Blind Beer Tasting: Relying on Our Other Senses

Last Friday, I went to a blind tasting hosted by Heavy Table and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild – my first ever. And, boy, it was tough. Never in my life had I been so faced with the inability to react to visual cues and branding. I was left to focus on my other beer-drinking senses, rather than my “does this label suck?” sense – which, if you know me, is very hard to turn off. But at the same time it was liberating to not have to worry about the company, style, reputation or branding (I guess, until after, when it was revealed and some of our opinions proved surprising).

What was fun though was experiencing the “back to basics” approach that a blind tasting brings out – it’s not about the fancy label or name (or lackthereof), how the beer fits the style guidelines (although they were in flights kind of organized by style or flavors, Brown bag 40sor recognizing it has a high ABV,  hence the tulip glass. All of the beers we tasted came in tulip glasses or beer festival tasters, adding to the intrigue (and frustration). Much like these 40s (had a few weeks ago at World Street Kitchen), hidden inside brown bags, you don’t know what’s there or how to feel about it before you taste it and truly know how you feel about it. I spent most of my time swirling and smelling – I could not get enough of the scents. Next time you have a beer, although you may look like an idiot, close your eyes and breath it all in. Never have I had so many memories or feelings flooding my brain. BEER FEELINGS!

That all being said, it was cool for me to see which beers I really liked – those that I liked with and without the branding (Indeed Burr Grinder, Summit Frost Line Rye) and those that surprised me, both positively and negatively. Check out the article to read more and see some cool pictures!

Infusing Spirits with Liz and Mike

As some of you may know, we’ve been experimenting with infusing our own spirits as a more immediate way than homebrewing to do exciting at-home DIY booze things. I’m not going to claim this is a new idea, if anything it just seemed like a crazy hoity-toity out-there idea until our friends infused their own vodkas a few years ago with a variety of fun and crazy things in small batches (and then made their own bitters – what?!). But over the summer, Mike and I, thanks to his parents’ CSA, came into quite a bit of basil. Like bagfuls. We had to find a timely way to use it beyond the usual pasta/pesto combination, so we thought we’d finally try our hand at infusing our own spirits – and haven’t stopped since.

Infusion Collage

After extensive internet research to find the perfect combinations of flavors suitable to our tastes and getting a sense of the process, I realized that there really isn’t a site that has just a chart with all of the things they like to infuse and how long to let it sit for before trying.  That was the original goal of this post, but as I write it I realize it’s not as exhaustive as I’d like, and really more like a recap of what I’ve done. Hence, I have included some links/ information I have located that I have not tried, but have greatly considered and if I ever do, will update. Sounds good? Great.

First off, a couple rules about infusing:

  1. Do not use nice / the best you can find. That’s just stupid.  Use a slightly above bottom shelf or even mid-shelf brand. We used Prairie vodka once and it felt wasteful, so instead I would recommend just your old friend from college, Smirnoff. Or in the case of gin, Beefeater.
  2. Shake daily. Agitation is key to infusing, and plus it’s kind of fun. So on a daily basis, check out what’s going on, especially with the colors because it’s beautiful, and give it a little shake. You can even do this multiple times a day, if it strikes your fancy. Make sure the lid is airtight before, though.
  3. Leave in a cool, dark, dry place. Dark is better, light does weird things to liquids.
  4. Fresh ingredients are better, especially if the alternative is frozen.
  5. Stock up on coffee filters, you’ll need them (for coffee. And infusing.)
Spirit Ingredients Infusion time
Vodka(1.5 Liter) 1 bunch of basil leaves
6 cloves of garlic
4 jalapenos
3-5 days
Vodka (1 Liter) 1 bunch of basil leaves
6 strawberries, quartered
3-5 days
Vodka (.25 liter) 2 kiwis, cubed 5-7 days
Vodka (1 liter) 3 lemons, sliced
3 tablespoons sliced ginger
5-7 days
Vodka (.25 liter) 2 limes, sliced
2 strawberries, quartered
3-5 days
Vodka (.25 liter) ½ bunch mint leaves
2 limes, sliced
3-5 days
Gin (.5 Liter) 3 Earl Grey tea bags 3 hours

My favorite is by far the first one on the list, what we refer to as a Pizza Blood Mary. When combined with a high quality and deliciously moderately spicy bloody mary mix, the flavors come together to taste a lot like a pizza. Spicy, fragrant, fresh. We’ve made this one every time we’ve infused, and now we just make it by the handle. Most recently we made this using a handle of Trader’s Joes cheapest vodka and it was awesome. Cut off the tops of the jalapenos, or you can cut them in half, toss them in, take the skins off the garlic and stuff in the basil. Fill with vodka, cover, shake a little. Things will settle and you can top with more vodka. Close again, shake and set aside.

