Check out the rest of our Pumkin Beer reviews from 2014 here.
Today’s review has been a long time coming. For the previous two years, I’ve looked for this beer (it being rated and reviewed highly around the internet) but have come up empty handed. I saw more lists come out ranking this near the top. I wanted to try it even more. This year, I was focused. I inquired about it in August, and every week after until I was told it would be in the following day. That following day, my wife was in the store grabbing something for a soup recipe, and grabbed a bottle of this for me. I went back not long after (couldn’t have been more than a day or two) but never saw this bottle on the shelf (there, or anywhere else). Needless to say, it’s either got limited supply, or high demand, or (likely) both.
I’m pumped to try this, but I’m also cautious. Reviews for this are not all complimentary, and there is a feeling among some that this years batch (2014) may not be as good as last years was (2013). We’ll see. The scores are 96 (99) with 244 ratings on Ratebeer and 88 with 606 ratings on BeerAdvocate. Normally an 8 pt difference between the sites might not be cause for concern, but there is a big difference in my mind between a 96…and an 88. A 96 should be awesome, and almost perfect. An 88 should be really good, but not challenging for the top spot in its category. My opinion.
Enough words, let’s get to it. From the brewer:
In the most worthy of pumpkin patches and during the silence of the midnight hour, the Greater Pumpkin raises up and pours a rich deep and burnished orange color. Heady aromas of bourbon, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and clove linger seductively over the thick white head of this tremendous brew. Its love at first sip as the full malt body, dominated by British crystal malt, brown sugar and pumpkin, slowly washes over your tongue. Bourbon barrel aging rounds out the flavors with notes of oak, vanilla, and bourbon. Pairs well with crisp autumn weather, crunchy fallen leaves, and the knowledge that your kids will be asleep soon so you can raid their Halloween candy bags.
A bit of an aggressive pour results in an inch of homogenous (small bubble size) yellowish white head. It sticks around for several minutes, and then fades to a distinct ring around the edge of the glass and a patch in the middle. Carbonation rising from the bottom is very minimal, and the bubbles that do rise are very, very small, all of which suggests carbonation on the low side. I had read a few reviews where people thought this year was on the “flat” side, and while I generally like less carbonated (smoother) beers, let’s hope this isn’t too far in that direction. Tilting the glass leaves a thick wall of bubbles on the side, and I can see this leaving some medium lacing on the glass after time.
Color is fantastic. Its brighter than many other pumpkin ales I’ve had recently, and is also brighter than I expected. The above picture doesn’t really do it justice (even with all of the light on it). Maybe I’ll take another picture with the light behind it. I’d describe the color as primarily orange, with a brown tint more than a red tint. It is nearly opaque with cloudiness, and this is not due to a cold glass. So far, so good. Picture for color below:
No real surprises for me in the nose, as it is comprised of pumpkin, spices, and a distinct bourbon aroma. Some reviewers mentioned very little bourbon aroma/taste, but so far, I’m going to disagree. I’ve had a beer that was all bourbon and very little else (Kentucky Barrel Ale) and that was nasty. There is a general sweetness that often comes with pumpkin ales, and especially the higher ABV ones (this is 10%), which I describe as “brown sugar.”
The spice blend leans towards nutmeg, and perhaps light allspice, but not anything like the clove in Master of Pumpkins. Cinnamon is likely there, but that’s always difficult for me to smell (perhaps it is for everyone). Other than that, I’ll say that you can definitely smell a bit of alcohol if you breathe in a bit…not surprising at this ABV. All in all, nothing wrong here, the aroma is good, although I’m not blown away either. You can call me spoiled (by Pumking) if you want.
After a long awaited first taste (the above parts of the review take time, you know) I can confirm a few things. The effect of bourbon barrel aging is immediate, strong, and good. The people that commented that this had little to no bourbon flavor must not have been tasting the same beer as this. I would say if it was any stronger, it might overpower the other flavors completely. As it is, is definitely the strongest flavor of the bunch for me.
I wouldn’t describe this as an overly spiced ale. Yes, they are surely there, but in more of a lingering way than a smacking you over the head way. In addition to the spices listed in the aroma, there is the taste of ginger and Cinnamon. While I think of it, carbonation is definitely on the low side (at least the carbonation remaining in the glass after…about 20 minutes or so…if this is too long I’m sure people will call me on it anyway…but hey, the glass is clean though…right?) but is not objectionable to me. I’ll keep an eye of it when I refill the glass and see how it feels right after pouring.
Aftertaste is sweet at first, but over time leans toward bitter, and then eventually to a bit boozy. When cold, I would say that the ABV on this is well hidden, despite one of the major flavors being bourbon, though (as is often the case) warming intensifies the alcohol flavors.
For a bit of a thought experiment, I’m trying to imagine what this would be like without the bourbon barrel aging. I can’t shake the feeling that the pumpkin ale base might be…just a bit bland without the bourbon barrel aging. Perhaps this isn’t fair. I am imagining this after all. I guess I just wish there was a bit more body behind the bourbon flavor. It’s there, but I would like more intensity to stand up to the aged flavors.
High ABV, low carbonation, strong bourbon flavor. Medium to heavy feel. For what it is, it’s very drinkable…in fact I can see many people drinking a bomber of this no problem. Personally, the strong bourbon flavor hindered the drink-ability a bit…but this will no doubt be heavily dependent on your affinity for that flavor.
As fate would have it, I had some time to reflect on this review between glasses…about 3 hrs I would say. Don’t worry, I kept the bottle sealed tight in the fridge with the wine stopper rabbit thing (if you drink 22s, get one), and didn’t detect any change in carbonation or taste from the original pour. When it comes down to it, I had super high expectations for this (perhaps too high). I was expected to be blown away. I just wasn’t.
For me, the bourbon flavor is too strong, and the pumpkin flavor (I guess you could say the whole ale flavor) is too weak. I feel like this would appeal to fans of bourbon much more than fans of pumpkin ale, though to be fair there are surely many fans of both. Do I just not like bourbon aged ales? I suppose that is possible. We’ll have a much better idea when I review the Shipyard Bourbon Barrel Aged Smashed Pumpkin in the fridge right now. It, like the subject of this review, gets rated highly, and if I don’t like that one either, than maybe bourbon barrel aging is just not for me. We’ll see (that review will come shortly).
I can’t help but wonder how my opinion would have been different if I had tried the previous years. Also, I can’t help but wonder what all those people that reviewed the previous year so highly would think of this years? Many questions, but few answers. If you’ve had this (any year) I encourage you to share your thoughts.