Tis the season.

This is our attempt at being topical. Since we started doing this, we never paid much attention to seasonals, but I thought this was a great opportunity to start. After a discussion regarding Schalfly’s Pumpkin Ale on twitter last week, I realized I needed to try it again. So this created an easy idea for a new review, pumpkin ales. Although I kind of had to convince Bob on this round.

Bob: One way for a good review to happen is to have very low expectations, which was how I embarked on this tasting session featuring pumpkin ales. Being pretty much a fan of Reinheitsgebot, the original German beer purity law, or, more properly, its modern 1993 version that permits wheat in addition to barley, I’m not a big fan of beer flavoring other than malted grain, hops and yeast.

Several outstanding chefs have pointed out that pumpkin in and of itself is pretty tasteless, so what we are usually tasting in pumpkin dishes is the spices the chef chose to enhance it. This was certainly the case for the ales we tasted. My overall impression is that the spices don’t do much to improve the beer, and often mask its own flavor to an objectionable extent.


Buffalo Bill’s America’s Original Pumpkin Ale (5.2% ABV)

America's Original Pumpkin Ale

Nik: I can’ recall anything I’ve had by this brewery, so I went in blind on this one. It poured out reasonably frothy with a very deep orange color and a hint of pumpkin in the aroma. It has a perfect clarity without any clouds. The beer has a slight sour taste with pumpkin overtones in the finish. This beer didn’t seem much like an ale to me, but more of a lager. This beer is ok, but if I never have it again, I don’t think I’ll miss it.

Bob: Pours to a deep golden color, very clear, with high carbonation and a small head that dissipates quickly. Has a mildly spicy aroma, not sweet or heavy. This is a light ale that more closely resembles a lager in body. Tastes somewhat spicy, and that taste was reinforced as I continued through my glass, although it remained fairly mild. Aftertaste of cloves, which lingered (objectionably, in my opinion.) Nothing I would bother ordering or buying again.

New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale (5.2% ABV)

Ichabod

Nik:  Ichabod also has a small head and a deep orange color, but this one is very dark. I love the color of this beer. Ichabod has a very nice aroma that’s lacking the pumpkin. In the taste, there’s not really much pumpkin flavor to talk about, but a slight hint in the aftertaste. This one also drinks more like a lager than an ale, but it does have a nice spice flavor at the end. Another one that I don’t care if I ever drink again.

Bob: The best thing about this brew was the label. In fact, it’s my impression when I visit my nearby beer emporium that much of the reason these pumpkin ales exist is to provide work for graphic artists (similar to what goes on in the wine industry, where hundreds of winemakers are trying somehow to distinguish their Merlots and Chardonnays.) Ichabod poured to a deep golden brown color, with little head and a clean, mild aroma. Had an extremely strong nutmeg taste and not much maltiness. I found little to recommend here.

Shipyard Pumpkinhead (5.1% ABV)

Pumpkinhead

Nik: Pumpkinhead also has a small head and great clarity. This seems to be a bit of a theme today doesn’t it? This beer smells like Budweiser. It just has that Pestalozzi St. aroma. I don’t know a better way to describe that smell. There’s a very strong sour, spice taste with a pumpkin after taste. This one wasn’t great. My hit and miss record for Shipyard remains in tact.

Bob: This poured to a very pale golden color with very little head. Mild aroma of cinnamon, reinforced by a very forward cinnamon taste and aftertaste. Highly carbonated. Didn’t actually taste very much like beer. Like Ichabod, its best feature was the label on the bottle.

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale (8.0% ABV)

Schlafly

Nik: This ale has a good head, a very deep orange bronze color with just amazing clarity. Like many other Schalfly beers, it doesn’t have much of an aroma, but it has a flavor. This beer has a great mix of the pumpkin taste and the beer taste. The fellows there have really expertly blended these tastes. In the past, I didn’t much care for Schalfly’s pumpkin ale. I just felt in paled in comparison to O’Fallon’s, which I couldn’t find in the mix a six for this post… This year is very different. I can’t recommend this enough.

Bob: At the risk of being considered a “homer” (Schlafly is a St. Louis microbrewer), let me say up front that this offering easily outdistanced the other pumpkin ales reviewed here. It was really no contest. Lest you think that every Schlafly product is a winner, however, my drinking companion assures me that their 2011 version bears no resemblance to the one they produced in 2010, which was pretty much crap. Perhaps they learned from their mistake. This brew poured to a deep golden brown color with a decent head, which still dissipated quickly. Not highly carbonated, it had a mildly spicy aroma that didn’t prepare me for its taste, which was actually quite pleasant due to an excellent blend (I repeat for all you brewing competitors–BLEND!) of spices, with no single spice predominant. It also had a much heavier body, with good malty tones, than the other brews we tasted. That may be due to its much higher ABV of 8%. If so, the extra grain was well spent, with no alcohol “hotness” and no feeling of getting drunk on a high-octane brew. Much to my surprise, I found myself liking Schlafly’s offering and may even have another bottle or two between now and Halloween!

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  9. Good review. Try the New Belgium PumpKick. Many of the pumpkin beers are too sweet. I found the PumpKick to be really good.

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