beer style. Coming from Delaware, to me, pumpkins only have three uses: Jack O’Lanterns, pumpkin pie, and being shot from an air cannon (yes, Delaware gave you Pumpkin Chunkin but we also gave you Valerie Bertinelli, George Thorogood, VP Joe Biden and nylon –  so I’m willing to call it even if you are).  But pumpkin beer?

This black hole in my beer world probably stems from my early days of beer discovery.  Except for Buffalo Bill’s brewing, there just weren’t a lot of pumpkin beers out there.  And as their numbers slowly grew, I guess I just never notice, or cared.

Soon after my tweet I found myself at Stateline Liquors deciding what to drink over the weekend.  My tastes were leading me one way when a voice whispered, “Revisit pumpkin beers, and see if your attitude towards them is still warranted.”  I found myself inspired, after all one of these many pumpkin beers that was getting mega-twitted must be worth a taste shouldn’t it?  Craft brewing has evolved by leaps and bounds since the 80s, surely pumpkin beers must have evolved along with it. And aren’t I the one who always tells people, “If you don’t like something try it again every once in awhile.  Sometimes your palate changes”?  So I left Stateline with a pumpkin patch full of beers to try and a mission.  Find a pumpkin beer I could look forward to every year.

First, let me say that I was happy to see that every beer I tried did indeed list pumpkin as an ingredient – no cheating with just spices here!  And in most of the beers I tried, the pumpkin was quite evident.  They also included a blend of spices normally found in pumpkin pie.  In some beers the blend was very balanced, while in others one spice or another was a little more forward than the rest.  In the interest of time, I won’t review every beer I tried.  Most of them were pretty solid beers with notes of pumpkin and spices.  Let’s look at a handful of stand out beers (both good and bad) from my tasting.

Two I didn’t like :

Heavy Seas “The Greater Pumpkin” – If I’d have read the label on this before I bought it I wouldn’t have.  Bourbon barrels are my arch-nemesis in the brewing world because I hate the taste of bourbon.  And this Imperial Pumpkin Ale (9% ABV) just reeked of it.  I couldn’t get past the bourbon taste enough to even figure out where the pumpkin began.  Not my type of beer by a long shot, but if you’re not like me and enjoy the bourbon thing, try it – you’ll probably like it.

Fisherman’s (Cape Ann Brewing) “Pumpkin Stout” – I really liked the sound of this when I bought it, a stout with pumpkin and spices.  I could just imagine how nicely the spices and the stout would play together being brought together nicely by the pumpkin.  That however, didn’t happen.  While the pumpkin was nice, I found the spices and the roasted tones of the stout in conflict with each other.  Instead of working together, they seemed to be battling each other for supremacy on my palate, and I’m still not sure who won.

Two I liked :

Uinta’s “Pumpkin Ale” – This brew benefits from the fact that the spices are subtle.  The pumpkin comes through nicely and after that, you’re not bludgeoned by an onslaught of heavy spices.  This is no doubt a pumpkin beer from top to bottom and delivers it in a very enjoyable way.  I would have no problem buying this one again.

Schalfly’s “Pumpkin Ale” – Sooner or later I figured I’d find a pumpkin beer that spoke to me on a nostalgic level.  The pumpkin is evident as you would expect, but the spice blend is nutmeg forward and thus made it the beer that reminded most of my mom’s pumpkin pie. Because of that I thoroughly enjoyed every sip.  This is the pumpkin beer I’d serve at Thanksgiving while trying hard to fight the urge to put a scoop of whipped cream on the top of it.

One I loved :

Southern Tier’s “Pumking” – This was one of the beers that had been blowing up my twitter feed, and with very good reason.  It is simply amazing.  First, the beer has a solid tone of vanilla to it which just ties all the other flavors together.  The spices are very subtle, and because of this Pumking doesn’t hit you over the head and scream “pumpkin pie!”  Instead, it engages your palate as each sip brings something different to  your nose and tongue.  Several times I got the distinct impression of the flavor of pie crust (or the smell of pie crust as it comes out of the oven).  Other times, the spices peaked through, all dancing in a background of pumpkin and vanilla.

The rest of the line up were all nice beers and if you like pumpkin beers, I encourage you to seek them out.  The other ones that were part of my tasting were : Smuttynose, Dogfish Head, South Hampton, Weyerbacher, Heavy Sea’s regular pumpkin ale, and Elysian.

