Pumpkin beer rodeo: 5 to try this Thanksgiving

Stan, CEO of Taste Terminal, pin up boy, and the guy who will someday sign my checks joined me in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. Or, I joined him … not sure which. All I know is we stayed in a crappy hotel and spent more hours together in 5 days than my family and I have logged in, well … ever. Our first night took us to Falling Rock, for they had a pumpkin beer night featuring Elysian Brewing Company. Elysian is a brewery out of Seattle, run by Dick Cantwell, who is known for brewing amazing pumpkin beers. Giddy up.

True story

So, we show up. It’s crowded. I’m thirsty. Both are par for the course. I’m standing in line, and mention to Stan, “we need to find a menu.” A Kind Stranger chimed in that we could grab one from the tables. I wrestled one away from an unsuspecting patron, and jumped right back in line.

“Want a recommendation?” says the Kind Stranger- a dashing man, in his somethings.

That I do, kind sir. Preach on.

Without prompting, my new buddy points out four beers to try.

“Thanks, I’ll try those,” I say, immediately setting my sites on the impending precious booze.

Immediately, the Kind Stranger was accosted by a geek proclaiming, “You’re Dick Cantwell.”

“Yes, I am.”

Yes, the Kind Stranger was Dick Cantwell. He was too humble to even tell us who he was, though I feel it might have led more credence to his recommendation.

Like the humble Mr. Cantwell, the pumpkin beers he makes so well are also the subject of geek excitement, but often times difficult to pick out of a crowd.

So, leave it to Uncle Cousin Little Jacey here to give you a few recommendations that will help you cut past the bad and pick out the gourd …

Uinta Punk’n


I like the idea that the Uinta Brewing folks from Salt Lake City, who are often seen as a bit square, decided to hip up their image by giving their pumpkin beer the name “Punk’n.” Take that, pumpkin- we just saved a single character. Brevity, bitches.

Poured into a tasting glass, this beer has a beautiful orange color, like the leaves of Fall. *Note for our Los Angeles readers: Fall is a season. One of four (yes, four). Check weather.com for more information.

[quote3]There seems to be a fair amount of carbonation, a moderate head at best that quickly fades. Not much lacing remains as you drink it down. This beer has a nice hint of sweetness, yet with a cracker-y dryness to keep it from ever hedging towards cloying. The aroma is pure pumpkin pie spice- allspice, clove taking the charge. The body is light, and this is what makes this beer such a favorite of mine. It’s a session pumpkin ale. 4% deliciousness, full of flavor. 4%. Thank you, horrible Utah alcohol laws.

Due to this light body, I find this to be one of the more pleasant pumpkin beers. The body is just too slight to be overloaded. This is no criticism. I don’t mean to say it’s flimsy or weak. It’s light and pleasant (like me … except pleasant). With such a session-able beer here, a little spice goes a long way, And Uinta is smart enough not to overdo it.

The end is drier, a slight twang lingering, and more pleasant orange really than bitter. Nutmeg stays behind and wraps up the whole affair. This is the choice for those that love pumpkin beers- their spice and aromas. It’s a pumpkin beer you can (and I will) drink many of. Makes the holidays go by faster.

Kern River Pumpkin Ale

Kern River Brewing Co. does not make a bad beer, and their streak continues here. To me, this is the pumpkin ale to start with. Not as spicy, nor sweet, nor full as the others, this to me feels like the pumpkin beer that combines them all in a perfect ratio. At 6%, it’s big enough to be a strong partner with food, but not so big that it weighs down its companion. Kern’s Pumpkin Ale is lighter color than Uinta. ‘Tis more a hazy sunset. Perhaps unfiltered? Sure, I could ask the brewer, but who doesn’t like rhetorical questions?

The nose is not quite as spicy as other, but actually has a slightly hoppy tinge. As I wet my whistle, I am greeted by a beautiful full mouth feel, with flavors reminiscent of graham cracker or baked pie crust.

Sure enough, the hop aroma pays off. The idea of a hop character in a style traditionally rooted in earthier and sweeter components may seem odd, but I find it actually enhances those elements. It adds to the dryness of the beer and keeps the spicing in check, never allowing it to over power. This is a subtle, smooth and round beer.

Bootlegger’s Brewery Pumpkin Ale

Bootlegger’s Pumpkin Ale one of the harder beers for me to get my hands on. Any time I looked for it, I was thwarted; though twice I happened upon it. An annual fave, not nearly distributed enough, here’s a really tasty beer you should save and savor as long as you can. A hazy orange pour, and throughout, the haze lingers. This is either unfiltered, or I they added pie crust to the beer. A nice head brings forth a beautiful aroma. There’s a nice cinnamon character and your menagerie of pumpkin pie spices.

