Heavy Seas The Greater Pumpkin Review

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.

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Appearance 4

3-IMG_3285 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:

Aroma 3.5

2-IMG_3280No 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.

Taste 6

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.

4-IMG_3284Aftertaste 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.

Palate 3.5

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.

Overall

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.

Score (out of 5) 3.4

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Head to Head Review: Lancaster Baked Pumpkin Ale vs. Fin City Captain Jack’s Pumpkin Ale

If you haven’t look at it, check out our Pumpkin Intro Post.  It’s got all the links to past reviews from this season.

When you buy beers you’ve never had before, you stand to get some that really surprise you in a good way, as well as some that fall in the middle, and finally some that are much worse than you had hoped.  Today, I’m reviewing two beers that I knew nothing about before the review.  As you’ll see, they cover both the good, and bad, end of the spectrum.

Lancaster Brewing Company – Baked Pumpkin Ale – 7.3% ABV – IBU 20

Fin City Brewing Company – Captain Jack’s Pumpkin Ale – 7% ABV – IBU ?

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1-DSC_0248Appearance 3.5 / 3

Visually, the two are quite similar, and you have to look closely to spot any differences.  The Lancaster looks to have slightly higher carbonation, evidenced by large bubbles forming on the bottom of the glass and rising to the surface.  This serves to maintain a thin layer of foam on the surface.  The Fin City has very few, and smaller sized, bubbles rising, and maintains no layer of foam on the surface at all.  Tilting the glasses, the Lancaster clings to the glass more than the Fin City, which has very little.  The color of both is nearly the same: orange red.  The Lancaster could be a touch more orange, but the difference is slight.

Edge – even.

Aroma 4 / 1

The Lancaster is predominantly brown sugar, spices, and buttery, caramel pumpkin flavor.  The spice blend is difficult to identify exactly, but seems to be predominantly nutmeg, with lesser amounts of the usual suspects.  Once again, in comparison, the Fin City seems to have a bit less going on- in fact, there is just less aroma all around.  It’s difficult to really pull much out of this, even knowing what usually goes into a pumpkin ale.  Honestly, it smells more like an Oktoberfest, with predominantly caramel malt, than anything else…kind of disappointing.  Going back to the Lancaster, it bursts with aroma in comparison.  Forgetting the name of it, I thought, baked sweet breads and cookies…(duh).  I guess they achieved the name in aroma at least.

Edge – Lancaster.

Taste 8 / 22-DSC_0249

I’m sad to report that things don’t get better for the Fin City at this point.  The first taste brings a watered down flavor, and a not-fully-developed caramel malt taste, with maybe some veeeery mild spices lingering in the background?  No joke, you probably wouldn’t realize this was a pumpkin beer if you didn’t read the bottle.  What is going on with this beer…there’s no pumpkin flavor for me at all.  Aftertaste is very blah, slightly metallic and bitter, not pleasant.  The glasses I used didn’t quite take the whole bottle, and sadly, I’m pouring the rest of this one out.

In comparison, flavor and spices pop out of the Lancaster glass like wild.  Cinnamon and Nutmeg dominate, with plenty of toasted malt reminiscent of pie crust.  Caramelized sugars always remind me of desserts sprinkled with sugar on top and baked in the oven.  There is a nice vanilla sort of taste that reminds you of sugar cookies.  Refilling the glass confirms that this is better than expected.  Spices are there, take the forefront, but do not overpower (this is still less spicy than thinks like Pumking and Master of Pumpkins).  Caramelized malt and yeast flavors remind you of baked treats that are associated with the holidays.  Aftertaste is pleasant and slightly sweet.

Edge – Lancaster

Palate 4 / 1

Lancaster – 7.3%, spot on.  Medium bodied, which supports the flavors and the ABV well.  Solid, but not overbearing carbonation.  Out of all the pumpkin beers I’ve had, this one definitely rises to the top.

Fin City – 7%, terrible.  Not since a few unfortunate bottles from Rogue have I had something that was so bad.