With great respect and apologies to Mr Schultz

Was my mission a success?  I’d say so.  First, I confirmed that today’s brewers have indeed brought pumpkin beers to a high level.  Real pumpkin.  Fresh spices.  Good stuff.  And considering the level of quality demanded by today’s craft beer lovers, I’m not surprised.

And finally, I’m happy to say that next year I can join the multitudes of beer geeks when the next season of pumpkin beers begins to appear on the shelves with a simple question,  “When are you getting Pumking in?”  Mission accomplished.

What’s your favorite pumpkin beer?

Brew Review – Brew Dog’s Dogma

Some "Dogs" I have enjoyed!

A few days ago I got a tweet from the guys at TheBEERSgoneBAD asking if I’d had Brew Dog’s Dogma and if so, what did I think of it.  I’ve had the pleasure of having many of Brew Dog’s beers, both in Scotland and here in the States and they are one of my favorite breweries. If they hadn’t asked me, I’d have probably gotten around to several of their beers eventually, but under the belief that “there’s no time like the present”, let’s take a look.

Brew Dog created quite a stir in the brewing industry in 2009 when they released the interestingly named Tactical Nuclear Penguin.  Double barrel aged for 14 months and then frozen at a local ice cream factory for 21 days, the beer clocked in at 32% alcohol and was a monster.  Every beer geek I knew wanted a bottle, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on one – and it is huge.  Most breweries would stop there, but not these guys!  Next came Sink the Bismark IPA at 41%, followed by End of History at 55% bottled inside a taxidermied squirrel.  Yeah, you read that right – some times when I read these guy’s webpage, I think they’re just playing on big joke on the brewing world.  But a squirrel?  Heck, that’s nothing.  Why don’t we have a beer that’s served from a taxidermied deer head?

Well compared to all that, Dogma is a pretty tame (but still remarkable) beer.  Let’s have a look:

THEM : The grain bill for Dogma consists of Marris Otter Extra Pale, Caramalt, roasted barley, Dark Crystal Malt, and Munich Malts.  Bramiling Cross and Amarillo hops are added as well as poppy, guarana, kola nut and Scottish heather honey.  Target OG is 1072, fermentation leaves it at 7.8% alcohol.  All that is balanced out by 65 IBUs.

ME : Dogma pours clean with a medium fine head.  The color in my glass goes from light to dark copper from bottom to top.  As I raise the glass to take a sip the subtle notes of malt and honey enter my nose.  On the tongue a slight sweetness echoing the malt and honey starts in the front which turns into nice (not overly bitter) hop spiciness in the back.  Bottom line, this is just an easy drinking beer.  The 7.8% alcohol is hidden well, and it goes down as easy as some 4.5% beers I’ve had.  And my 1pint, 6.4oz bottle only ran me about $6.50 so enjoy it more often I will!

The guys at TheBEERSgoneBAD described Dogma as “liquid honey”but I usually reserve that description for Dogfish Head’s 120 minute IPA.  You can see their excellent review here.   Thanks guys for giving me a reason to enjoy it one more time.  It won’t be the last (and hopefully not the last time at Bannerman’s in Edinburgh).  Time for another beer….

You can follow Brew Dog on Twitter HERE

You can follow the guys at TheBEERSgoneBAD on Twitter HERE

What’s your favorite Brew Dog beer?

Brew Review – DuClaw Brewing, Colossus

I enjoy breweries who really love to have fun with their product.  Whether it be a unique name, label or ad campaign, being clever in promoting your product will always get points with me.

Points go to DuClaw Brewing in Maryland.  DuClaw sports several different locations and more than a handful of year round and seasonal brews.  With interesting names like Alchemy, Repent, Misery, Mad Bishop, and Enigma you can tell these guys are thinking out side of the box.

Godzilla has nothing on this beer!

But it was their recent release of Colossus that really caught my eye.  The brewery did a spirited social media run on its Facebook page proclaiming wild accusations such as “That’s not vomiting. Colossus is just bored being inside you” and “Steroids once tested positive for Colossus”.  And recently after a 5.9 magnitude earthquake shook a large portion of the east coast, DuClaw was quick to post the reason why “A keg of Colossus fell. Sorry about that”.