Pizza Bloody Mary

3-5 days later, check it out. It should have a little green color, the basil leaves will start to look like they’re wilting a little bit. I wouldn’t go much longer than 5 days because they begin to disintegrate and honestly the jalapenos might get too spicy/give too much flavor. Get a little funnel and put a coffee filter in it. Pour the liquid through it. This may take a few minutes so be patient, or if it begins to take too long, get a new filter. If you cut the tops off the jalapenos be sure to pour their juices through the filter manually – that’s valuable vodka!

Generally they say to pour the infused spirit into a new clean container but I normally use a pitcher or something as a mid-way point. I filter the infused spirits into the pitcher, dump out the booze-saturated produce and give it a rinse. Then I pour the infused liquor back into the original receptacle. You don’t need to refrigerate or anything. One side note: the Pizza Bloody Mary vodka might turn a slight brown color after all the basil is out and you’ve filtered it through – just some oxidization occurring. Similarly, the other liquids will gain some of the color from the things you put in there. Embrace it!

For a slight variation, I have also made Earl Grey tea infused gin and it is AMAZING. I have no distinction between a ‘summer’ and a ‘winter’ drink, because I like stouts and gin and tonics all the time SO the Earl Grey tea infused gin we do makes a fantastic gin and tonic. Plus it only takes 3 hours. The tea adds that nice bergamot flavor and cuts the astringent bite of the mid-shelf gin. Top with lime as per usual and enjoy.

Tea Infusing

One thing we haven’t really talked about is what to do with the infused spirits after you made them. I say that besides a nice La Croix (pamplemousse flavor, plain or otherwise) is always a good choice. But we also like lemonade and/or Squirt with the other basil-y infusions to enhance the flavor, except the ones that already have lemon/lime in them, in which case soda water is a better choice.

To top it all off – and some of you can attest to this – we made brandied cherries this holiday season for our fancy liquor-inclined friends. It’s literally the easiest thing and once you have one, you’ll never want to go back to maraschino cherries and/or any other half-assed garnish. Oddly enough, I used this Buzzfeed recipe (the only thing Buzzfeed has ever been good for) but added slices of orange peel. It’s a 1:1:1 ratio between water, sugar and brandy (I used the good old E&J).

Brandied Cherries

You make a simple syrup with a cinnamon stick and when everything is mixed and you can’t see any more sugar in the water, add the brandy – dear god don’t put the brandy in while the stove is on. Throw in a few beautifully cut orange peels. Fill whatever container you have with pitted cherries (I used frozen ones, which worked fine) and then pour the mixture over all of it and close. Mix it up. Things will settle a little bit, allowing more space for the liquor/sugar, so add more, and then reclose. Be sure to put the orange peel pieces and the cinnamon stick in there too so it looks beautiful. Refrigerate. Let the flavors infuse for a week and enjoy. Keep in the fridge and eat as many as possible because from the time you make them to the time they kind of go bad you have about a month. PUT THEM IN EVERY DRINK YOU MAKE.

Additional resources:

  • About.com How to Infuse spirits: additional instructions/notes and ideas for infusion combinations
  • BoulderLocavore blog: Where I got my inspiration for the lemon ginger infused vodka. Check out the cocktail recipe with vermouth and lemon bitters. Yes, please!
  • The Framed Table blog: Where I got my inspiration for the Earl Grey tea infused gin. Look how fancy that recipe is! I think I’ll skip the rose tea buds though.
  • The Kitchn always has good ideas. Fig infused vodka!!
  • Nosh.On.it. Other ways to use basil – basil and cucumber? Good idea.
  • CraftGossip.com “50 unique and not-so-unique flavors to infuse with vodka” list of even more recipes

Every Good Brewery Has a Creation Story

As many of you know, there’s nothing I like more than a good brewery creation story, especially when I’m on my one-billionth brewery tour. But I’m talking deeply-rooted cultural beginnings type of creation story that defines the brewery’s entire life and being, not just “I homebrewed and I was good at it, then a lot of people said I should start a brewery so then I did.” Like all of the world’s cultures, microbreweries have—and need—them too.  Something that reminds them of why they’re doing what they’re doing, what drew them into beer, what makes them a brewer you the consumer should come to know, respect and even love, like you would your a person. The creation story is frequently alluded to in the brewery’s name or the taproom décor or the beers they brew or the names they choose for those brews. But it’s everything. No creation story, no soul.

