Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pumpkin Beer...taste tests...(a repost from Mark Harvey's World)

Greetings ghouls and beer drinkers (you can be both ya know...),

This is a repost from Mark Harvey'sWorld  and I thought I'd wrap up my seasonal (Halloween seasonal) reviews with this catch all review. I'm not sure if I'll find other pumpkin ales to review so for now I am calling it quits and I'll begin to review Christmas and Holiday beers as the holiday season wares on...

As many of my readers know I brew beer, enjoy beer and write about beer.  This is not to say that I drink A LOT of beer, but it is something that I have grown to really appreciate.

Each year I await the inbound shipments of pumpkin beers - not that I am a HUGE fan of them, but there's something about getting 'em, drinking 'em and having 'em available throughout the holiday season.  I headed over to the local BevMo and picked up the only four types they had.  I thought I'd go ahead and review them as well.  I've read about MANY others - would like to try MANY others, but unfortunately I can only get what's shipped to CA and rather than hunt down specialty pumpkin brews at small liquor stores I head to BevMo and buy what they get in.  If ANYONE located in NorCal can point me toward places that carry other varieties I'd be grateful.
So...let's begin...

Shipyard Brewing Co. Pumpkinhead Ale - 5.10% ABV - I was introduced to this beer while in Portland, ME on business.  It is the perfect beer to drink with a hearty meal on tap at Bull Feeney's on a cold Fall  night in Maine.  Pumpkinhead Ale has a very nice pumpkin pie spice scent, with a nice little hint of malt sweetness at the back. Great flavor, not as much spice in the taste as in the nose, and it matches well with the nice malt backing. These go down very easily and have the perfect balance of spice and flavor.  A nice addition to a Halloween party of holiday meal.  Shipyard is prolific and you can find their beer nearly everywhere.  I'm a fan of the Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin (Pugsley's Signature Series) - a 9% ABV (which is right up my alley being that is it HIGH ABV).  Those are sold in 22s so it is a drinking commitment unless you can find a pal to help you out.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale - "A full-bodied brown ale brewed with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon & nutmeg" pretty much sums this beer up. This beer weighs in at a nice 7% ABV.  Hmmm...smells like a pumpkin beer...tastes...great, but not as spice heavy as I expected.  Punkin Ale pours a great burnt orange - a nice white head and sticky lacing. The scents of cinnamon and ginger linger. The brown sugar and spices coming through in the finish. This beer is excellent and provides all the things I like.  Drinkability AND high alcohol content.
Wasatch Pumpkin Seasonal Ale  - comes in at 4% ABV. Let me start by saying that I LOVE Wasastch beer.  I visited Utah earlier this year and got to taste all of the beers (with low ABV) on tap and their double IPA in bottles - drinking a six pack in a few days was a feat, I must say. I love their Polygamy Porter and their sister brewing company's (Squatters) Hop Rising, but this seasonal ale just doesn't do it for me.  The spice scheme is all off.  The taste is unsweetened and mostly a watered down cinnamon-spiced pumpkin taste.  It has an empty finish that is jsut flat out sour. I don't enjoy it (and I have a whole six pack to deal with).  I wanted to like it, but I just don't.

Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale (America's Original) - 5.2% ABV. - This is one of the best of the best pumpkin brews (in my opinion).  The brewery is almost in my backyard and I enjoy a bunch of their brews.  Brewed with fresh roasted pumpkins and flavored with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg, it IS NOT pumpkin pie in a bottle. It pours to a golden orange color and has a very light head formation.  A wonderfully spicy nose that reminds me of freshly baked pumpkin pie. With a firm crystal malt background the pumpkin and spices take center stage. They meld nicely with the pumpkin flavors right on into the perfect spice-balanced finish.
For some reason the reviews of this beer online have been grim.  I'm not sure why. 

What I'm REALLY looking forward to is the release of their Imperial Pumpkin Ale.  I tried 6.5 ounces of it (that's all they serve at a time) the other night at the pub and I tell ya, it is GOOD.  At 9.8% ABV is packs a wallop. 

