Pumpkin Brew Roundup

Pumpkin is our ingredient of the season. We have a stew, cookies, and popsicles to go with your pumpkin brewfest (because you’re planning one, right?).

Today we’re hopping back into the archives and republishing Sarah’s Pumpkin Brew Roundup (originally published in October of 2014). You have off today, right? Why not spend the afternoon sampling a variety of pumpkin ales? If you’re not that lucky and are stuck sitting at your desk on this Monday, we figured you could at least read our review and pick up a six-pack on your way home… and that’s how we justified talking about beer on a Monday. Happy sampling!  liveseasoned_fall14_pumpkinbeertastetest-4

I’m not sure any other flavor has captured everyone’s hearts like pumpkin has.  As each autumn rolls around I see more and more pumpkin products popping up on shelves and appearing on menus.  We wanted to do some type of pumpkin taste test, but since running around to six different restaurants seemed time-consuming and a little bit expensive, we settled on a mixed six pack of pumpkin brews.  I love trying seasonal beers, especially Oktoberfest, so I figured a roundup of pumpkin beers and ciders would be just as enjoyable.  There are also a ton of pumpkin beers out there so finding six was easy peezy. I actually ended up picking four pumpkin beers and two pumpkin ciders, because come on, apples are our ingredient of the season and I just couldn’t resist. Spoiler alert: I actually enjoyed the ciders more than the beers!

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While I would like to pretend that I know a ton about beer, the truth is, I drink a lot and I know a little.  I’m pretty adventurous in that I will almost always try a ‘new to me’ beer when I’m at a restaurant or brewery.  If the brewery has a tasting flight, you can bet I’ll order one as long as I’m not driving.  That being said, I would love to give you apt descriptions of each of the beers I tried, but I can only give you my opinions (S for Sarah) and those of my tasting partner (K for Kevin). The descriptions of each brew are taken from the respective brewer’s websites (B for brewer) so that you have a bit more information.

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Harpoon Pumpkin Cider 4.8%*

  • S: Smooth, crisp and drinkable with no carbonation.  Strong apple flavor and a hint of clove. Reminds me of kombucha.
  • K: Light and watery with a sweet finish.
  • B: “Real pumpkin and freshly pressed apples are combined with seasonal spices to craft this pure and natural craft cider. Apple forward taste with all the traditional Autumn flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg, and a touch of sweetness for balance.”

Ace Hard Pumpkin Cider 5 %

  • S: Sweet with a bit of fizz, but not much.  Almost tastes like sparkling apple cider, without the sparkle.
  • K: Apple taste, thick, fizzy and sweet.
  • B: “We add cinnamon, cloves, and allspice to fermented apple juice to produce a 5% ABV cider which tastes just like pumpkin pie!  It is light orange in color with a full, rich taste. We carbonate the cider and cold- filter it 4 times before we bottle and keg it.”

Harpoon UFO Pumpkin Ale 5.9%

  • S: Full bodied and smooth.  Overwhelming malt and spice flavor. A little too heavy for my taste.
  • K: Dry and bland, but crisp feeling.
  • B: “Imagine a pumpkin vine wound its way in a field of barley, and a brewer harvested it all to make a beer.  The malt combination provides a smooth body and slightly sweet flavor, which balances perfectly with the earthy notes derived from the pure pumpkin. The taste is a solid malt backbone highlighting German Vienna and Munich malts with a nice dose of pumpkin and spice, reminiscent of pumpkin pie.”

 

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Shipyard Pumpkinhead 4.5%

  • S: Old apple pie, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • K: Garbage, sweet beer (?), yuck, lingering bad aftertaste. (Can you tell this was K’s least favorite?)
  • B: “Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale is a crisp and refreshing wheat ale with delightful aromatics and subtle spiced flavor.”

Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale 5%

  • S: Heavy, full, rich and aromatic.
  • K: Dark, rich, phosphorescent and pumpkin flavored.
  • B: “Hundreds of pounds of pumpkins are blended into the mash of each batch, creating a beer with an orange amber color, warm pumpkin aroma, biscuity malt center, and crisp finish.”

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale 6.35%

  • S: Full, heavy and bitter.
  • K: Bitter, fizzy, IPA like.
  • B: “We brew our ale with the addition of pumpkin to the mash, along with traditional spices to create a delicious American original.”

