14 October 2008

KOTBR #56 - Pumpkin Beer Challenge (or Pumpkingate)

I hope that part of the appeal of this blog is the photography. Unfortunately this roundtable is one in which the the world conspired against us and caused all sorts of problems. First, my camera refused to recognize its lens. Chris stepped in to take photos, but then lost his camera. And Rodney refused to do anything to help. Lastly, Chris never submitted his reviews. Why these problems? Could it have been the spooky Halloween seasonal beer?

As a result of our lost photos and review - which we hope to someday release in a post-hbg special collectors edition box set1 - we're stuck with stock pumpkin and homemade halloween-ish images this time around. I hope you'll bear with us.

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Last year around this time the Knights headed out to Rock Bottom in Indianapolis and reviewed their Pumpkin Ale, leading the since-added Knights to believe that we're all anti-pumpkin. To prove that wasn't the case, we decided to line up all the pumpkin beers we could get our hands on for our Pumpkin beer showdown.

Suddenly all the folks (besides Gina and myself) who met for that previous roundtable starting bowing out of this one, thus confirming that they're pumpkin haters. Nevertheless, Rod, Jess, Chris, Gina and myself met at the Weaver household to shake this thing out.

Because we were dealing with eleven beers, we broke them into groups of three (with one group of two) and had a lucky volunteer2 serve them to us blind. We each took notes, picked a favorite from each group, and advanced that beer to the next round.

The names have been added only in hindsight - here is a compilation of our notes.

Group 1 - A vs B vs C

A) Blue Moon Harvest Moon:
M: Beery-beer nose, watery but agreeable, slight pumpkin finish
G: Lager flavor mostly with just a hint of pumpkin spice, nutmeg. Not offensive.
J: Watery beer mixed with old canned pumpkin
R: Beery nose (grain, malt, water) with canned pumpkin and cinnamon. Tastes like an amber ale with slight cinnamon and apples with a hoppy tingle at the finish.

B) Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale:
M: Cinnamon/Nutmeg nose, taste that echoes the nose, tastes like Big Red gum
G: Spicy, sweet, CINNAMON flavor kind of overpowering
J: Nutmeg nose, very spicy with notes of clove, ginger and sugar
R: Heavy nutmeg and allspice in the nose. Tastes like pumpkin pie - cloves, cinnamon, brown sugar.

C) Wolaver's Will Stevens' Pumpkin Ale:
M: A big spicy nose, strong orange elements figure into the flavor, unbalanced
G: Spicy, slightly medicinal. Something off in the flavor.
J: Overpoweringly orange and medicinal - almost like orange cough syrup. Might possibly be contaminated?
R: Nose of butternut squash, caramelized acorn squash and cinnamond. Tastes like sour Belgian yeast, orange and grapefruit. I think this is infected or something.

We voted Beer B (Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale) through to the next round.

Group 2 - D vs E vs F

D) Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale:
M: A cinnamon/apple nose, watery with a hint of cinnamon in the finish
G: Some spice, but lacking in flavor.
J: Tasty pumpkin spice nose (can a nose taste?), the flavor makes me think of pumpkin dip (pumpkin mixed with cinnamon) and is very balanced
R: Allspice, clove cinnamon and sugar in the nose. Tastes like balanced pumpkin pie - canned pumpkin, saigon cinnamon and a spicy finish. Although it didn't win this group (thanks to the other voters), this was probably my favorite pumpkin beer of the night.

E) Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale:
M: Nice balanced cinnamon, spicy warm front, elements of banana
G: Good aroma, light, but easy-drinking pumpkin flavor.
J: Banana nose with hint of cinnamon and a boatload of cloves, quite tasty and quaffable
R: Baked banana, cream and canned pumpkin nose. Tastes like coconut, walnuts, canned pumpkin and cloves

F) Southern Tier Pumking:
M: Nose of chocolate chip cookies, hints of coconut, this is a pumpkin beer?
G: Oats and buttered popcorn jelly bellies, WTF?
J: Pumpkin cookies with a hint of chocolate in the nose, almost like tropical take on pumpkin pie flavor
R: Tropical nose?! - pineapple, coconut, butterscotch, banana. Tastes like macadamia nuts, coconut, bitterness of a walnut shell. This did not taste like a pumpkin beer but it was delicious! Is tropical a beer style?