The flavor too is really heavy on the cinnamon. It really is more preferable to me than the nutmeg bent some will display. The body is meaty, giving you a mouth feel you would expect from pumpkin pie.

This is a treat- a full 6.1 %. You feel this is a bit of a warmer, however, it is still light drinking and never heavy, with a sweetness and dry, earthy finish. It would go great with a big Thanksgiving meal, its full earthy base taking comfort in the confines of the rich bounty of calories, but with a sweetness and a spiciness that keeps it from adding to the brick that has dropped on your belly. A nice carbonation can scrub the fat, while the nutty, cinnamon-y spiciness will make a nice contrast to the savory, salty. This would be awesome with stuffing and gravy. Plus, thanks to the beer, you’ll be ready for pumpkin pie, if you don’t feel like you just had it already.

Shipyard Brewing Company Smashed Pumpkin

I reviewed the Smashed Blueberry a couple of weeks back. I really enjoyed that. I don’t love this one as much, but it’s one of those beers, where I can see someone would fall in love with it. It’s like a hot girl your buddy points out, where you’re thinking, “Meh, but I can see where another one of these jokers would want to take her out for a steak dinner.”

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin is the biggest of those on this list. At 9% this isn’t a slice of pumpkin pie; it’s the whole pie. Here we have a beautiful light orange, dark golden pour, with a nice fluffy head.

Aromas and flavors will meld and pay each other’s promises off. I get golden raisin, nutmeg, and a residual sweetness. There lies a doughy, pumpkin pie crust and notes of chewy, pie meat. Deeper in, I note a possible brandy character. Hmm, slightly vinous? You can feel the heft of this beer.

I read a review of this where someone said they like the bigger pumpkin beers. I can say I think pumpkin beers should be one or the other, but here, I feel the strength takes away. It feels bigger, boozier, and less graceful than the others. [quote2 align=right]

Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot to like here. I can see this on the table, with stuffing with raisins, a juicy slice of turkey and a dollop of yams.

Stone Collaboration – Bruery / Elysian / Stone La Citrueille Céleste de Citracado

Here’s what you call a happy accident (much as my parents dubbed my sister). I drank this beer unintentionally. I thought I was pulling out an Oaked Arrogant Bastard, opened it, and realized it tasted a hell of a lot more spicy than the normal OAB. My lack of attention to detail is my gain (a great message for me to give myself). I have apparently opened the new Stone Brewing Co. collaboration beer, La Citrueille Céleste de Citracado. This is an amber ale brewed with pumpkins grown on Stone Farms, yams, rye, toasted fenugreek, birch bark and lemon verbena.

There’s this beautiful spicy, cinnamon nutmeg thing going on. It pours ruby brown with an average head. The aroma offers a nice spice, possibly from the rye and other accoutrements. But this is no mere explosion of aroma, the taste is just dynamite. Man, I love this beer.
As advertised here, this is a mélange of flavors. Lemon verbena does as advertised adding a slight citric note that runs throughout. It’s not bitter, but flavorful, and almost sweet.

Fenugreek is an ingredient used to flavor maple syrup like Mrs. Butterworth’s. By the way, never hear about Mr. Butterworth. He’s never around. I hope everything’s okay with those two. Anyway, the fenugreek really adds that classic “maple” note. This is the way it should be used, adding a sweetness but not overdone as to take over the show.

Then, there’s birch bark. I wouldn’t have thought to add this to a holiday ale, but then again, there’s a reason I sit on the sidelines being snarky as opposed to actually brewing. What a nice addition. Think root beer, and dial it in a notch. The birch adds a nice mellow, sweet, almost woody character.

Oh, and the whole reason this beer is in here; pumpkin! … and yams, says the peanut gallery. This is how pumpkins should be used, their meaty slightly sweet character truly used to add an accent to the beer instead of relegated to walk-on-player who’s merely included as a reason to call the beer a pumpkin beer. There is a character here of the pumpkin and the yams. A sweetness and chewy yammy quality runs throughout. I immediately think of baked yams, covered with maple syrup, matched with a nice lemon zest and a kiss of root beer.

An amazing pumpkin beer and really a deft blending of so many ingredients, none of which does anything but enhance the others. This is a team effort. The Lakers could learn something from this beer. Got it, ya show boaters? [quote]

Hey, guess who was a collaborator on this beer … Elysian. That’s right, Dick Cantwell. And so, with that, we have come full circle. Try some of these beers, as they are some really great examples of what a tasty, spicy and carried category the pumpkin ales can be.

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