But quick wit alone does not a great brew make.  While catchy sayings and cute names are fun, it IS about the beer.  So does Colossus live up to its name?  Let’s find out.

THEM : The grain bill for Colossus consists of pale, crystal and dark crystal malts. DuClaw uses chinook and nugget hops targeting the IBUs at 70.  Gravity is 40 plato, with final ABV finishing at 21% which they claim is achieved totally by fermentation – wow.

ME : Colossus pours cloudy with little to no head retention.  In my glass the color starts at the bottom as a dark amber and moves up to a dark brown.  The nose and flavor are very much in sync.  Hints of apple, cinnamon and honey dance across your tongue from front to back ending in a noticeable alcohol bite.  After tasting, I was please when I read the label and saw that those flavors were very much expected from the beer. Colossus is very much truth in advertising, a big beer with notes of apple, cinnamon and honey.  If that sounds good to you, then you’ll like this beer very much.

But Colossus?  Well at 21% ABV who am I to argue.  This definitely isn’t a session beer, so keep that in mind while you’re enjoying it.  And it does have the backbone to support the alcohol content.  It’s a very tasty, solid beer.  Sadly however Colossus lives up to its name in price as well.  My 22oz bottle cost $25+ which puts it outside of my “beers that I’ll normally have in my beer fridge” category.  But every now and then as a treat (or if I’m lucky enough to catch it on draft) I’ll definitely revisit this beer.

Have you had colossus?  What did you think?

Brew Review – Victory Brewing, “Baltic Thunder”

Victory Brewing's Baltic Thunder

Have you ever lost a loved one?  I mean a beer.  A beer you loved?  A beer you told all your friends about?  A beer you’d take home to your mother? And then one day, it’s gone.  You read it in a newspaper or got a tweet from a friend.  Gone.  Never to be seen again.

The reasons why beers disappear are varied.  Sometimes the breweries just aren’t that good.  Sometimes it’s location.  Sometimes it’s business.  But whatever the reason, breweries and brewpubs close down.  And every now and then, a great beer goes down with them.

Such is the case (in my opinion) with Heavyweight  Brewery’s Perkuno’s Hammer Imperial Porter.  Heavyweight, in Ocean Township NJ, closed in 2006 and sadly took this awesome beer (and many of the other great beers they brewed) with it.  But sometimes, good people won’t let good beers die.  Cue the people from Victory Brewing.  After realizing that Hammer’s disappearance from the shelves left a huge empty hole  that needed to be filled they put their heads together with Tom Baker (Heavyweight Owner/Brewer – he was last seen  here) and Lew Bryson (well known Author of Mid-Atlantic breweries)  and came up with their own tribute to the style – Baltic Thunder in 2008.

*SNIFF* Heavyweight's long gone beer.

Them : Baltic (Imperial) porters are similiar to IPA’s in that they were born due to a need for beer to survive being shipped a great distance.  Introduced to the Russian’s, the dark beer was brewed with a higher level of alcohol to survive the trip.  The grain bill  for Baltic consists of imported German 2 row and roasted malts.  An interesting addition to the grain bill is black-eyed peas which substitutes for the Roman Beans (Tom’s research showed they were a traditional ingredient in the style) found in the original beer. The beer clocks in at 8.5% ABV and can usually be found in 22oz bottles and on rare occasions draft.

Me : Baltic Thunder pours  with a small head the dissipates into a thin ring that circles the entire edge of the glass.  The color is black from top to bottom – no light getting through this baby.  The nose has tones of malt, mocha and chocolate.  Some people I know would probably dial coffee in there as well – it all depends on what your palette reference is built from.  In the mouth Baltic Thunder continues along the same theme. It starts in the front with a malty (dare I say sweetness – perhaps molasses) that finishes in the back with a dry roastiness.  And then all that lingers in the after taste, along with slight stickiness.

Thanks Victory for saving one of my favorite beers.  Now if you could bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000, that would be awesome!

What beer have you lost that you wish someone would bring back?