Bent paddles on the brewery floor

You’ve heard them all. Half Pints brewery in Winnipeg was started by a man who began his brewing career at a Big Brewery where he would get free beer at the end of every shift. A family man (who told me that there are two types of brewers out there: scientists and drunks, he of course being the former) who just wanted to top off his day and get home, would only order 8 ounce pours, earning him the nickname, and name of his future brewery, “half pint”. Bent Paddle in Duluth was started by a man who, while brewing at Rock Bottom, and was looking for a mash paddle that would do the job juuuust right, and realized he had the perfect thing in the trunk of his car—a bent canoe paddle. It worked wonders, and beyond becoming the name of his own brewery, it is now a mainstay on the floor.

These stories are for real. These people are for real. Sure, maybe these quaint stories have been molded into the truths that are told by tour guides or bartenders or local beer nuts, but if we believe them to be true they are true and their stories become our stories. Like them, I’m sure you have a story of when you first discovered craft beer. Of when you first discovered your love for homebrew. Of when you began your journey into commercial-microbrewing. Mine to come at a later date.

I would say the stories are what makes craft beer so fascinating. But the weird thing is, the Big Guys have them too. They are some of the oldest and most historically-significant corporations of our time and their stories are deeply rooted in some of the same things our favorite craft breweries are, like the entrepreneurial spirit, elegant craftsmanship, and building a tradition based on that of our forefathers. But beyond that, they helped build statistics as we know it today, branding as we are in awe of today, and industry that many can only dream of. But what makes their stories different? My uncle, who pretty much only drinks Miller Lite connects to the brand as much as I connect to Indeed Brewing (which is, for the record, probably my favorite Minneapolis brewery) but dare I say he connects on an even deeper level. It was the beer his father, my grandfather, drank every day after a hard day of work a machinist; it was the beer he guzzled in college; and it is the beer he now chooses for his games of golf.

So as much as the craft beer revolution is based around being the other, microbreweries setting themselves apart from the Big Boys by defining themselves as something they’re not, intentionally creating a cultural fission between micro and macro, I only see the two becoming more similar, more united, more one. I mean, Summit is already doing throwback labels, building a brand based on nostalgia and a history of quality – um, that sounds familiar!

But I don’t have an answer to this and I definitely don’t have a solution, perhaps because I don’t truly see it as a problem (Cocky Liz just thinks “Well, macrobreweries just keep losing market share, and clamber to gain it back to no avail, so no worries. Right?”). Maybe the issue is that as craft beer lovers we’ve built a healthy amount of hatred towards the category leaders; we want to support our local favorites, our friends, our city. But how different are they really?

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 13: Avery’s Rumpkin

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#13 – October 13, 2013: Rumpkin by Avery Brewing Co. (Boulder, CO)

It’s the moment you’ve ALL been waiting for; the 13th beer review in the 13 Days of Pumpkin Beer guest blog!  And what better way to celebrate the 13th spooky-scary day, than after a horror movie at the $3 theater and a beer review at midnight??  PS, “The Conjuring” is terrifying, and most likely not complete BS, according to my resident lawyer.

Color: Amber, gold, and russet

Year of conception: 2010

ABV: 18.53%

Cost: $12.00 + tax for a single 12oz bottle

Availability: Not.  I had heard rumors about this beer, but was unable to track it down until the beginning of October at a small, upscale liquor store next to my gym.  Sales were limited to a SINGLE BOTTLE PER PERSON.  Oh, and did I mention I called every day for a week to see if they had it in yet??!

Description by Avery Brewing Co.: “We wondered what would happen if a monstrous pumpkin ale, plump full of spicy gourdiness, were aged in fine fresh rum barrels to add suggestions of delicate oak and candied molasses. Rumpkin is what happened! This first member of the Annual Barrel-Aged Series was brewed with roasted pumpkins from a local Boulder County farm, and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger.”

