In the craft beer world, the term “seasonal” means less and less each year. Mostly, this is due to each brewery’s obsession with being the first to get their particular seasonal out on shelves. This afternoon, we went to the Steve’s on University Avenue, and they already have Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve (a hoppy, piney amber ale) in stock. It’s a good beer, but when it’s still hovering around 85 degrees in Madison, WI, it might be a little early for getting into the yuletide spirit. And this is coming from someone who will watch the HELL out of A Christmas Story year-round.
But man, do I mark out for fall and winter beers. Oktoberfests are okay, but honestly, if you’ve had a decent one, you’ve had them all (for the record, Paulaner and Ayinger make the best ones). What really gets me going, though, is pumpkin ales.
New Holland Ichabod, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, Post Road Pumpkin, I drink ’em all. This year, I’ve bought two so far, one a mainstay (Southern Tier’s Pumking) and the other a brand new one (Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin). Despite the common pumpkin element, these beers can vary wildly in flavor profile, so I thought it’d be nice to try these two side by side. We’ll start with Samuel Adams:
Samuel Adams is most famous for being the beer you buy in college when you feel like splurging. They get a lot of flack for being as big as they are (nationwide distribution and then some), but they’ve stepped up their game recently. Fat Jack is just the newest in their Batch One series, which also includes some pretty great brews in their Tasman Red IPA, Dark Voyage Baltic IPA, and Griffin’s Bow Blonde Barley Wine.
As expected, it’s a damn good beer. It pours almost like a brown ale, with some nice russet highlights and a giant khaki head. Aromas of fresh, creamy pumpkin pie, prominent cinnamon and nutmeg. Big, bready mouthfeel, with fresh pumpkin peel, sweet cream, brown sugar and tons of mashed pumpkin. The alcohol (8.5% ABV) is well-hidden, and it’s a steal at $6.99 for a 22 oz bottle.
This, my friends, is the Pumking.
It’s been around for years now, and is one of the more divisive pumpkin beers out there. Southern Tier has a tendency for generating that kind of buzz; their imperial stouts, particularly Creme Brulee, are knocked as overly sweet as much as they’re praised for big, bold flavors. Pumking is no different. This is my second time having it, and there’s a reason for that.
Michelle had this on tap about a year ago at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur, GA. I loved it, all the way. Michelle, though, tired of it about halfway through, and I can see why. At 9% ABV, and with a huge focus on the spice characteristics, it was a big, pumpkin-y beast.
Southern Tier must have mic’d our booth, because this year’s batch takes everything good about the beer and evens it out. The slightly lower alcohol content (8.6%) makes for a less bracing finish, while the big, bold pumpkin spices still cut through nicely. The carbonation is suitably prickly, which accentuates the bite of nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s a little pricier at $8.99 per 22 oz bottle, but it’s definitely worth it.
So yeah, get these beers, and any other pumpkin brews, while you can. By the time Halloween rolls around, we’ll be getting all kinds of big, crazy Christmas beers. Which is not a bad thing.