I happened to be passing through Williamsburg one day recently and realized I’d never visited the Williamsburg Alewerks taproom. It was a beautiful Fall afternoon and couldn’t have been a more perfect time, so I decided to drop in. I’d really only tried their Old Stitch Brown Ale before while enjoying a Colonial dinner at Chowning’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg. That was decent, but not spectacular. This time I decided to try some of their more kicked up recipes…I went with the Bourbon Barrel Coffee Stout called Cafe Royale, a Belgian Strong Ale called Jubilee IX, a Pumpkin Ale, and a collaboration they did with Virginia Beer Company that is a Red Rye IPA. I appreciated that the bourbon barrel stout was not overly bourbony. The bourbon nicely complimented the roasty and coffee flavors of the stout. I would give that beer a solid three out of five proper pints. I really liked the Jubilee IX. It had the strong dark fruit flavors of a dark strong ale, along with a slight estery flavor from the Belgian yeast. The 12% ABV was well hidden. I could have had a few of these and had to leave in a wheel barrow. That one I would give four out of five proper pints. The pumpkin ale was a little too spicy for my taste. I usually like a little more of the malt signature in a pumpkin ale. The spice mixture was a little heavy on clove, I would say. That happens to be my least favorite of the pumpkin pie spices. I would give that one two and half proper pints. My favorite of all was the Red Rye IPA. I love rye in almost anything. This was very refreshing with a slight fruity flavor mixed with a little spice from the rye and grapefruit from the hops. I could have this beer anytime. I would give it four and a half proper pints. Overall, I enjoyed Williamsburg Alewerks and would definitely stop in again the next time I’m in town.
For several years I have been an avid fan of the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, that annually debuts right around, and sometimes on, my birthday. For many of those years, I would have said the debut of the Punkin Ale was one of my favorite times of the year and that the beer itself is one of my all time favorite beers. In recent years there has been such an embarrassment of riches in craft beer and so many breweries have taken pumpkin beer to new levels, it’s harder to say that Punkin Ale is still my favorite overall beer. Nevertheless, it is clearly among my favorite pumpkin beers. One thing occured, though, that may endanger that trend. Beginning in 2014, it seems, I perceived a change in the recipe, as did several of my other beer geek friends. Some abandoned it altogether because of the change. One went so far as to call it undrinkable. Dogfish Head definitely did change the label and, not for the better, IMHO. However, it is difficult to judge whether a beer recipe has changed in an annually released beer, since you normally can’t compare it side to side with the earlier version…unless you hoard beer like I do and happen to have three bottles of Dogfish Head Punkin Ale in your refrigerator from each of 2013, 2014 and 2015. To test my friends’ reactions, as well as my own perception, I decided I would try a side by side comparison (they appear left to right in the photo above) to see if I could tell for certain how big the differences were and identify them, if possible. You may be able to see that once poured into the glass, there are some differences in the color. They are not major, but the 2013 version is a bit darker than the other two. The 2015 is the lightest. Overall, I would say it turned out the differences were not as stark as I thought. However, they were distinguishable and I had my wife taste as well just to be sure. By far, the 2013 has the most pronounced pumpkin pie spice flavor with distinct flavors of brown sugar and nutmeg. It also has a bready aroma similar to an English muffin. The 2014 version, was the most non-pumpkiny. They was very little pumpkin pie spice flavor, though there was a trace of cinnamon. Brown sugar was not noticeable to me. It tasted the most like a regular brown ale. It had the aroma of whole wheat bread with a little cinnamon. The 2015 version had a noticeable hoppy bitterness to it that the others did not have, as well as a little yeast in the aroma. It returned more toward the pronounced pumpkin pie spice flavors from 2014, but was still less than the 2013 version. Overall, the 2013 was my favorite and, I think tasted the most like a pumpkin ale. For my two cents, the label on the 2013 version is also the best. I say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but I know there has been a lot of competition in the pumpkin ale category in recent years and the good folks at Dogfish Head may have felt compelled to try out some different things. Fortunately, the beer seems headed back in the original direction. Punkin Ale is still a darn good beer and I would not call any of the versions undrinkable. Still, I think the older version is definitely better.