It's that time of year when seasonal beers take center stage to usher us into the holiday season. From October to January festive beverages abound. First up: Pumpkin beer.
A year ago, while touting the merits of Great Lakes' Nosferatu red ale as my favorite fall beer, I took a shot at the autumn seasonals brewed with pumpkin. Why? Well, they contain pumpkin.
While I still love Nosferatu (and this year's batch is extra-delicious), I decided to set aside my bias against pumpkin beer — too syrupy and too much spice at the expense of subtlety — and give the style another try.
A few friends and I tried five of the six beers below and discussed. The good news is that we didn't find any of them overly cloying. The bad news is, some were clearly better than others.
A note about the O'Fallon I drank a few nights earlier: I had already had a pale ale that night and didn't want more hops. I didn't want the largeness of a stout or porter. A spiced beer was the perfect compromise. I'm slowly being won over.
Arcadia Ales Jaw-Jacker Ale
Simple, autumnal and spicy. This brew makes no claim of including pumpkin as an ingredient. Instead, Jaw-Jacker lets the spice — cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg — do the work. And it works.
3.5 pumpkins out of 5
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
As usual, Dogfish Head comes through. This full brown ale was the favorite of a few tasters. Its boldness and dryness offset ample malt and spice. At 7 percent, the highest alcohol by volume of the beers we tried. 4 pumpkins
New Holland Ichabod
Like most of the others here, brewed with real pumpkin. Strikes a balance by being nicely bitter up front and malty on back end. Heavy pumpkin and spice on nose, less on palate. 3 pumpkins
O'Fallon Pumpkin Beer
A bright nose, almost Belgian-like, backed up by a bright tone. The spice — cinnamon, nutmeg and clove — are strong in the nose, but come in late on the palate. It makes this beer gently complex, even if it could stand a bit more robustness.
Southampton Pumpkin Ale
This brew went nowhere for anyone in the room. A mild nose was backed up with almost no flavor. The label says the beer is brewed with "pumpkin, spices and vanilla extract," but it's tough to pick out any of those — or anything else.
St. Ambroise Citrouille
So they have Halloween in Canada? This Montreal brewery says yes. Or oui. Unfortunately, we found this brew thin and lacking body. It also finished oddly — a little sour — which undermined the promise of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove. 2 pumpkins
This little experiment left me already looking forward to Christmas beer. Though now that I think of it, why aren't there more Thanksgiving beers?