From first sniff, one can tell that this is not your average beer; much like Tracy Jordan’s “Werewolf Barmitzvah” is a spin-off of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Avery took significant creative liberties when crafting Rumpkin.  Fall spices wrapped in dark rum invade your nostrils and encourage you to test your pumpkin, er, rumpkin ale limits!  The ale itself is a sweet, slippery, syrupy beverage that conveniently slides down your gullet and quickly invades your blood stream.  The unlikely combination of hard alcohol, beer, and pumpkin may create many skeptics, but one sip and skeptics everywhere will wish they were simultaneously carving pumpkins, watching football, and jumping into piles of fallen leaves.  While not your “typical” pumpkin ale and rather pricey, I encourage everyone to raise their gourds and toast this Pumpkin King!

Pie Pieces: 4+ –  Super-duper cool Jack-o-lantern!

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Days 11 & 12: Wynkoop’s Pumpkin Ale & Epic’s Imperial Pumpkin Porter

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#11 – October 11, 2013: Pumpkin Ale by Wynkoop Brewing Co. (Denver, CO)

Note: Wynkoop Brewing Co’s website is very user-unfriendly, and has absolutely NO mention of their pumpkin beer = FAIL. Granted, this beer was created a little over a month ago and is part of their “even smaller batch” series.  But STILL.

Color: Honey blonde

Year of conception: 2013

ABV: 5.5%

Cost: $8.99 + tax for 4-pack of 12oz cans

Availability: Colorado (all people from MN must come to CO in the FALL!)

Description by Wynkoop Brewing Co.: “A gently spiced English-style brown ale enhanced with pumpkin three ways: fresh roasted, pureed and flaked.”

Pumpkin aromatics excite the drinker when first sniffing this beer.  But unbridled excitement quickly dissipates into angry disappointment when taking one’s first sip.  While the pumpkin is apparent from the aromatics, upon imbibing the godly-gourd flavor disappears and is replaced by a boring, malty English ale completely void of pumpkin.  However, this beer is still delicious, and the initial fragrances ignite the imagination.  But much like Charlie Brown in the pumpkin path waiting for the great pumpkin, I’m unsure if the pumpkin flavor is real, or just a figment of Linus’ imagination.

Pie Pieces: 2.5 – Still Ripening on the Vine

#12 – October 12, 2013: Imperial Pumpkin Porter by Epic Brewing Co. (Salt Lake City, UT)

What is it with Salt Lake City and brewing pumpkin beer?  How do the Mormons do it, without being able to drink alcohol??!  Seriously, HOW? (Editor’s note: the beer scene in Utah is bumpin’, but is definitely not driven by Mormons. The conservative liquor laws have actually forced craft beer to push the envelope in the state. All bottles and all high gravity. AWESOME.)

Color: Very dark, chocolaty brown

Year of conception: 2011

ABV: 8.0%

Cost: $7.99 + tax for a bomber (22oz.)

Availability: 14 states across the country, including (allegedly) MN!

Description by Epic Brewing Co.: “The essence of the fall!  This beer explodes with aromas of sweet spices giving way to chocolate and roasted malt.  Flavors are reminiscent of fresh-cut pumpkin and chocolate and complimented by hints of clove, fresh Madagascar vanilla beans, nutmeg and allspice.”

This is the twelfth release of Epic’s Imperial Pumpkin, and yet the pumpkin is missing.  The stout as a whole is just that, a stout, but not a bad one per se.  But in terms of it’s pumpkin-y goodness, it’s as if Epic took all the chocolate candy from Halloween, threw in some pumpkin seeds, and dubbed it king of Halloween-town, without any reason except for the high alcohol content putting “imperial” in its name.  Even Jack Skellington had reason to doubt his appointment as pumpkin king, and I feel like this beer may be better off in the hands of Sandy Claws than advertised as an overture to autumn.  Even though it is a tasty stout, I don’t appreciate the price tag or deception, and am royally disappointed with its pumpkin title.

Pie Pieces: 2.5 – Still Ripening on the Vine

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 10: Denver Beer’s Hey! Pumpkin

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#10 – October 10, 2013: Hey! Pumpkin’ by Denver Beer Co. (Denver, CO)

I have a certain bias towards LOVING Denver Beer Co., as I worked with an owner’s wife at Children’s Hospital Colorado.  And yes, I do go to DBC occasionally just to destroy my significant other in Candy Land and/or “accidentally” cheat at battleship.

Color: Honey brown

Year of conception: 2013

ABV: ???

Cost: $14.99 + tax for a growler

Availability: only Denver, CO for now, sorry!

