Tasting Notes: Wandering Blind Through Pumpkin Beer Hell

pumpkincornIn honor of Halloween, this week’s Tasting Notes exposes my mind, body, soul and palate to the horrors that can only be found in Pumpkin Beer Hell.

This comes as no shock to those that know me personally, but I must admit that I despise Pumpkin Beers.  In all fairness, it really is not limited to the beer alone.  I just never developed a taste for pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie or the distinctive spice mixture that thrives within these recipes.  It is just not my thing.

Even with that being the case, I still drink at least one Pumpkin Beer each year without fail.  Some may say I do this for science.  Others may say I do this because I secretly hate myself.  I say I do it as a practice to test my palate and see how it continues to develop as I get older.  Well, this year I decided to go all in on this palate punishment by accepting an invitation to a friend’s annual Blind Pumpkin Beer Tasting.  This event amounts to one evening with 10 beer lovers, 15 Pumpkin Beers that remain unnamed until after the tasting, and a ridiculous amount of groaning and whining from this guy.  Let’s do this.

Tasting Notes: An Evening Wandering Blind Through Pumpkin Beer Hell

Pumpkin Beer No. 1 – Alright . . . I’m trying to be open-minded here and it seems to be paying off.  This one is dark amber in color, has a really pleasant vanilla malt base, light pumpkin spice, and a grace of bitterness for balance.  The beer’s reserved spice level and slight nuttiness keeps this one tolerable.  Damn, I nearly finished off my pour.  We are off to a good start.

Pumpkin Beer No. 2 – As the second offering hits the table, I am immediately reminded of why I have a disdain for the Pumpkin Beer style.  This one is a very light copper in color and has a huge pumpkin spice presence in both flavor and aroma.  Nutmeg and all-spice is all over the place, and the beer’s body is far too light to carry these flavors.  There is absolutely nothing here to provide balance and, to top it off, there is also a contrasting floral and metallic presence building.  Nope . . . just a whole lotta’ nope in a glass.

Pumpkin Beer No. 3 – Light brown in color with a bit of an orange tint to it, No. 3 leads with some sweet caramel backed by a floral character.  The pumpkin spice starts light, but builds and settles heavily into the aftertaste.   Vanilla and apple also turn up from time to time.  This brew is not overly off-putting, but not particularly memorable either.  Movin’ on.

Pumpkin Beer No. 4 –  Ok, I have been presented with a very light amber, golden-hued brew that is just billowing with spice.  Like a lot of spice.  Too much damn spice.  I can taste the pumpkin spice just by smelling this beer.  It really wants to be pumpkin pie, but it just comes across to me as nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and a touch of wet dog.  It’s abrasive, boozy, and everything I fear in life.

Pumpkin Beer No. 5 – Next up is a dark orange-colored brew that is sporting a likable sweet vanilla cream and caramel malt base.  This opens to show off the expected pumpkin spice notes along with some crust like character.  There is a solid balance being achieved here between the spice and sweetness, and I can dig that.  It also has a bit of a root beer-like quality to it.  I may not like pumpkin pie, but I do have a youthful love for root beer . . . so I’ll take my wins when I can get them.

Pumpkin Beer No. 6 – Hmmm . . . this one is just weird.  Red-tinged copper in appearance, No. 6 has big floral and citrus notes working alongside all the pumpkin spice.  It is also extremely proud to show off a few more pumpkin spices than the beers that preceded it, but it is impossible to individually distinguish them as they relentlessly assail the senses.  The malts and hops are lost behind a booze-laden spice train of pain.  It’s just so aggressive.  Why is it so angry?!?!

Pumpkin Beer No. 7 –  It appears this tasting has taken a turn and things have gone dark with this brew.  Dark brown, almost black in color, Beer No. 7 is giving off some roasted malts and a bit of cocoa.  The pumpkin spice in this beer is mild and actually acts as more of a complement to the base beer.  What a novel idea!  And it works really well.  A note of black coffee adds some bitterness and strikes a nice balance between the malty sweetness and roastiness.  It pains me to say this, but this is a really nice Pumpkin Beer.

pumpkinwitchPumpkin Beer No 8. – Just as I find hope in this tasting, Beer No. 8 shows up to give me the finger.  This orangish-brown colored beast leads with a strong chemical smell that is like a mix of fusel alcohol and acetone.  Silver lining: at least it kills any chance of pumpkin spice turning up in the aroma.  AMIRITE?!?!  Each sip begins with a huge burst of booze that’s quickly followed by a deep, sticky sweetness filled with caramel, burnt brown sugar, and just a touch of fruit.  Then there’s the pumpkin spice.  All the spice is here.  All of it.  It is like a bomb went off in a spice cabinet and they all just happened to fall into this beer.  If I were to sum up this experience, this beer basically tastes like a caramel apple that has been dipped repeatedly in a barrel of pumpkin spice and then infused with the essence of spray paint.