We all liked Beer F (Southern Tier Pumpking), but it didn't really seem to fit the pumpkin category. Since this is the "Pumpkin Beer Challenge", we chose Beer E (Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale) to move to the next round.

Group 3: G vs H

G) Dogfish Head Punkin' Ale:
M: Bitter egg nog-like finish, slight cinnamon notes in nose
G: Nice aroma, Pumpkin spice and coriander, banana. Spiciness lingers on the tongue. Alcohol quite present.
J: Cinnamon nose, plenty of allspice, heavy alcohol taste with pumpkin spices
R: Canned pumpkin, cinnamon and malt in the nose. Tastes like brown sugar, allspice, clove, star anise, pumpkin, cinnamon and has an alcohol warmth in the background.

H) Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale:
M: Tiny hint of spice in nose, a bit malty, finish reminds me of scope mouthwash... bitter
G: Citrus aroma with a light balanced flavor.
J: Weak nose, fizzy, not much taste of anything let alone pumpkin, eww (insert frowny face here)
R: Nose of fresh pumpkin, butter, coriander and candi sugar. Tastes like pumpkin and floral hops. Kind of like a pumpkin IPA or ESB.

Since we only had 11 beers to chose from, this group only featured two. We voted Beer G (Dogfish Head Punkin' Ale) through to the next round.

I) Schlafly Pumpkin Ale:
M: cinnamon apple nose, balanced and way tasty
G: Spicy and sweet.
J: Smells like pumpkin soap/lotion smells, spiced with a balanced pie flavor - very sweet!
R: Heavy clove, cinnamon, brown sugar and buttery nose. Tastes like caramelized sugar, toasted almonds, cinnamon and caramel malt. Kind of like the crunchy cinnamon stuff that is on the Cinnamon Crunch bagels at Panera.

J) Saranac Pumpkin Ale:

M: Malty cookie nose, something in here reminds me of ketchup. Or maybe meatloaf.
G: The flavor reminds me of corn and vomit?
J: Tasty pie nose, kinda eh flavor - not really wild about it
R: Smells like burned electronics? That can't be right. Maybe slight caramel. Tastes like cream, almonds, hazelnuts and french vanilla. Definitely doesn't taste like the nose.

K) Post Road Pumpkin Ale (by Brooklyn Brewery)3:
M: Nice... a bit bitter
G: Not much to talk about.
J: Spiced nose, burnt pie crust taste - uggh.
R: Nose of peach, cinnamon and caramel. Malt and caramel flavors. Slightly sour with a malty sweetness.

We unanimously voted Beer I (Schlafly Pumpkin Ale) through to the next round.

Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale vs Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale
Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale advances to the final

Dogfish Head Punkin' Ale vs Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
Schafly Pumpkin Ale Advances to the final

Final Round
Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale vs Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

Your Pumpkin Beer Challenge Grand Champion: Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

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Follow up: I bought the Schlafly beer we sampled in this roundtable in St. Louis, but wondered if the beer was also available in Indiana. So I contacted Schlafly.

Unfortunately, or not unfortunately, how ever you choose to look at it, Schlafly Pumpkin sort of exploded in Indiana this year. As a result, I am not sure who still has any Pumpkin available. I believe Vine & Table has some, I know Parti Pak has about a dozen cases, I am fairly certain that the Hop Shop still has some. Outside of Indy, Westside and University Liquors in Evansville have it. And, The Keg in Clarksville has some. Again, I can't guarantee that any of these accounts still have it, but they have all had it at one time. Happy hunting, and thanks, as always for your support of Schlafly Beer. Cheers, all.

Scott Shreffler
Schlafly Beer

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1This is where I've convinced everyone we'll make our millions.

2Thanks, Claire.

3Does anyone know why this isn't a Brooklyn Brewery branded beer? We sorta wondered.


  1. Jolly Pumpkin's forthcoming La Parcela wins by default...

  2. Pumpkin should either stay in pies or smashed on the porch.

    New Holland Ichabod is great for a pumpkin beer, I guess.

  3. Pumpkingate threat #1?


    (with freaky Peeps)

  4. I'm surprised that you didn't try the Broad Ripple Brew Pub version of pumpkin beer, being a hoosier and all. It was the first pumpkin beer i ever tried, and still the best! I think this is one of my next homebrew projects.... mmmm... pumpkin....