Beer Battle: The greatest pumpkin ale of them all is …

Posted: October 21, 2013 by cjax33 in Beer Battle
Tags: , , , ,

Way back in the spring the Brew Crew staged a mini-beer battle between the four varieties of Irish Red that were on tap around town. Here in the fall, pumpkin beers have become the predominant seasonal of the moment, even rising above Oktoberfest-style beers. A few years back I, Stoutmeister, wanted nothing to do with pumpkin beers. They screamed “gimmick” at me, but over time I’ve found some of them to be reasonably good beers, different from the usual stuff that’s out there. With more and more varieties of pumpkin ale being brewed every year, it has allowed brewers to unleash their creative side in making beers that stand out from the pack.

Amid the decorative gourds on the counter of Franz Solo's kitchen were the sample glasses at the ready for our pumpkin beer battle.

Amid the decorative gourds on the counter of Franz Solo’s kitchen were the growlers and sample glasses at the ready for our pumpkin beer battle.

So in the spirit of the season, and with a rare time slot where at least three of us in the Crew could gather together, we held a mini-beer battle of pumpkins over at Franz Solo’s house (which is our go-to setting for beer-related gatherings since, after all, none of the rest of us own a house). Our primary rule was that it had to be a “classic” pumpkin ale. No pumpkin porters or dunkels or other off-beat pumpkin styles would be admitted, much as we omit imperial stouts from our annual stout battle on Super Bowl Sunday. Our apologies to Broken Bottle, Kaktus, and Marble, who have all brewed non-traditional pumpkin styles this year. Though in a way, maybe we’ll just hold a second mini-battle later on to compare those. Hey, why pass up trying more beer?

Anyway, our five contestants for this battle were Broken Bottle’s Debacle Pumpkin Ale, Chama River’s Punkin Drublic, La Cumbre’s Witch’s Tit, Marble’s Classic Pumpkin Ale, and Nexus’ Equinox. We tried them in that alphabetical order. Unfortunately, we could not conduct this as a blind taste test, as there was no one present besides the three of us — myself, Franz Solo, and E-Rock, back from the dead — who were sampling and comparing the five beers. Hopefully we let no biases sneak in there, but since we like all five breweries, I doubt that was the case.

(And as an aside, if anyone is wondering “hey, where’s Il Vicino’s Iggy Gourd?” It was not available in growlers due to being on nitro. Hard to say where it might have ranked on this list.)

Also in keeping with tradition, I recorded a lot of our comments as we drank the beers. When we didn’t go off on tangents or get distracted by the Chiefs-Texans game, we had some good stuff to say. The gap between No. 1 and No. 5 on this list is not that big. We all agreed on Nos. 1, 2 and 5, though E-Rock had 3 and 4 flip-flopped on his list. Franz Solo and I had remarkably similar tastes. We usually disagree here and there, but for once, we were a united front. Kinda like when we’re watching a Penguins or Bayern Munich game (as opposed to an Arizona-USC game).

No. 5 — Nexus’ Equinox

After drinking Equinox it became apparent to all three of us that we should have re-classified this as a non-traditional pumpkin ale. It’s not a bad beer, by any means, but it belongs more in a category with those other darker pumpkins I mentioned above. The aroma was light, there was a bitter bite in mid-palate, and in a sense, we all agreed it was like someone added pumpkin and some spice to a nut brown ale. There is a lot of roasted malts hiding in here. E-Rock felt they should have done something to sweeten it up, maybe by adding honey (see below on Punkin Drublic). One solution I had was to use Nexus’ English-style Brown Ale as the base for this next time around. “You just don’t get any of the subtlety,” Franz Solo said. “It should be multilayered. Oh, well, I’ll still drink it.” And we did.

Untappd ratings: *** 1/2 – E-Rock, *** 1/2 – Franz Solo, *** 1/2 – Stoutmeister

Since there were only three of us participating, we used Boston growlers for this beer battle, plus one full-sized growler for Mrs. Solo's favorite beer as payment for using her kitchen again.

Since there were only three of us participating, we used Boston growlers for this beer battle, plus one full-sized growler for Mrs. Solo’s favorite beer as payment for using her kitchen again.