Edge – Lancaster

Overall

My experience with the Fin City was so bad that I looked this one up: RateBeer and BeerAdvocate.  To my surprise, it actually scored pretty well (keep in mind, this is very new and doesn’t have many reviews on either site).  Then I read the review from this person:

Sucks, just sucks. This has nothing on DogFish which is located pretty close by in the neighboring state of Delaware. This beer taste like its been brewed with penny’s and skunked in the sun for months. Not impressed at all. For a beer that claims to come from Ocean City, MD yet its BREWED in Baltimore this is a scam. Cool name shitty beer, sad use.

They rated the Fin City a 1 out of 5.  And I mostly agree, although I think they exaggerated, as in my mind this tasted more like nothing at all rather than skunky bad flavors.  But the other reviews were good, and even compared it to Schlafly Pumpkin Ale.  Ha!  At this point, the only way I can rationalize this is to assume that either a) all of the other reviewers are crazy, or b) I (and that other reviewer above) got bad bottles (or maybe a whole bad batch).  I mean some people rated this in the high 3s and even the 4s, talking about good balance of flavor, and…the bottle I had was not even in the same universe as that.  Some friends suggested that maybe the positive reviews are fake.  I don’t want to believe that.  I know some people have put a lot of time/money/effort into realizing this product, and it makes me sad to find it so terrible.  Here’s hoping the bad bottles are the anomalies, and not the norm.1-DSC_0246

In every way, the Lancaster surprised me by being better than I expected.  I’m not sure why I didn’t expect much from it, but I thought it would be just OK, when in reality, it was great.  The blend of spices, malts, and caramelized sugars was honestly very reminiscent of baked goods, and even pumpkin pie, as the name suggests.  I found it highly drinkable, deceptively tame for 7.3% (as the best cooler weather beers are).  I’ve had good experiences with Lancaster in the past (though I don’t see their products all that often), and this is no different.

Since I linked the reviews to the Fin City beer, I’ll think this one’s also: RateBeer and BeerAdvocate.  This time, I seem to be in agreement with the popular reviews…lots of high 3s and even mixed 4s (BeerAdvocate has way more reviews for some reason).  As I said, this one, while not challenging for the top spot, definitely rises to the top right behind.  I’ll definitely be buying this in more quantity next year if I can find it.

Winner (by a mile): Lancaster

Scores (out of 5): Lancaster 3.9, Fin City 1.4

 

Tröegs Master of Pumpkins Review

I know.  I can hear your thoughts already: “you went and bought another pumpkin beer not included in your ridiculous group of 31, when it’s already November and you still have more 20 to review…”  And yea, I did.  You see, there are always a few beers in each style that I miss each year, either due to hearing about it too late, or low availability, or in some cases, no availability at all in my area.  The two biggest examples of this for pumpkin beer are the one reviewed here and Heavy Seas The GreatER Pumpkin (in the fridge…review coming soon I hope), which I couldn’t for the life of me find the last two years, and only barely found it this year after bugging the stores for months about it.  Kind of funny, right, both beers are pretty local to me, one being from south of Baltimore and the other being from Hershey, PA…Neither one is more than an hour drive away.  Needless to say, when I saw this on the growler list at Wine World, I went and grabbed it right away.

No Pictures of the bottle today, obviously, but instead I’ve got a video from Troegs on the making of Master of Pumpkins:

I’ve got to visit the brewery sometime soon.  Their tap room (which you can see in the video) looks awesome.

1-DSC_0235Appearance – 4

Poured from the growler, Master of Pumpkins shows good carbonation (lately I’ve had some lesser carbed to flat pours out of growlers, so this is welcome).  I’m sure the corked bottle version would bring even more carbonation to the table, but this is sufficient.  The head is light brown in color, about an inch high, and consists of medium and small bubbles.  Bubbles stick to the side of my glass proving to reddit commenters that I don’t know how to clean my glassware.  O well.  The color is awesome.  Clear, bright, and red-orange-brown.  I expected it to be cloudy, as I thought it had appeared in the video.  As I write, the head subsides to a thin layer of tiny bubbles, with similarly sized bubbles rising up from the bottom of the glass.

