Since fall has decided it wants to now show up a week from Halloween, we are going to start getting into something that I am shocked we have never done. We’ve been at this for 2 1/2 years and +/- 160 beer reviews, and we have never once reviewed a pumpkin beer. With this once nitche fall-transitional beer taking on a whole new persona in the craft beer market, it makes it hard to really fit them in this time of year. Brewers have to get it on the shelf early to beat out the competition, which means that you start seeing them middle of August. But the consumer doesn’t want to really get into them until the weather cools down, which started across the Commonwealth last week. And where you had a few weeks for ‘Pumpkin Power’ after the Octoberfest Marzens but before the spiced stouts and winter warmers of the holidays, that window is really shrinking. And this is sad, because there are some actually really good pumpkin beers. And through it all, this is still the best one in the Commonwealth every year without fail.
Pumpkin Ale, Alewerks Brewing Company (Williamsburg, VA)
Pumpkin Ale, ABV: 7.3%,
Presentation: Tap and bottle pour into pint glass. You can switch out the pint glass for a snifter with the imperial version, but your aroma capture is not affected for the straight-forward version.
Appearance: Dark orange and brownish, slight tannish tint on off white head, which sits up and stays fairly long, falling just short of capping.
Aroma: Pumpkin spices of cinnamon, clove, allspice push through, with a fleshy gourd background. The base ale provides a touch of malt and bread deep inside.
Taste: Stay with me. The most important factors for pumpkin ales are (1) base beer, (2) pumpkin/gourd taste, and (3) spice. An overpowering of one can really turn people off to the whole genre, which happens more often than not. This beer has always had the right blend of pumpkin and spice notes, supported by a solid malty base. And that’s what you get in the taste. Spice and pumpkin are upfront, but you don’t get that sharpness from over-spice, nor do you get that fleshy taste from too much gourd in your beer.
ABV/IBU Mouthfeel: This is a very rounded mouthfeel, with some intermediate spice (not spicy) notes. It will end fuller towards malts and slight spice. And in this realm, it is the best there is. It is slightly heavier than a medium, but does not weigh you down. This also masks a good chunk of the 7.3% ABV. Hops takes an extreme backseat in this one, so don’t go digging for any alpha notes in this one.
Overall: I’m not the only one who thinks this is a good beer. BA & users consistently rate this in the 9s and Men’s Journal has this beer as one of the ‘101 Best Beers in America’ (and only pumpkin beer on the list). The 2014 version would definitely fall into this elite category. In 2015, there was a lot more dark fruit undertones before, a big departure from the previous year. This year’s version is reminiscent of that amazing 2014 batch in it’s gourd-to-spice ratio. If you haven’t seen it on tap or in 6-packs, you’ve been inside too much, as this beer is canvased across the Commonwealth. It is the champ of the group. Start here and compare others.