Study the photograph carefully. I am trying to understand the attraction of pumpkin beers. For heaven’s sake, it is just the middle of September!! Just for comparison I took a bite out of that monstrous zucchini (thanks Marjorie and Michael, we spiralized it). Not pleasant. Then I took a couple of mouthfuls of canned pumpkin and it was pretty much tasteless. I wouldn’t feed that to my dog…wait a minute…errr, I sometimes do feed it to my dog. In fact, she enjoyed the rest of the can over a period of days and it’s good for her digestive tract.
Back a bit, zucchini is pretty nearly tasteless in raw form. To make it edible, people bake it or sauté it, usually with bacon, which makes it pretty darn tasty ( yum…sautéed zucchini, bacon, and green chilies- I’ll get back to you on that). Or they grate it and put it into bread or muffins, but not before adding a lot of spices. Looking at my backyard, I’d almost rather add cottonwood leaves or pine needles to my beer.
When eating pumpkin pie, I taste the spices, but feel the fullness of the soft, but solid squash. So for a beer, you can add the spices, but it is damn near impossible to get the fullness, because it is a liquid. Other foodstuffs are much lighter, almost any fruit for example. Drinking a raspberry ale well give you the taste and an equivalent sense of fullness, just as if you are eating raspberries. Many other less dense fruits would and have worked similarly. Last year’s medalists in the Great American Beer Festival’s two fruit beer categories (6 medals total) included 3 apricot beers, 1 raspberry beer, 1 peach beer (Colorado’s own Pagosa Springs Brewery’s Peachy Peach), and 1 passion fruit beer. To be totally frank, pumpkin beers do get their own category, and I solemnly promise to seek those out at the upcoming GABF.
I do readily admit that some palates are far more sensitive than mine and perhaps one can tell the difference between the spice constellation and the pumpkin, but I feel you could brew a beer with just the spices then many people would “taste” the pumpkin.
I do appreciate brewers experimenting with different ingredients. Some additions make sense from an aesthetic point of view and others don’t. Moreover, like all of us, I don’t always like the final result, but I can appreciate the effort. For example, the Denver Beer Company’s Graham Cracker Porter is a favorite with a lot of folks. Graham crackers seem to be an appropriate addition to a porter. I can appreciate that it is a well-made beer, it just doesn’t appeal to my palate.
On the other hand, Wynkoop’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout simply seems frivolous, an unnecessary addition meant to garner press. Others, obviously, may disagree. In contrast to the Wynkoop effort I point to Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra. This is a foreign/export stout. Stouts have a long history in parts of Asia and the brewers have added Madras curry, cumin, cayenne, coconut, and Kaffir lime leaves, often used ingredients in certain Asian cuisines. It expanded my palate on what a stout can offer. I’m not sure I will be clamoring for another, but I enjoyed this one.
I suppose you could make the argument that here on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that steer testicles are a local ingredient. Although balls are plentiful, I feel this is more akin to slicing off a shark fin for soup or grinding a rhino horn for some potion.
As a beer geek and home brewer, I want any beer to taste good and be aesthetically sound as well. Those beers are honest even if they don’t excite my palate.
To some pumpkin beers…with a caveat. You will notice that there is quite a range in the color so please realize that there are several styles of beer represented here. Some would fairly say that this is like comparing apples to oranges, but my intent is to determine which beer best approaches the taste and/or feeling of pumpkin pie.
Black O’ Lantern Stout 6.5% ABV Wasatch Brewery
Again I can appreciate a brewery’s effort even if I don’t like the beer, but should this beer loom up before you, RUN! It tastes like latex. Ick. Ick. Ick. This should never have been released for public consumption. I had to pour out the bottle after two sips. And I only took two sips because I couldn’t believe how bad the first sip tasted.
Punkin Brown Ale 7% ABV Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Surprisingly light for a brown ale, both in color and mouthfeel. Just the barest hint of spice on my palate. I didn’t pour it out which is about the highest recommendation I can make.
Smashed Pumpkin 9% ABV Shipyard Brewing Company
Very mild spice notes. Without looking at the label I might not be able to identify it as a pumpkin beer.
Imperial Pumpkin 9% ABV Dry Dock Brewing Company
The sharp-eyed reader will notice there is no review. I can’t find my notes for this beer. Ah well, it’s back to the liquor store and I will up date this soon.
Imperial Pumpkin Porter 8.6% ABV Epic Brewing Company/DC Braul
Would I be doomed to taste mediocre (or worse) pumpkin beers? Fortunately, this one was quite enjoyable. Not a spice assault on the senses, but a nice balance. I would gladly drink this again.
Pump[KY]n 17.22% ABV Avery Brewing Company
A pricey brew at $12.59 for 12 ounces, but a delicious one. It smells faintly of pumpkin pie, spices, and baked squash, plus it has a full mouthfeel. Of course at 17.22% ABV, after a couple of sips, who the hell cares? But, seriously, this was by far the best of the bunch. Parenthetically, while enjoying this brew on our backyard patio, a yellow jacket nosedived right into the glass and expired (I assume happily, I certainly would have).
Photo credits- all mine except
Graham Cracker Porter https://www.applejack.com/beer/Denver-Beer-Graham-Cracker-Porter-w0867425v3
Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout http://www.wynkoop.com/blog/wynkoop-releases-first-cans-of-rocky-mountain-oyster-stout/