Brew Review – Flying Dog and The Brewer’s Art “Table for Two”

Flying Dog and The Brewer's Art - Table for Two, Belgian table beer

There’s an old saying that “Too many cooks spoil the soup”, but if you look around the brewing industry that doesn’t seem to be deterring to many of the “cooks” out there.  Collaboration brews are running wild.  Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada had their Life and Limb/Limb and Life beers.  Dogfish Head also teamed up with Three Floyds on Poppa Skull.  And if you think two brewers aren’t “too many” – Stone Brewing has kicked it up.  Their collaboration series of beers are always the product of three different brewers. They’ve worked with the likes of Dogfish Head, Victory, 21st Amendment, Maui Brewing, Brew Dog from Scotland and Mikkeller from Denmark.  You can check out their impressive list of collaboration beers here.  For this review I’m going to look at a pairing of cooks in my nearby area, Flying Dog Brewing from Frederick, MD and The Brewer’s Art from Baltimore, MD.  Their soup?  Table for Two.

Table for Two is listed as a Belgian table beer.  Table beers are typically low alcohol (1% ABV is not uncommon) that were traditionally enjoyed by adults and children at meal time.  You can find the Brewer’s Association description of a Belgian table beer on page 19 of this PDF.

Them : The grain bill for this beer consists of French Pilsner, cara-vienna, and biscuit malts along with some rye added in.  The hops used are brewers gold and styrian goldings.  Wildflower honey rounds out the beer.  The beer clocks in at 5.0% ABV which is a little more than a traditional table beer, but since we don’t let our children drink beer I’m good with it.

Me : My bottles of Table for Two seemed lightly carbonated, the head is a thin lace of bubbles which seems to suit this style of beer.  In the tasting glass the color starts as a light golden and goes up to a light copper. The flavor starts up front with a malty/honey sweetness that turns into a spiciness (that I get as a light clove) in the middle.  The finish is a quick crispness that soon leaves my mouth watering a bit.  The honey is subtle throughout, a nice component that gives whole beer a nice balance.  This beer is very drinkable and, as its style suggests, could complement a wide array of dishes that might find their way to your meal time table.

To many cooks?  Not from where I’m sitting.  So next time you’re out with some friends sitting at a table for six, order some Table for Two.  People enjoying great beer is something there can never be to many of.

What’s your favorite collaboration beer?

Brew Review – Shmaltz Brewing Co’s Coney Island Human Blockhead

Shmaltz Brewing's Human Blockhead IAB

So it’s a beautiful summer day and you find yourself on the boardwalk at Coney Island.  The smell of the water lingers lazily across the beach being broken every now and then by the alluring aroma from a near by venue of a Nathan’s hot dog cooking.  And if you’re going to eat a Coney Island hot dog, what would be better than a Coney Island beer to go with it?

The Shmaltz Brewing Co (He’Brew) has you covered.  Their Coney Island series pays homage to its well know freak show attraction, each beer being named after a noted performer in the show.  In this review I taste their Human Blockhead Imperial American Bock.

Them : Their Human Blockhead is not a simple beer.  The grain bill consists of specialty 2-Row, Munich, Vienna, Pale Crystal and Crystal malts.  Also added to the mash are wheat, rye, rye ale and flaked oaks.  This is a well constructed beer.   The hops are not skimpy either.  Added to the kettle are Warrior, Tettenang, Crystal, Liberty and Cascade.  At 10% ABV it’s probably a little too strong for a ballpark beer.  It was awarded Grand Champion Alternative Lager at the World Beer Championship.

Me : Human Blockhead pours with a medium head that reduces down to a fine, glass clinging lace.  In my tasting glass the color graduates from a light copper to a dark, almost brownish hue.  The noise contains a nice combination of deep malt with some twinges of caramel.  In the mouth, the beers starts malty in the front and transitions into a crisp bitter finish in the back.   The aftertaste is a slight lingering malt.  All this balances the 10.0% alcohol pretty well.  It has all the malt backbone for a Bock (minus the -ator suffix that most Bock beers get) and the hops and alcohol to earn it’s Imperial name (which I’ll address in an up coming post).

An awesome aspect of the Coney Island brands is the fact that proceeds from them help Coney Island USA(TM), a none profit organization dedicated to helping keep Coney Island, well, Coney Island.

A Nathan’s dog with onions, a Coney Island beer AND I get to help a cause?  I’ll sign  up for that any day.

Have you tried any of the Coney Island beers?  What did you think of them?