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Tasting six pumpkin beers and ciders at once was enlightening.  I realized that most of them actually don’t taste like pumpkin.  To their credit, they taste more like pumpkin pie or apple pie.  The spice combination and aroma is there, but an overwhelmingly pumpkin taste is not.  K and I thought that the Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale had the most pumpkin flavor and after reading all the brewers’ descriptions, it sounds like Brooklyn adds the most pumpkin mash to the mix.  I didn’t expect the beers to taste exactly like pumpkin, but sometimes I order a blueberry beer and I’m like, ‘holy sh!t, that tastes like blueberry!’ Know what I mean?  I definitely didn’t have any of those moments, but I did realize a few things about my tastes during the pumpkin brew tasting session. Pumpkin beers are consistent in that they’re full-bodied and spicy, making them a heavier beer to drink.  I probably wouldn’t order more than one or two.  Pumpkin ciders are much easier to drink because they have the flavor without the carbonation.  They’re a bit sweet and only slightly fizzy, which actually reminds me of kombucha.  I was never a fan of hard apple cider because I thought it was too sweet, but with the added nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and ginger spices, pumpkin ciders are less sweet, which I love.

Taste testing aside, sitting around a table full of pumpkin beer and cider was a great way to kick off the fall feeling in my neck of the woods.  It’s still pretty warm in North Carolina, but the leaves are starting to change and fall.  Sometimes I need an excuse to sit outside and simply enjoy the weather and that’s what this taste testing provided me with.  If you’re like me and need an excuse, invite your friends over and have them all bring a pumpkin beer or a seasonal ale.  If they’re lucky like me, they might see a rafter of turkeys crossing the road on the way home from the bottle shop.

*The absolute winner! K and I both loved, loved, loved the Harpoon Pumpkin Cider.
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Spring Beer Sampler

 

liveseasoned_spring2014_beer_glasses2_wmTop ‘o the mornin’ to ya! Happy St. Patricks Day.  Will you be sipping on a green beer today?  Katie and I agree that drinking beer with your friends is always in season.  Today we’re sharing our spring sampler picks and urging you to go grab yourself a sixer.

I’m more likely to order a beer than a mixed drink or a shot, but sometimes I’m at a loss for what to order.  I find myself sticking to the tried and true (Yuengling anyone?), which always taste great, but fail to surprise and excite my tastebuds like they did in the past.  If this sounds familiar, why not try sampling a six pack of new-to-you brews?  That’s what the Seasoned gang did this weekend and we were not disappointed.  We learned a lot about the various beers and our own tastes.  We also wrote down our views and opinions of each hoping to pinpoint our preferences for future bar and bottle shop visits.

If you were following our Instagram feed, you probably noticed that there was a meeting of the Seasons last week when Katie and her gang were on their roadtrip. Minutes after they settled in, we paid a visit to the  Weaver Street Market, Carrboro’s co-op, to browse for beers.  Other than ordering a flight of beer in one of our favorite PA breweries, we have never sampled a variety of beers in one go at home. That said, we are amateurs when it comes to setting up a tasting, and we went with our guts when it came to making our selection. We scanned the shelves for both spring inspired and local beers and walked away with a great selection brewed in North Carolina, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maine. Side note from Katie: In addition to the spring brews, I threw in the Sly Fox Christmas Ale as the rogue out-of-season beer because I’m in love with it and wanted to see what Sarah thought. 

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We set up a blind tasting to ensure we weren’t judging our brews by their labels.  If we were, Green Man and Sly Fox tied for the blue ribbon.  Being the Pennsylvania natives that we are, we made sure to include a bowl of pretzels to cleanse our pallet between beers. We also prepared score sheets so that we could keep track of our honest opinions of each beer.  We quickly realized we don’t posses the same vocabulary of experienced brew competition judges, but our simple notes were enough to categorize our tastes: Kate and Sarah on one end and Kevin on the other.

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Our Picks:

Carolina Blonde Cream Ale by Foothills Brewing -NC

Carolina Blonde was everything the bottle said it should be.  Clean, refreshing, rich, golden and unmistakably smooth.  We all agreed this smelled like beer.  That’s how articulate we are.  This beer was so smooth it was almost like drinking water.  It was good, but I wouldn’t say it was flavorful and on that same note it had really clean and refreshing qualities.  I commented, ‘replace your water with this,’ and I meant it.  It’s really easy to drink and it seems hydrating at the same time. Katie here: when I read Sarah’s water comment during the tasting, I laughed thinking she meant that it was equivalent to water (flavor-less, color-less, low in alcohol content, etc ), but after reading her explanation, I understood what she meant. This beer fell a bit flat for me, as Sarah said, it wasn’t as “flavorful” as the other more creative picks on the list, but it wasn’t necessarily brewed to have the fruity and hoppy notes that the others do, so perhaps this is an unfair comparison? 

Namaste by Dogfish Head Brewery -DE

Namaste is a white beer brewed with orange slices, lemongrass, coriander and peppercorns.  White beers and wheat beers are very similar, which is why Kevin loved this as much as the Weeping Willow Wit.  Namaste is a beautiful golden brew with a very fragrant aroma.  Kate thought it tasted like tea, Kevin like wheat and I like perfume.  I often taste what I smell so in this case the aroma was too overpowering for me, but for those of you that enjoy fruity, crisp, wheat beers, cheers to you!

