About 5 years ago, Dogfish Head Alehouse opened near where I live in Northern Virginia. Dogfish Head is a brewery based in Delaware that has brewpubs in Delaware and in the Washington, DC area. I had been an appreciator of better beer for a while before that, but I did not necessarily know that much about it. As it turned out my family and I really came to like coming to Dogfish Head, including the kids. It seemed there was something for everyone, the food is good, the beer is good and the kids liked the coloring placemats they give out. Well, in the Fall of the first year we started going there (which I think was 2007 or 2008). We discovered their Punkin’ Ale. I had had some pumpkin beers before, e.g., Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road Pumpkin Ale, and maybe one or two others, but was never super impressed. Well, Punkin’ Ale rolled mine and my wife’s socks up and down! This may have been the best beer I’ve ever had. Since then, anytime I’ve tasted a pumpkin beer, it has been measured against Punkin’ Ale. This year, in the Fall of 2012, I’ve noticed an unusual plethora of pumpkin delights. Virtually every brewery has a pumpkin ale of one sort or another. Many are experimenting with not only ales, but porters, IPAs and wheats. I decided I would try a 13 of them out (since it’s around Halloween)
and share my findings with you. I haven’t listed Punkin’ Ale from Dogfish Head because it remains my overall favorite in the category by a wide margin. Here are the ones I tried in order of preference: 1. Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin (Long Trail, VT) 2. The Fear Imperial Pumpkin (Flying Dog Brewery, MD) 3. Special Release Pumpkin Ale (Schlafly Brewery, MO) 4. Jacques Au Lantern (Evolution, MD) 5. Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Weyerbacher, PA) 6. Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin (Shipyard, ME) 7. Rogue Chatoe Pumpkin Patch Ale (Rogue, OR) 8. Rumpkin (Avery, CO) 9. Williamsburg AleWorks Pumpkin Ale (Williamsburg AleWorks, VA) 10. Boxcar Pumpkin Porter (Starr Hill, VA) 11 Harlot’s Harvest (Pike Brewing Company, WA) 12. UFO Pumpkin (Harpoon, MA) 13. Saranac Pumpkin (Matt Brewing Company, NY) This is by no means an all inclusive list. I missed a few potentially good ones including Southern Tier’s Pumking. Of course Beer Advocate lists 392 active pumpkin beers for 2012, so I clearly missed quite a few. Probably because I’m in the Washington, DC area, most of the ones I tried are from the East Coast. I honestly liked all of the ones listed in the top 10 and would have any of them again. The first three were hard to rank exactly. The bottom three were honestly mediocre and, while drinkable, I would not go out of my way for. I was surprised by how much I liked Long Trail. I feel like I have had other beers from Long Trail and not been so impressed. I tried this one on draft at the Northern Virginia Brewfest. It really was very flavorful, yet balanced and not overpowered by the taste of alcohol, which is a risk given its Imperial caliber (8% ABV). The Fear was also a surprise. I am not often impressed with Flying Dog beers, but this one again was nicely flavored with pumpkin and spices and again not overpowered by alcohol in spite of an even higher ABV of 9%. Schlafly has received a lot of rave reviews that I’ve seen. Not that it doesn’t deserve it, but I did not like it as much as I thought I would considering what I’d read. I guess nothing dooms your expectations like good reviews. It was very good, which is why I rated it above the others. It was a little too spicy for my taste. By that I don’t mean hot, but just a little too heavy on the pumpkin spices. The ones I ranked 4-7 were very difficult to differentiate in rank order. All of them were very good and worthy of being sought out if one were in the mood for a pumpkin beer. Shipyard and Weyerbacher clocked in high on the ABV scale at 9% and 8%, respectively. I would say the Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin did taste a little more of alcohol, though it did still maintain some balance of pumpkin and spice flavor. The Weyerbacher was very smooth and not at all overpowering. Rogue Chatoe was a decent entry. I was attracted to it by the orange bottle. I appreciate that Rogue is growing their own barley, hops and pumpkins. I really have nothing bad or great to say. It was balanced. There was a good amount of pumpkin and spice flavor, but it was in the middle. I would have it again, but there are others I would have first. Rumpkin was a bit of a disappointment. As with Schlafly, I followed some of the hype and went out of my way to get it, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype. Rumpkin in a way doesn’t even fit in this category because it was aged in rum barrels. It has a strong flavor of rum that overpowers the pumpkin, practically making it non-existent. Also, the 18% alcohol comes through and also really overpowers the beer. Williamsburg AleWorks was another slight disappointment. I’d read good reviews, though I have never been super impressed with Williamsburg AleWorks beers before, I went out of my way to try this one. I used Total Wine’s online ordering to find it. They were out of stock, but I was able to get e-mail notification when they got it back. When I got the notification I went out of my way to get there and pick it up. It was just a little too heavy on the spices. I would say especially the cloves and/or maybe the nutmeg. It was a decent beer and I wouldn’t turn it away, but I would never search it out again the way I did for this taste comparison. Boxcar was interesting being the darkest entry in the category and not a bad beer. I was not disappointed, as I had no expectation going into it. It happened to be the first one I tried, which could be a disadvantage. The pumpkin flavor was good. It was smooth tasting and not heavy. However, it was not really special. I would probably give it another try, but I would not go out of my way for it. The last three I did not have high expectations for. None of them had received great reviews before. The Pumpkin UFO was pretty light and could be a good choice if you like light or wheat beers. The flavor wasn’t bad. I just probably wouldn’t have it again. The Harlot’s Harvest was OK, but not great. Again, I would just probably not have it again. The Saranac was clearly the least appealing of the bunch. I would not recommend it. Once again nothing really came close to the balance and smoothness of Dogfish Head’s Punkin’ Ale. I can tell that they really must have taken time experimenting with the flavor to get it just right. Most of the entries here were decent and would not be a waste of money, but if you asked me of course I would recommend Punkin’ Ale and, assuming you could find them all, I would recommend the top 10 above. However, if you really had to go out of your way to get them, I would say the top 6 were really worthy of the greater effort.