Monday, October 26, 2009

Pumpkin Ale Pass-In-Review

I've mentioned once or twice that I love autumn.

For our anniversary dinner, my wonderful wife and I got to go to Clyde's. We love Clyde's regardless of the time of year. However, autumn is especially awesome at Clyde's. I love having things like acorn squash soup (it was sooooo good!) and spiced pumpkin salad ("apple smoked bacon, pumpkin seeds, caramelized onions, spinach, frisée, radicchio and pumpkin vinaigrette.") My only disappointment there was they put pancetta on our salad instead of apple smoked bacon, and the flavor of the pancetta was a little too strong for me, so I picked it off. Aside from that though, the salad was fantastic. Anyway, I digress. The whole point of this post is really autumn BEER.

One of our favorite restaurants in NoVA is the Sweetwater Tavern in Sterling. They have a micro-brewery right there in the restaurant and have AWESOME brew and food that's just to-die-for. This time of year at Sweetwater, you can get the Ghost Town Pumpkin Ale ("a lightly spiced amber ale made with real pumpkin...available with brown sugar and pumpkin spice garnish.") They sell growlers that you can take beer home with you, too. If you buy a growler of their pumpkin ale, they even give you a little ziplock bag of the brown sugar and pumpkin spice garnish to put on the rim of your beer mug at home. I love it! :-9

I wish we could afford to go to Sweetwater Tavern for dinner every night... and that we had our own personal driver so both my wife and I could enjoy their awesome brews every night... and that we had an extra couple of hours in each day and a personal trainer to help us work off the resultant beer gut... but alas, it is not to be.

So Saturday we were at Wegman's for lunch. I love Wegman's food court. Whenever it seems like none of us in our family can agree on what to have for lunch, there's always the Wegman's food court. I can get the exotic international flavors I want like Indian food or sushi or Thai food, my wife can get whatever suits her fancy (which will NOT be anything anywhere NEAR the Indian, sushi, or Thai counters), and my kids can get their staple pizza or chicken nuggets.

Sorry, I'm digressing onto food again. Stay on target.

In Wegman's they had a big display set up with over half a dozen different varieties of pumpkin ale. As we sat on the balcony eating our lunch, I thought to myself, "Self, you should do a taste test and figure out which is the best bottled pumpkin ale down there." So before we left, I bought a few varieties of the pumpkin ales to try out.

Actually, I bought all but two. I did NOT buy any of the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale or the Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale. I know you're thinking to yourself, "Self, why didn't he buy any Dogfish or Weyerbacher?" I'm glad you asked. Somebody at those two companies needs to go take some classes on marketing because otherwise their companies are going to fail miserably.

The Dogfish and Weyerbacher pumpkin ales were sold in 4-packs. When I first walked up to the display, I immediately picked those two up as my first two choices. I liked that I could get a 4 pack and try it out and not have to work my way through a full 6-pack if I didn't really like it.

Then I looked at the price.

Both the Dogfish and the Weyerbacher pumpkin ales were $10 for a 4-pack, so $2.50 per bottle. ALL of the other pumpkin ales in the display were $9 for a 6-pack, so $1.50 per bottle.

Cha-ching! Cha-ching!

Dogfish and Weyerbacher both came out of the shopping cart and back onto the display.

I did get five others to try though, so here for my 5 or so loyal readers who like beer are my thoughts and impressions of the five pumpkin ales I tried out this week. These comments were written in the order I drank them - NOT all in one night mind you!

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
(Portsmouth, New Hampshire)

Meh. Fairly light in body. Definitely pumpkin flavored. Tasted a little weird but nothing I could put my finger on. Not something I'd rave about or buy again.

Blue Moon Brewery's
Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale
(Golden, Colorado)

I took a sip expecting pumpkin flavor. After all, it's got a painting of a pumpkin on the bottle, and it was being sold in amongst half a dozen other pumpkin ales. I detected no essence of pumpkin in this. I re-examined the bottle and at first I couldn't even find the word "pumpkin" on the bottle. I looked a little closer and saw under the BIG words "HARVEST MOON" there is the fine print "pumpkin ale." In any case, it was just okay. I thought it tasted more like Sam Adam's Octoberfest than a pumpkin ale. It was better than the Smuttynose, but again it was nothing that I'd rave about or race out to buy again.

Random Aside about Brewery Websites:

Is it just me, or is there absolutely NO POINT in putting a thing on your website that asks for your birthdate before you can view the website??? That just seems totally useless to me. I could enter any date I want that shows that I'm 21 years old and go on in and browse the website. It's not like it's allowing me to purchase alcohol without proof of ID. It's JUST a WEBSITE. How does putting something like that on your website prevent anybody from accessing the website???

