Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Pumpkin) Head-to-(Pumpkin) Head

Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Pumpkin) Head-to-(Pumpkin) Head

Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Pumpkin) Head-to-(Pumpkin) Head

A guest blog post by Bill Fishburn. You can follow Bill on Twitter @rwfishbu1.

It is now October and therefore pumpkin beers are appropriate. So say we all. Seriously.

I saw the first tweets about pumpkin ales in early August. The first ones to hit the shelves in my neck of the Pacific Northwest arrived in late August. Early or late August, it doesn’t matter; there is no decency in that. It’s like advertising Fourth of July at Valentine’s, Valentine’s before Christmas, or … (gasp) Christmas in Costco. In FREAKING SEPTEMBER. BEFORE LABOR DAY! (This actually happened here.)

Yes, I proudly and unabashedly support the Campaign for Seasonal Beer. I mean, with specific regard to pumpkin beers, where do you get locally grown, fresh pumpkins in the Northwest in August? And pumpkin ales are just the tip of the iceberg. Before you could say, “The silvers are running in the Nisqually,” another Northwest brewery had already released its Winter Ale… in San Diego! Can you sense the affrontery? Is the disbelief screaming at you from the page? Can you taste the disdain rising with the bile of disgust from your beer belly?

Well, sit back, relax, and have a homebrew… or a craftbeer (to tarnish Charlie’s famous saying). I speak mostly with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but it does annoy me. But only a wee bit.

Unfortunately, the same wonderful breweries that bring us such excellent craftbeers and suffer from early-release-itis—a swelling of the desire to be time-to-market and grab our attention with their seasonal ales in order to grab as much profit as possible—do so (fortunately) in order to be able to continue to churn out their year-round, standard line-ups and keep us all happy.

But you didn’t come here to read my rant about out-of-season ales. You came to find out which Imperial Pumpkin Ale was most like a Thanksgiving pie topped with whip cream. So let’s get started.

For this review, I chose two popular selections at the local bottle shop. One’s quasi-local, brewed at Howe Sound Brewing about 250 miles from where I bought it at my local Olympia bottle shop. The other is from the other northern corner of the country, and not even remotely local. In what might seem an ironic thumbing of my nose at locavorism, I’m pitting Howe Sound’s Pumpkineater against Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Pumking. I will do another Pumpkin Ale review with a more local bend in the near future, so stay tuned.

Let’s start with the overviews and some stats as provided by the two beers’ labels.

Howe Sound’s Pumpkineater

Southern Tier’s Pumking

ABV: 8% ABV: 8.6%
IBUs: 19 IBUs: Not listed (website says bitterness is “low”)
Spices used: Nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, star aniseOther ingredients: Roasted pumpkin Spices used: Not listed, but cinnamon, possibly nutmeg, and cloves can be detectedOther ingredients: Pureed pumpkin
SRM: Approximately 20 (Copper) SRM: Approximately 7 (But very orange-ish hue)

I used BJCP Beer Score Sheets to guide my review and assessment of these two beers.

Pumpkineater Pumking
Mild notes of dark fruit greet the olfactory senses. Something akin to raisins can be detected just before the aroma you’d get from a warm loaf of dark crusty bread becomes noticeable. Cinnamon and nutmeg follow in a demure and subdued entanglement. (8/12) A very fruity aroma practically jumps out of the glass with distinct notes of orange and tangerine. Following closely are rich, bready malt aroma and notes of cinnamon. The final scent is what I detect as cardamom. (10/12)
The pour produced a thick, off-white head with great persistence, resolving to a nice lacey presence around the glass, and leaving lacing down the glass throughout the drink. A very clear, copper-colored beer that was definitely pleasing to the eye. (3/3) Using the same pouring technique produced a thin, distinctly white head that quickly dissipated to a small amount of fine lace on the top of the beer. It left no lacing on the glass. The color was a distinct orange, and it was slightly hazy. (2/3)
The flavor echoed the aroma, providing a dark, crusty bread sensation to the palate, with a low molasses note. The cinnamon and nutmeg came through as an estery, back-of-the-throat subtle flavor that could be smelled more than actually tasted. The pumpkin came through as slightly over-roasted and not as pumpkin-y as I expected. A very mild black licorice note presented itself in the finish, along with an almost too-caramelized pumpkin flavor. No significant hop flavor or bitterness was detected. (15/20) Cinnamon presented itself assertively at the beginning of the swallow followed by mild orange and tangerine flavors. Cake-like flavors trailed the spice flavor contributions and citrus fruit esters, accompanied by a mild cream-like flavor. Pumpkin was definitely present, but one of the last flavors to make an appearance, and it made it to my palate’s finish line just ahead of an extremely low hop bitterness. A slight bite came through in the finish, and it seemed to be spice-derived. (17/20)
Definitely a medium-heavy mouthfeel with medium-high carbonation. I detected no significant warming from alcohol, though alcohol can be tasted. The beer had a somewhat dry finish. It was definitely smooth and pleasing on the palate. (4/5) Good medium mouthfeel, with low carbonation. It left a slightly creamy coating on the tongue. The carbonation was somewhat low, but no alcohol warming was present and no alcohol flavor appeared. This beer finished notably sweet. (4/5)
Pumpkineater was less reminiscent of a pumpkin pie and more reminiscent of my aunt’s mincemeat pie full of dark, spicy, satiating goodness. As with my aunt’s mincemeat, I imagine there are certain people who will love this beer from the first to the last swallow. In my case, I tried my aunt’s mincemeat every couple of Thanksgivings, and always gave thanks that my mom loved it enough to finish my slice. I’m not saying it’s a bad beer (or that I wouldn’t finish it, once poured)—you can see I gave it a total score of 37/50 on the BJCP scale, qualifying it for the top end of Very Good—I’m just saying it’s not going to be my first choice for an Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Pumking was also not reminiscent of pumpkin pie. Instead, it reminded me more of our good friend’s pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting—only with some orange zest tossed into the frosting to liven up things. With its low carbonation an initial detractor, I realized that probably also contributed to the pleasant creaminess in the mouthfeel. This was an Excellent beer according to my BJCP score of 42/50. The difference between this and Pumpkineater (at least for me) being the same as with our friend’s pumpkin cake: not only would I finish the slice, I would definitely ask for a second. I can’t say it would be my first choice for an Imperial Pumpkin Ale, either, but it would be high on the list.

So there you have it. My first head-to-head beer comparison. Take it for what it’s worth, but I would be a happy camper if a friend showed up at my house with either of these beers on a crisp, fall night (not a warm August night). The Pumpkineater is a must-try if for nothing other than the name (and the cool, one-liter, flip-top bottle it comes in). The Pumking seems to suit my sweet tooth more and is a beautiful color. Drinking either one beats waiting in the pumpkin patch for The Great Pumpkin (not that I’ve ever done that), and now that it’s October, they are both legit representations of this style to have in your glass. So say we all.



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