October 4, 2013

What Ales You: In October, pumpkin beers compete for attention

Pumpkinhead is Shipyard’s most profitable beer, and other companies have jumped into the market.

By Tom Atwell

I’ve written in the past that neither Nancy nor I am a big fan of pumpkin beers. We want our beer to taste like beer, without obvious adjuncts, spices or fruit.

Harpoon’s Pumpkin UFO is one of four seasonal brews given a taste test.

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But pumpkin beers are popular. Pumpkinhead is Shipyard’s most profitable beer, and other companies have jumped into the market.

I also believe that people should drink what they like, and I am not going to criticize anyone who enjoys pumpkin beers.

When it turned out that we had four different pumpkin beers on hand – three as a result of purchasing fall-themed mixed 12-packs, and one that showed up in the mail – Nancy and I decided to do a head-to-head tasting.

The four beers tested were Shipyard Pumpkinhead, Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale, Harpoon’s Pumpkin UFO and Jack-O Traveler, a pumpkin shandy put out by Traveler Beer Company in Burlington, Vt., that is a product of Boston Beer Company’s development sideline called Alchemy & Science.

Pouring each of the four beers, Pumpkinhead was the lightest and clearest of the beers; the Harpoon was a bit darker and cloudy, as an unfiltered beer should be; the Samuel Adams was the darkest and had the largest, longest-lasting head and the Jack-O Traveler was just a bit darker than Pumpkinhead, and also clear.

Jack-O Traveler was the most unusual of the beers, and probably does not belong in the competition because it is a shandy – a mix of ale and European lemonade, which is carbonated and more like 7-Up than what we Americans call lemonade. This beer, which is 4.4 percent alcohol, was too sweet for our liking, and we couldn’t finish it. We did taste the lemon and the pumpkin-pie spices, but no real pumpkin.

Not liking this beer does not mean I am going to reject all of Traveler Beer Company’s offerings. One of our travel companions was a big fan of shandies when we were in Ireland, and I tried and enjoyed some. So if I find Curious Traveler – and I am not sure I will, because I received Jack-O Traveler in the mail – I will give it a try.

The other three beers say they are pumpkin beers, but the flavor they are aiming for is pumpkin pie. And they all had the pumpkin-pie spices down pretty well, although Nancy said she got more of a gingerbread aroma from the Pumpkinhead. She also said she thought the Harpoon had the most flavor of actual pumpkin. The hops in all of the beers was barely detectable.

The Harpoon is 5.9 percent alcohol, and had a good bit of malt flavor, as well.

The Pumpkinhead is 4.5 percent alcohol and did have a nice bit of pumpkin spices in it, but the malt was a bit further in the background on this one. It did have a crisp finish.

The Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale, at 5.7, had the heaviest body of the four beers, quite a bit of malt, and was more of a sipping beer than the others.

None of these beers would be my go-to choice if I were at a bar, but I can see why some people enjoy them.

Nancy chose Pumpkinhead as the beer to finish before dinner. I had the Harpoon Pumpkin UFO. Since I emptied my glass before Nancy finished her Pumpkinhead, I took the Samuel Adams as well.

For a perhaps better pumpkin beer, Greg Norton of the Bier Cellar on Forest Avenue, said he was getting some Great Pumpkin from Cambridge Brewing Company, and he called it his favorite pumpkin beer. I have yet to try it, but I should, in honor of Linus.

(Continued on page 2)

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