Description by Denver Beer Co: “As the weather turns cool this spiced beer is sure to warm you up.  The pumpkin brew has a gorgeous, unmistakable “pumpkinguts-orange” pour thanks to over 100 pounds of real pumpkin used in the mash.  The nose if full of cinnamon and nutmeg spices with a drink that is a melody of autumn and a lingering finish that will have you reaching for your sweater.”

*Disclaimer: I bought this growler 3-4 weeks ago, so the flavor may no longer be accurate.  The nutmeg and cinnamon are still potent aromatics, but the beer itself isn’t as special as I remember.  It’s more of a “pumpkinguts-orange” flavor than pour, and the spices disappear when imbibing the liquid.  There’s nothing intriguing about this ale except that it is only available at DBC, and that I would have been happier reviewing a glass than a growler (#whitegirlproblems).  Given my track record of only viciously slamming one beer thus far, I think I will take one for the team for not drinking my growler sooner and preserve DBC’s dignity, giving them kudos for their sportsmanship and effort, a la Denver Broncos circa 2012.  Maybe next year guys, maybe next year!

Pie Pieces: 2 – Green

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 9: Dry Dock’s Imperial Pumpkin

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#9 – October 9, 2013: Imperial Pumpkin by Dry Dock Brewing Co. (Aurora, CO)

There’s nothing scarier in Colorado than Aurora.  Seriously. Do you even READ the news?  So I was a bit suspicious when Dry Dock “suddenly” came out with a “pumpkin” beer.

Color: Russet

Year of conception: 2013

ABV: 9.0%

Cost: $9.99 + tax for one 22oz bottle

Availability: all liquor stores great and small (probably not outside CO for now)

Description by Dry Dock Brewing Co: “This spiced Imperial Pumpkin Ale is Autumn in a glass. Real pumpkin added into the mash brings a rich, smooth base to this copper colored ale. Saigon and Indonesian cinnamons, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, mace and cloves spark thoughts of all of the gruesome things that make this such a special time of year!”

Holy Headless Horseman.  This beer is AWESOME!  Warm pumpkin pie straight from the oven greets your nostrils as you inhale this fragrant ale.  From first smell to first taste to the bottom of the glass, I can’t get enough of this beer!  The pumpkin added directly to the mash highlights the “classic” pie spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, but I think the secret ingredient is cloves.  Every year I make pumpkin pie from scratch, and you have to add CLOVES in order to make PUMPKIN pie.  Luscious, light, and lascivious, this ale will seduce your taste buds and make you cheat on what you thought was your favorite pumpkin beer.

Pie Pieces: 4+ – The Coolest Jack-o-Lantern You’ve Ever Seen

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 8: Upslope’s Pumpkin Ale

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#8 – October 8, 2013: Pumpkin Ale by Upslope (Boulder, CO)

upslopepumpkin2

Even though Boulder parents don’t vaccinate their children, leading to this past year’s pertussis epidemic, I do appreciate the beers produced by those hippy-dippy Sierra Club yuppies.

Color: bronze-gold, not much head when poured from the can into a glass (as beer should be)

Year of conception: Since 2011 (won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival)

ABV: 7.7%

Cost: $15.99 + tax for a 4-pack of 16oz cans

Availability: some liquor stores great and small (probably not outside CO)

Description by Upslope Brewing Co : Adding Baby Bear pumpkins from Boulder-based Munson Farms to malt and hops makes this a truly local farm to brewhouse collaboration. A custom blend of six spices rounds out the flavors in this highly anticipated limited release fall ale.”

Case in point: Upslope’s Pumpkin Ale.  While not the most creative of names, this beer truly has it all.  A mixture of subtle, unnamed spices (cannabis, perhaps) plus organic pumpkins with an adorable name (Baby Bear!) make this beer irresistible.  A rich, malty flavor leaves you satisfied, without feeling like you just ate an entire bag of mini-Butterfingers.  The honeyed aftertaste glosses over the palate and lands delicately in your stomach.  Deliciously rich, this ale makes me want to spread peace, love, and pumpkin beer. 

Pie Pieces: 4 – Jack-o-Lantern

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer: Day 7 – Uinta’s Punk’n

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#7 – Oct 7, 2013: Punk’n by Uinta Brewing Co. (Salt Lake City, UT)

Uinta’s motto is Earth, Wind, and Beer. And to make it extra special, Punk’n is part of their organic line, which means it contains 3% organic  ingredients!

Uinta-PunknYear of conception: since 2010 (won a silver medal in the World Beer Championships!)