Piercing Pils by Dogfish Head Brewery -DE

Piercing Pils is a Czech- style Pilsner brewed with pear juice, pear tea and Saaz hops.  Pilsners are hoppy, which translates to a spicy or floral aromatic flavor.  We all noticed a lemony-fresh scent along with hints of spring in this beautiful orangey golden beer.  Again Katie and I tasted the same peppery hops, while Kevin tasted the opposite: a lemony and light flavor, which was actually the pear ingredients coming through.  If you like a spicy and fragrant beer, this ones for you.

Rambler Spring Ale by Green Man Brewery -NC

Kate and I both fell in love with the beer immediately because of the label, cap, and brand, and it warmed our little tastebuds to know that it was actually one of our favorites in the blind taste test.  Kate and I both smelled orange blossom and Kevin and I also smelled lots of hops.  Rambler is a Pale Ale, which means there’s a balance of both malt and hops.  The Rambler features British malt and American hops with a floral undertone.  Kevin despises Pale Ales so it’s no wonder he didn’t dig this brew, but Kate and I on the other hand loved it.  Kate’s final assessment was ‘double love’ while mine was ‘drink this in the woods or around a campfire.’

Christmas Ale by Sly Fox -PA

We all agreed that this rich chestnut colored ale smelled exactly like Christmas.  Scents of clove, ginger, all spice, cinnamon and nutmeg translates into warm coziness for the nostrils.  Kate thought it tasted like nutmeg and Christmas cheer and while I had never tasted Christmas cheer, I thought it had a spicy, but mainly sweet, warm and maple syrup flavor.  We all agreed it made us feel warm and cozy inside, which is exactly what this ale intends.  If you missed Katie’s earlier note, we threw this one into the mix because she loved it to the moon and back and she had to pass it on and I’m oh so glad because it transported me right back to December. Katie here: I didn’t discover this Christmas Ale until after the season, but when I opened my first can of it, I was blown away by the spicy aroma, and I had one of those weird smell-induced memories that took me back to buying lebkucken in the Christmas markets in Germany. 

Weeping Willow Wit by Mother Earth Brewing Co. -NC

A Wit is a Belgium Wheat Ale that uses at least 25% of wheat malts.  The Weeping Willow Wit has a low hop bitterness paired with orange peels and coriander, which explains why Katie and I both thought it tasted peppery and spicy.  Kevin liked the light and subtle taste, which can be explained by his love of spice and distaste for bitterness (which this beer is not) making this one of his favorites.

Simco Spring Ale by Peak Organic Brewing -ME

This was another favorite of both Katie and I, while Kevin, the pale ale hater, thought it tasted bitter.  We all loved the look of this pretty orange brew and the flowery and sweet scent lulled us into a spring daydream.  Katie and I both described the flavor as fruity and light.  Katie even went so far as to describe the feel as effervescent, which is why we gave her the master judger award. Katie: a couple of days after the test, I’m still thinking about this beer! At the time I tasted it, I picked up on a distinct light and fruity taste, and scouting around online, I noticed that it was described as having “piney” and fruity notes, which is exactly right! There was a taste that I couldn’t describe when sampling, but it is definitely that hint of pine. Just as Sly Fox was so perfectly Christmas, this one is spring in a bottle. On a sadder note, maybe I was delirious from all of the road-trip driving, but throughout our taste test, I was sure that this one was called “Sycamore” Spring Ale, and I loved it all the more for having such a perfect name so I was bummed when I realized my mistake… and now I’m hoping that someone out there will brew up a batch of Sycamore Spring Ale for me. 

liveseasoned_spring2014_beer_pretzels2_wmAfter sipping our sampler pack and reviewing our comment cards we all really got a feel for what types of beer we prefer.  Katie and I steer towards pale ales while Kevin likes wheats and whites.  Usually I feel sleepy when I drink at home, but the blind taste test added a whole other element to drinking beer after beer.  We chatted about each selection, singled Kevin out for his opposite tastes and had a much livelier time than if we were drinking the usual Yuengling.

Katie (ugh, again, I know): I second Sarah’s comment that this was a lot of fun! To do this test, we bought a variety 6-pack from the grocer. And I wanted to butt-in to Sarah’s post just one more time to justify that purchase and encourage all of you to go out and do the same. It’s slightly more expensive than buying a 6-pack of a single beer, but obviously much less expensive than if we were to buy packs of each of the beers tested here. The beginning of the season is the perfect time to do a little test like this. I sampled the now notorious Christmas Sly Fox when I picked up a winter sampler in January, and immediately I wished I had tried it sooner so that I could have enjoyed it all winter. After this tasting, I’m excited for warm evenings on the deck or in the garden with the Simcoe and Rambler spring ales!

What about you, have you tried any of the beers on our list? If so, what did you think? How do you pick new beers to sample? By their label? Or is your choice more informed?

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