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Aroma – 4

Often times, pumpkin beers are a good mixture of spices, usually Cinnamon, Allspice, Nutmeg, and Clove.  Sometimes, one spice stands out, and this time, it’s Clove.  It’s prominent, and it’s good, like a heavily spiced apple cider around the holidays.  Nutmeg is there too, though not as prominent.  Behind that, brown sugar, and a combination tart/sour yeasty smell reminiscent of Saisons of the past.  There is little doubt that this beer is a bit different than most/all other pumpkin beers.  It’s honestly hard to smell any pumpkin…but that’s not something that I take away points for, as the aroma is excellent.  I hope the pumpkin flavor shows up in the taste though…  Overall the smell of this is excellent thought, like a good combination of your favorite pumpkin beers mixed with a good Belgian ale.  Really anxious to taste it.

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Taste – 9

OK so a child emergency (waking up screaming with leg pain) led to the glass of this sitting there getting warm.  I’m happy to report that, even after sitting for 30 minutes(when normalcy was restored), it’s still completely drinkable, and completely delicious.  I’ll supplement these comments with a fresh cold glass, but the majority of these come to me while sitting in a dark room with my left arm falling sleep under the weight of a 10 lb head…

Lot’s of things come to mind when I taste this.  I’ll list them out.

  • There are three flavors that I missed in the aroma that are obvious in the taste- Cinnimon, Ginger, and Honey
  • The Cinnimon mixes with the strong Clove flavor and gives a spicy edge to the flavor
  • The ginger serves to cut through the sweetness from the cane sugar (which I identified as brown sugar), leaving a rather neutral balance of sweet and sour
  • The honey is subtle, but definitely there.  You don’t really notice it unless you pay attention after you put the glass down.  Drink, breathe out, what do you taste?  Honey.  Incidentally, Schlafly Christmas Ale has this same quality and I love it.
  • Above all that is a punch of Clove and Nutmeg.  If your a fan of “aggressively spiced” (as they say on MasterChef) beers, you’ll like this.  I am, and I do.
  • O yea, the Pumpkin.  It is there, but far in the background.  This beer is about the spices.

I think the flavor of this is great.  The mixture of Clove, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Ginger is powerful, but not overwhelming.  The finish is neutral and slightly sweet with a honey aftertaste.  The flavor hides its 7.5% ABV very well.  The one thing that I don’t get as much of as it expected is the sour.  I expected the flavor to fall closer to the mix of pumpkin ale and Saison that I spoke about above, but the sour flavors are really quite minimal.  I can’t help but be a bit disappointed in this, but at the same time, I love the flavor, so how disappointed can I really be?

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Palate – 5

Very well planned and executed.  The spices are strong, but work well with the overall package.  The ABV is higher than you would think based on the taste.  The carbonation (even from a growler) is substantial during the pour, but even in the glass.  It lasts, even through long breaks from drinking.

Overall

I’d been looking forward to this for a long time.  I was a bit worried about the reviews- BeerAdvocate puts it at only 81, which is not that great, though I’ve found many beers in the scoring range that I though have been excellent.  RateBeer on the other hand has it at a 91 (and more importantly, a 96 for the style) which is very good.  I’d say I was pleasantly surprised on all counts with Master of Pumpkins- I thought it was all around delicious and enjoyable.  I wonder how it would compete with the current (Pum)King of the category, given larger availability and distribution?  As a fan of Pumking, I can honestly say that this comes pretty darn close to the level of that, while being different enough that you can enjoy them separately.

Looking back at my Pumking review from a year ago, I was surprised to see that it scored the same 4.4 that Master of Pumpkins does here.  The individual scores are a bit different, but they both score a 9 for taste, and high marks in the other categories.  I don’t review to a certain number, I really do rank each one on the fly and then do the simple math to arrive at the final score.  Regardless, both of these beers are exactly what I like, spicy, flavorful, but not over the top at the same time.  You can drink them, and still enjoy other flavors if you wish.  This is a fantastic fall beer, and one I hope I can find again in the coming years.  In fact, I think a visit to the brewery before the pumpkin supply runs out might just be in order…

Score (Out of 5) – 4.4