Pumpkin Beer No. 9 – Alright . . . gotta regroup.  Gotta get myself together and Beer No. 9 is gonna turn it all around for me.  I just know it because it has to.  This brew is a light orange to almost blonde in color, and it opens with a lovely apple pie aroma.  That’s right, apple pie and not pumpkin pie.  The apple pie character carries over into the flavor with big hits of cinnamon and just a wisp of various other pumpkin spices.  That cinnamon brings some heat, but that heat is supported by something a bit more powerful.  Habaneros maybe?  It must be because it has a serious level of pepper heat that still holds some nice citrus tones.  The heat is on point and well placed.  I do not know how this sizes up as a “Pumpkin Beer”, but it’s fun and a welcomed distraction.

Pumpkin Beer No. 10 – As the tray approaches, I notice that the glasses are filled with another dark representation of the style.  That has proven to be a good sign so far, so I am hopeful.  Dark brown in color, this one is giving off a good amount of cocoa and nuttiness in both aroma and flavor.  This is supported by a bready, lightly roasted grain character that has a muted level of pumpkin spice laced within.  Medium in body, No. 10 has a peppy carbonation presence that keeps it easy-drinking.  I can get behind this one.

Pumpkin Beer No. 11 –  Salvation!  My palate has been saved by something that it has yet to experience today: tartness.  Dark yellow to gold in color, this beer is light in body with an effervescent carbonation level.   The flavor profile is comprised of light pumpkin (actual pumpkin), a dash of cocoa, a touch of pumpkin spice, and a delightful dose of sour citrus.  The beer is actually refreshing, and it reminds me that I am going to be ok.  I’m going to make it.  Is there more of this one?

Pumpkin Beer No. 12 – Rejuvenated after a good little run there, I approach this beer with a bit of optimistic curiosity.  The beer is dark orange in color and nearly devoid of aroma.  Strange . . . or sneaky?  The flavor is filled with mostly burnt caramel and a handful of brown sugar, but there is a light pumpkin spice presence lurking in the background with some dark fruit.  The spice to sweetness ratio is a bit more balanced, but it is just another stereotypical attempt at pumpkin pie in liquid form. Alas.

Pumpkin Beer No. 13 – It appears we have stumbled upon another twist, and I believe it is nitrogen.  Dark mahogany brown in color, this beer is crazy creamy in texture.  Fluffy even.  Aroma is just a touch of coffee, but the flavor produces notes of pumpkin spice, cream, and watered-down coffee.  This proves to be a decent combination, but it is muted overall.  You can tell it wants to be more.  Wait . . . have I stumbled into PSL territory?  Did I just become “basic”?  This tasting is trying to change me.  I can feel it.

Pumpkin Beer No. 14 –  It is just more of the same.  Pleasant pumpkin spice on the nose, but that spice goes on to dominate and overwhelm the malt base in the flavor department. More pumpkin pie.  I feel lost.  I look around and realize that everyone else at this tasting is thoroughly enjoying this beer and the tasting as a whole.  I am alone here and left reminded of that Conrad quote in Heart of Darkness:

“No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence–that which makes its truth, its meaning–its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream–alone.”

Pumpkin Beer No. 15 – A bronze-hued orange in color, this beer is really assertive with the pumpkin spice in all arenas. The flavor tries to strike a balance with notes of caramel and vanilla, but the spice cannot be vanquished.  It cannot be contained!  The beer is light in body and in ABV . . . wait . . . that’s the last one?  Hahahaha, I made it!  Beaten but not broken, I survived and I’m getting the hell out of here.

With the journey now completed, I rise out of this hell with the realization that many of you will want to know what beers were served during this tasting.  I will provide you with a list, but I will do so with a disclaimer. As I have said many times in the past, I am not in the business of hurting anyone when it comes to my reviews/Tasting Notes.  My intentions here are based purely in fun and to educate myself further on this style.  I may not like pumpkin beers, but that does not mean that these are bad beers.  I actually walked away from this tasting with an appreciation for many of these beers, and those that I gave the harshest criticism proved to be favorites for the nine other tasters in attendance (For example, Pumpkin Beer No. 8 was actually one of the highest rated beers at the tasting).  Sure, they were not all enjoyed by me, but they were all enjoyed by many at the table.  Now that I have gotten that off my chest, here are the beers in order of appearance in the photo below (Left to right; this is NOT the order that they were served in the reviews above – Deal with it – Sorry not sorry):


**Once again, the list above is NOT the same order that the beers were presented in during the tasting.**

If you are lover of Pumpkin Beers and pumpkin spice, there is no denying that these beers have something to offer you and are absolutely worth a try this fall.  Be sure to check them out and don’t mind me at all.  Prost and Happy Halloween, folks!