Color: coppery-orange, with a decent amount of head

ABV: 4%

Cost: $9.99 + tax for a mixed 6-pack of 12oz bottles

Availability: all liquor stores great and small

Description by Uinta Brewing Co : Malt and hops accented with roasted pumpkin and spices of the season. A subtle hint of vanilla and honey. Punk’n is a wonderful compliment to foods with nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove flavors. Try it with roasted turkey, squash or pumpkin ravioli, peach cobbler, or pumpkin cheesecake!”

My new motto is: Earth. Wind. Beer. And PUMPKINS (specifically pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin cheesecake)!  Unfortunately, I did not have any of those tasty treats to pair with this ale, but I found that this beer performed flawlessly on its own.  While most pumpkin beers I have tried have seemed bathed in spices, Uinta’s Punk’n is a much subtler, slicker beer.  The vanilla and honey give this ale a tasty, silky finish, without leaving your tongue feeling sticky.  Low on the ABV and light on the spices, Uinta did an amazing job putting the pumpkin first when brewing their homage to the esteemed autumn gourd.

Pie Pieces: 4 – Jack-o-Lantern

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer: Days 5 & 6 – McAuslan’s St. Ambroise Citrouille & Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#5 – Oct 5, 2013: St. Ambroise Citrouille (Pumpkin) Ale by McAuslan Brewing (Montreal, Canada)

Voulez-vous une biere a la citrouille? Mai ouis!

Year of conception: 2011 (won a Canadian gold medal)

Color: dark red when held up to the light, purple-tinted bubbles rising to the top

ABV: 5.0%

Cost: $8.99 on sale (reg. 9.95) + tax for 6-pack of 11.5oz bottles

Availability: upscale, specialty liquor stores

Description by McCauslan Brewing: “Each year as the leaves fall and the north wind blows, St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale make its return – a magical potion that casts a potent spell with its well-crafted blend of blond and caramelized malts, gentle hop, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and pumpkin. Its delicate malty character and hint of sweetness will quench any creature looking for easy-drinking refreshment.”

Buying a Canadian pumpkin brew may seem a bit “fou” (crazy) to some, but when faced with a beer I’ve never before seen, out comes my wallet!  This beer has amazing autumn colors, and transforms the entire pint glass into a magical lava lamp.  Faint nutmeg and cinnamon greet the nostrils when placed directly above the brew, but the spices really come to life when they cascade over the tongue.  This ale has a bite that quickly disappears, leaving your tastebuds searching for more.  Alas, while this beer is much more “curiuex” (curious) than I had anticipated, the description by McCauslan holds true, that this is a very easy-drinking refreshment, and not something that hits you in the face and says “CITROUILLE” (PUMPKIN)!

Pie Pieces: 2 – Green

#6 – Oct 6, 2013: Smashed Pumpkin by Shipyard Brewing Co. (Portland, ME)

So far the most disappointing pumpkin beer I have reviewed was Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead Ale. Unfortunately, the next most disappointing beer I have tasted is Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin.

Year of conception: 2009

Color: Denver Broncos burnt orange!

ABV: 9.0%

Cost: $10.99 for a bomber (22oz)

Availability: I bought mine from a liquor store employee in an upscale establishment who had kept it in the back refrigerator for himself.  I’ve since discovered it in our local liquor store adjacent to Denver’s up-and-coming Five Points area (supply>>demand).

Description by Shipyard Brewing Co: “Smashed Pumpkin is a big-bodied beer with a light coppery orange color and pleasing aromas of pumpkin and nutmeg.  The Pale Ale, Wheat, and Light Munich malts combine with the natural tannin in pumpkin and the delicate spiciness of hops to balance the sweetness of fruit.”

The reason why this beer is so disappointing is that its hype far outweighs its greatness/pumpkiness.  As far as I can tell, Shipyard simply took their Pumpkinhead ale, added some malt, toned down the red-hot flavor, and tied up the whole thing with a shiny wrapper.  That being said, the nutmeg overtones are much more effervescent than the Pumpkinhead, and the sharp, “fire-y” kick doesn’t completely overwhelm the senses.  This beer has a much more mature and palatable body, thanks in large part to the combination of malts.  While the Pumpkinhead Ale has grown from an ugly duckling into, err, a somewhat less ugly adult mallard in the Smashed Pumpkin, I’m still yearning for a pumpkin beer that relies more on pumpkin and less on pumpkin “overtones.”

Pie Pieces: 3 – Orange, for taste; 2 – Green, for price/availability/hype