By Chris Maza
On principle, I have held out on writing about pumpkin beers, Octoberfests and anything else fall until now.
For me, the fact that fall seasonal offerings are becoming available in mid-August just offends my sensibilities and therefore I refuse to acknowledge them until the calendar flips to September.
Usually this is easy enough because my wife, a teacher, has a rule that she will not pick one up until the school year begins. Of course, this year she was really put to the test as the Springfield Public Schools 2013-2014 calendar started in August, but she held out and for that I am extremely proud.
But now that the season is really upon us, I have during the past couple of weeks been able to sample a few pumpkin beer selections – one 12-ounce bottle of each from The Beer Shop in East Longmeadow – and am excited to share them with you. I think this time around, there’s something for everyone.
Harpoon UFO Pumpkin Ale
Harpoon’s UFO line – which stands for UnFiltered Offering – has its supporters and its detractors and I tend to fall in the latter category, but the Pumpkin Ale has me rethinking this a bit.
The hazy orange coloring gives it the look and the nose of the beer that promises a pretty substantial wallop of pumpkin flavor and the taste doesn’t disappoint. It’s mildly spiced, but a little on the sweet side, so probably not a beer one could drink too many of before feeling either full or like they’re developing a cavity. Still, it’s overall very satisfying and one that the standard pumpkin beer fan should definitely reach for.
Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Post Road, which is produced by Brooklyn Brewery, one of my favorite breweries, is the antithesis of the previously mentioned beer. With a clear, dark amber color and nice head, it’s very appealing visually and the nose is full of pumpkin and spices.
Unlike the UFO, however, the roasted malts are most prevalent, followed by the spices and a subtle, but good, pumpkin profile, plus some hop bitterness. It’s also a bit lighter in terms of body, making it easy to drink. While not the standard pumpkin ale, it is a good fall beer that would probably go well with some raking in the back yard.
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
Smuttynose is one of those breweries that promises one thing – quality. This offering is no different. While some people may complain that pumpkin beers are over spiced, Smuttynose provides an option that lets the natural taste of the pumpkin as well as crispness that people can associate with the time of year. Think amber ale with some pumpkin and that’s a pretty good representation of this beer. You get the great pumpkin taste without a ton of artificial sweetness and a nice medium body.
Wolaver’s Organic Pumpkin Ale
Wolaver’s is produced by Otter Creek and boasts that it is made with local Vermont pumpkins that are organically grown. Sounds good to me.
However, like Post Road, it isn’t your standard pumpkin ale. A unique kind of bitterness is featured in this beer, which is due to a generous amount of cloves in the spice profile, making it unique compared to a beer with more hops. It’s a taste that not all will love, but I’m a fan of the different take. It finishes off with nice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. If there’s one thing I wish, it would be that the pumpkin was a bit more prevalent, but it’s still a very solid deviation from the style.
While we’re on the subject of fall beers, there are a couple of other breweries that I’d like to lift a glass to for their efforts.
The first is Left Hand, whose Oktoberfest is probably the best I’ve ever tasted. This Marzen style lager has a terrific amount of caramel malts with some nice spices thrown in there, though I can’t place exactly which ones really pop. It finishes crisp and dry like a good lager should and with its medium body it’s possibly the perfect example of what a fall seasonal should be.
The other is Samuel Adams, who has outdone itself with its Harvest Collection fall seasonal variety pack. While none are outstanding, every beer in the pack is absolutely well suited for the season, well-crafted, and drinkable, which is a huge plus for me. Too many times have I turned down a mix pack because of a Cranberry Lambic or Cherry Wheat.
In addition to the obvious Boston Lager, Octoberfest and much improved Harvest Pumpkin, some lesser-known and new beers round out the mix quite well. The Latitude 48 IPA stirs up an otherwise pretty malty group of beers with six different varieties of hops; the Hazel Brown takes the nutty brown ale in a different direction with roasted hazelnut; and the new Ruby Mild, while sweet, is a smooth and light easy drinker.
I would highly recommend picking up either of these.