One thing that's surprised me over the years is that my enthusiasm for pumpkin beers doesn't often translate into me liking these beers. This is surprising because:
- I'm a fan of the typical pumpkin pie spices used to flavor pumpkin beers
- I've enjoyed a number of sweet beers (which many pumpkin beers are)
- I'm a sucker for limited-release seasonal beers.
For pumpkin beers--and the same goes for Christmas beers--it's all about finding a good balance with the spices. A brewer has an array to choose from: cloves, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, and (though it's not actually a spice) pumpkin itself. There are a lot of ways to screw it up.
Some pumpkin beers come out cloyingly sweet. I get the idea of pumpkin pie in a bottle, but I'm the kind of guy who finds much of the frosting on cake or cupcakes to be too sweet. There's a line, and just like those birthday cakes you might pick up at Walmart, pumpkin beers often cross it.
Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale was one of the the first pumpkin beers I tried, and I've kept going back to it because of how balanced and flavorful it is. Hell, I even enjoyed it once on tap in a glass with its rim was coated with brown sugar, which I know is wrong--the beer equivalent of putting whipped cream on bacon, I think.
Punkin Ale already has hints of brown sugar, as it's brewed with that, pumpkin meat, and a heady blend of spices: allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I certainly taste the cinnamon in there--a spice that can easily be overpowering but isn't here--and just a little of the nutmeg and allspice. Going back to the idea of balance, part of the appeal of Punkin Ale is that the caramel malts aren't lost in the spices, nor are the hops. Sure, it's modestly hopped at 28 IBU, but that's just enough to make the lingering aftertaste a little more complex.
And with the temperatures dropping during pumpkin beer season, I've always wanted a little warming from such a beer (though ideally maybe not as much as with a Christmas beer). You get some of that with Punkin Ale; with the spice combination and 7% ABV, it feels like the right beer for the season.
There are still some pumpkin beers out there that I need to try, Southern Tier's Pumking being at the top of the list, especially now that I'm in New York. But I'm operating on a bit of a beer budget this fall, and with the Pumking being sold only in 22 oz. bottles, I decided to stretch my supply and go with a four-pack of Punkin Ale for just a couple dollars more than the single Pumking. Yeah, I've got some curiosity about other beers, but once I opened up my first Punkin Ale of the season, there was no regret.