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Your Beermonger: Pumpkin Beer Showdown 2012

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Friday - 9/21/2012, 1:30pm  ET

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)

This past weekend I got to try out a slew of this year’s Pumpkin beers and fall seasonals with my wife’s and my friend Chassie Smith, who keeps a blog called Chassie’s Food And TV (guess what it’s about). A self-proclaimed beer novice, Chassie is a fan of just about all things pumpkin and wanted to get a couple different perspectives on the myriad of Pumpkin Ales on the market. To this end, she brought a few beers over, I brought a few from work, and we tasted them all to see what we liked, what we didn’t, and talk a bit about why one beer worked while another didn’t. For those curious, here are full notes and opinions about the beers we tried:

Blue Moon Caramel Apple Spiced Ale: This new seasonal from MillerCoors’ infamous “faux Craft” label uses apple juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel malts to create a brownish Ale that targets both Pumpkin Ale drinkers and cider fans. Despite my feelings about Blue Moon as an idea and a brand, this wasn’t nearly the awful mess I was expecting: in some ways it’s a pleasant enough fall beer, with the spices popping up on the front palate and apples coming through on the finish. The Spiced Ale may show too much focus-group style compromise, though; not beery enough for beer geeks, and not cidery enough for the cider fans.

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat Ale: Anheuser-Busch’s Shock Top line is a response to MillerCoors’ efforts to make consumers think they’re drinking a craft beer with Blue Moon. Shock Top’s Pumpkin Wheat is new for 2012, with pumpkin and spices added to the base Belgian-influenced Wheat Ale. Out of the whole lineup, this was the lightest on the palate and weakest in pumpkin/spice character. As a Belgian Wheat Ale, Shock Top is slightly watery and astringent to begin with; this Pumpkin Wheat variant is simply *blah*.

Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale: Remember us talking about Pumpkin Ales and other fall seasonals were arriving so early this year? It’s Harvest Moon’s fault. I started seeing this stuff on retailers’ shelves in July this year, as MillerCoors (smartly, from a business sense) played the odds knowing that folks tend to buy the first seasonal beer they see and then stick to that beer throughout that season. As a beer, Harvest Moon is…ok. It’s a perfectly serviceable Pumpkin Ale, if a little watery feeling. On its own Harvest Moon may have been a pleasant surprise; next to the true Craft Beers that came after it, it was exposed for its muted notes and thinner mouthfeel.

Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale: One of the first Pumpkin Ales I fell in love with, Dogfish Head’s seasonal offering went through several variations before seeming to settle in about 3-4 years ago. It had been some time since my last Punkin’, so I was curious to see how it was doing. The Dogfish stands out for its malty character, focused spice, and ‘big’ feel on the palate. Punkin’ Ale isn’t my favorite for the season, but it’s a good beer and deserves its popularity.

Terrapin Pumpkinfest: (Note—this beer is gone for the year) This was a pleasant surprise for me this year. We didn’t see any of this seasonal from Athens, GA last year but got a very short run of it for 2012. Thinking just outside the box as they usually do, the gang at Terrapin couldn’t decide whether to make a Pumpkin Ale or an Oktoberfest, so they made a beer that is both. The Pumpkinfest is a subtly brilliant idea; the Marzen-style Lager is a great base for an easy-drinking, approachable Pumpkin beer that allows for the gourd and spices to show through without using an overwhelming amount of them. Wish there was more of this.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale: For the past few years, Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale has been The Daddy when it comes to Pumpkin Ales in our home. A wonderfully balanced big beer, Imperial Pumpkin is darker than the Dogfish Head yet doesn’t come across as being as much of a Brown Ale as Punkin’. The spices are bold but show enough restraint to keep this beer drinkable. Still a go-to after all these years.

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