No. 4 — Broken Bottle’s Debacle Pumpkin Ale

The first thing we noticed about Debacle was the color, it was almost a straight blonde. The pilsner-like qualities did not stop there as we found them in the aroma and flavor, too. The word is minimal, as in the spices were minimal, the aroma was minimal, and yet that did not make this a bad beer. We agreed that the aroma was almost more like a white wine, and there were aspects of the flavor that were also rather wine-like. Our best description was this is the pumpkin ale that you hand to someone who says they do not like pumpkin ales. “I mean, it’s not bad, it’s not overwhelming,” E-Rock said. Franz Solo noted “it’s only four-percent (ABV).” “Usually you get that really sweet flavor at the end,” he added. “It’s slightly more bitter than champagne.” We agreed that this was, in essence, a pumpkin pilsner, which is a nice change from the spice bombs that are out there.

Untappd ratings: **** – E, *** 1/2 – FS, *** 1/2 – S

No. 3 — Marble’s Classic Pumpkin Ale

Marble made two versions of pumpkin ale this year, so we went with the classic rather than the darker Pumpkin Noire. The aroma was slight, almost hard to find. “There’s no spice on the front,” Franz Solo said. “It’s very similar to Blue Corn.” The spices were packed in the middle, with a light opening and smooth finish that was primarily pumpkin flavor. There is a little bitterness from that on the back end, kind of like you get from purified vegetables in a way. It’s not bad, even for a carnivore like myself. We should have had Shilling with us. He would have appreciated this entry. Oh, and since some people always ask, no, this Marble beer was not hoppy. There’s no hops here. Just a lot of pumpkin, minimal spices.

Untappd ratings: **** – E, **** – FS, *** 1/2 – S

No. 2 — Chama River’s Punkin Drublic

When I had this beer last fall it was a spice bomb that was hard to finish, especially as it warmed. Even at NM Brew Fest it had a more potent kick to it. This beer was smooth and nicely balanced with the spices. Franz Solo pointed out that it lacked a dryness on the back end that came with the Debacle. “It’s not too different from the last one (Debacle) other than it’s darker and maybe a little more strong,” E-Rock added. One interesting flavor we all got from this was graham cracker, like those Honey Grahams you mom probably gave you after Cub Scouts because she figured they were healthier than an Oreo. “These are healthy for you, too!” E-Rock shouted, meaning beer in general, I think. “These do kind of remind me of wines more than beers, I guess,” Franz Solo said. We all agreed there is an unusual double flavor impact on the palate, with the spices on top and a lighter beer flavor beneath. It makes for a different, but good, drinking experience.

Untappd ratings: **** 1/2 – E, **** – FS, **** – S

No. 1 — Witch’s Tit

“Spicy, glorious,” was Franz Solo’s concise description of the aroma that greets you with this beer. It fits the description of the flavor, too. We agreed this beer had the best balance of any in terms of tasting the spices and yet still tasting the pumpkin. There wasn’t much pumpkin in Punkin Drublic, in comparison (the flip side of that was that Blue Corn’s Pumpkin is much more pumpkin-flavored with minimal spices). In a way, we all realized that Witch’s Tit was the pumpkin beer that got us into the genre. We used to think it was a gimmick thing for the season, now we agree it’s a worthy entrant into the hall of good beer. Oftentimes your entry beer gets surpassed by others, but that has not yet happened here. Cheers to Jeff and his staff at La Cumbre for making one of our favorite seasonal beers in New Mexico!

Untappd ratings: ***** – E, **** 1/2 – FS, **** 1/2 – S

* * * *

Mixing Broken Bottle's Debacle and Nexus' Equinox proved to be an excellent idea.

Mixing Broken Bottle’s Debacle and Nexus’ Equinox proved to be an excellent idea.

Oh, and after the main tasting was done, we did a little mixing and matching, which is frankly a lost art these days in beer (Tractor did it for a while; we miss the Honey Badger). Two good pairings we found were to take the darkest (Equinox) and mix it with the lightest (Debacle). Another good mix was Witch’s Tit and Punkin Drublic together. Hey, it’s all about having fun, right?

That’s all for this mini-beer battle, but hardly all for the Crew. We’ll have a ton of additional content coming your way this week. Our plan is for a look back at the history of Hopfest on Tuesday, The Week Ahead in Beer on Wednesday morning, a look back at year one for Bosque Brewing on Wednesday afternoon, a preview of Bosque’s one-year anniversary party on Thursday, and a preview of the specific beers to target at Hopfest on Friday, followed by our coverage of Hopfest itself this weekend. All release dates are subject to change, but hey, at least we’re kinda planning ahead for once.

It’s gonna be a busy week. And filled with beer. Just the way we like it.


— Stoutmeister


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