I have this nagging feeling in the back of my head that it has something to do with frivolous lawsuits. I wonder what brewery got sued because some underage kids were viewing the website, and that somehow encouraged them to buy beer under age, and somehow that's the brewery's fault because they didn't ask the kids' age before they viewed the website, so just like the McDonald's-coffee-is-hot lady, some idiot is a millionaire from suing some poor brewery, so now they all have to put some silly widget on their website that asks you to enter your birth date.

Wait... Do I need to put one of those birthdate checker widgets on this blog post? OH MY GOD WHAT IF SOMEONE UNDER 21 IS READING THIS BLOG POST!?!?

Okay, getting off my soapbox now...

Shipyard Pumpkinhead
(Portland, Maine)

The initial taste was like almonds or amaretto. BLECH! I HATE amaretto or anything almond flavored. (Aside: I especially hate almond-smelling soap in public restrooms - it drives me nuts!) After I got over the initial amaretto taste, it actually tasted pretty good. The amaretto flavor wasn't so overpowering that I couldn't finish the bottle. Still, not something that I would seek out again in future beer-purchasing trips to the grocery store.

New Holland Brewery Ichabod
(Holland, Michigan)

The best so far in this taste testing. No weird initial or aftertastes. Strong, bold and balanced flavor. I could go for another one of these right now. I'll seek this one out next time I go to the store to buy beer. Still one more beer to try though...

Brooklyn Brewery
Post Road Pumpkin Ale

(Brooklyn, NY)

This brew had the most hops out of any of the five pumpkin ales I tested. I'm not a big fan of hops, but they weren't unbearable and this Post Road Pumpkin Ale was otherwise pretty bold and flavorful. I'd say it was pretty tasty for about the first two thirds of the bottle. As I got to the bottom of the bottle though, the taste of the pumpkin spices got to be overbearing. It might be a good idea to store prone or upside down to help keep the spices more evenly distributed in the bottle when you turn it up to open and drink.

In the end, the hands-down winner of Blunoz's Pumpkin Ale Taste Test was:

New Holland ICHABOD

I really liked the flavor of the Ichabod and the fact that the hops weren't overpowering. The runner-up award goes to the Post Road Pumpkin Ale. Both Ichabod and Post Road Pumpkin Ale were good enough that I would seek them out in the store and buy them again. The other three - meh, I wouldn't bother.

Rewind back up the page a bit. Has anyone tried the Dogfish Head or the Weyerbacher? Are either of them good enough to justify the extra expense? It's NOT that I'm a total cheapskate. I am willing to pay extra for something if I know it's worth it. Standing there in Wegman's looking at the variety of pumpkin ales to try, I was already looking at buying FIVE of them, so it was an easy-on-the-wallet decision to not buy those two. If someone tells me they're THAT good that I should try one or both of them, then I will.

Update 11/10/2009: Alright, someone recommended the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, so I decided to give it a shot. It was really good. Strong, bold flavor with just a hint of pumpkin and not a lot of hops. I liked it a lot. However (comma), it was right on par with Ichabod. While it was an enjoyable brew and I will certainly enjoy drinking the rest of the 4-pack, I don't think it's worth the extra dollar per bottle. Long term, I'd go with Ichabod which is just as good but not as expensive.


Eoin said...

Nice post. I want a growler. do they ship out if state:)

Weyerbacher is a good brewery although I haven't had the pumpkin ale.

Secure? said...

Haven't tried all the brews you reviewed, but had a dogfish head pumpkin ale on draft just last night! I'm a big ale guy, but it was my first foray into the pumpkin world. I was pleasantly surprised and definitely enjoyed it. For what it's worth.

JoLee said...

Well now, you just gave me a great idea.... I'm going to stock up on a couple of bottle of EACH of the pumpkin ales I can find here in the P NW. Then @ Christmas you can do another tasting.... as many in one night as you'd like - as you'll only have to walk/stumble down the hall!

blunoz said...

Eoin - I don't think they ship out of state, sorry. Next time you guys come to visit though, we'll take you there.

Secure? - thanks for the data point on the Dogfish.

JoLee - I wish we had a store here like Eoin has up in NY where you can go in and mix-and-match your own six-packs to get a variety of stuff to try. Is there anything like that out in PDX?

blunoz said...

Updated this post with a review of the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. In a nutshell: It was just as good as Ichabod, but not worth the extra dollar per bottle.