Since Buffalo Bills is local I figured I'd post a little something I found about the brewing of their brew...
This taken from HomeBrewTalk.com (here)
Brewer: Geoff Harries of Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, California.Geoff homebrewed from 1981 to 1987. He became the head brewer at Buffalo Bill’s from '87 to '89, then the GM and head brewer at Brewpub on the Green from '90 to '93. He bought Buffalo Bill’s and is now the owner and head brewer.
" Our pumpkin beer is brewed at several locations for us, but one definite rule is that we always use fresh, whole pumpkins. The kinds vary depending on the season and what is ripe, but we like to use Atlantic Giants and Big Macs. Both are jumbo in size and have lots of fiber. Especially the fiber makes for easier mashing.
We roast the pumpkins, since a raw pumpkin is really nothing but a squash and if you try to use them raw, nothing comes out of them. Roasting converts some of the starch inside the pumpkin, and lets us extract sugars and sweetness. We cook them to the point where they’re kind of done—maybe a little brown around the edges, just when they are starting to caramelize. But we don’t want them turned to mush. Since pumpkins come in all different sizes, cooking times will vary. Once they are ready we cut them open and pull out the seeds.
For six-and-a-half barrels, we use about thirty pounds of pumpkins, though this will depend greatly on the pumpkin. This is a bit more than one-half pound for a five gallon batch, but once you start brewing you’ll realize you don’t want that much pumpkin anyway. Remember, this is a beer, not a vegetable beer. The pumpkin is there to complement the malts, not take them over. Besides, too much pumpkin makes for a tough sparge.
We always experiment with the base beer, but it’s generally a red ale/amber beer. We are looking for something with an orange to red hue. All the color in the beer comes from the malt. None comes from the pumpkin.
We go through the standard sparge. We have had trouble with this stage in the past, and what we have discovered is if you overcook the pumpkin it gets all mushy and causes the stuck mash. So, it’s important to not over roast.
Hops should be low-key. Be subtle, just to balance the malt sweetness. You don’t want the beer to be bitter. Think pumpkin pie in a glass, and shoot for that flavor profile. The dominant character will be the up front malt flavor, followed by a finish that highlight the spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. And speaking of spices, we use whole spice. This year we’ll put them in a big sparge bag, and then hang them in the conditioning tanks, after the boil. This is the way to get that nice, spiced character because it’s kind of like dry-hopping."

Well, I enjoyed the process of drinking these four beers (minus the Wasatch) and bringing these beer reviews to you.

Grab 'em if you can find 'em and CELEBRATE!  Halloween is NEARLY here!

Mark Harvey
Brewer and Beer Drinker
Enjoying an Imperial Pumpkin Ale
at Buffalo Bill's Brewery

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mad River Brewing Company Double Dread Imperial Red Ale

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Mad River Brewing Company Double Dread Imperial Red Ale. I enjoy finding Mad River Brewing Company’s offerings and when I found this at Mission Liquors I knew I had to pick some up and try it.

Commercial Description (taken from RateBeer): “Part of our limited release high gravity series celebrating our twentieth anniversary (1989 to 2009) Double Dread Imperial Red (An American Strong Ale) is a high gravity red ale brewed with Two-Row Pale Malt, complimented by Aromatic and Wheat malts and a blend of CaraMunich, Carastan and Crystal malts for color, complexity and flavor. Fermented with our signature ale yeast, this hop bomb of a red ale is bittered with Colombus and Cascade hops, flavor and aromatics are enhanced by Cascade, Chinook and Amarillo, then generously dry-hopped with a tri-fecta of Cascade, Amarillo and Chinook for zesty citrus aromatics and a resinous flavor explosion. For those who chose to indulge their courtly passions be forwarned that this royal ruby refreshment ferments out at 8.6% a.b.v and nears triple digit IBU’s”
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours a deep reddish brown with a thick off-white head and excellent lacing.
Aroma: Sweet caramel and biscuit scents – powerfully malty with pine and citrus hops and an earthy tone…woodsy…
Taste: Sweet, roasted, pale and caramel malts. Lots of citrus and pine hop character. Hint of an earthy, spice and herb finish.
Overall: A solid and complex Imperial Red. Well balanced and extremely drinkable at 8.6% ABV this might be a short session, but well worth looking for when available.


Mark Harvey

Friday, October 14, 2011

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat. I don’t often purchase commercial beer and in this case, I didn’t. I was given this bottle particularly for review. When I stare at the shelves at the local liquor store, grocery store or BevMo I think long and hard before I pick up any commercial beer and pumpkin beers are always the hardest ones to resist. Will it taste good? Will I be stuck with five beers that no one will drink? Well…let’s check this one out…

From the Shock Top Beer website:”Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat is the first seasonal ale from Shock Top. With a flavor that’s refreshingly fall and distinctly Shock Top, it’s guaranteed not to be the last. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat is a traditional Belgian-style wheat ale brewed with ripe pumpkins and a variety of autumnal spices, including nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. This seasonal unfiltered wheat ale has a deep amber color and is crafted with a refreshingly distinct pumpkin spice that fully captures all the flavors of fall.”
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours an opaque and cloudy burnt orange color with a decent off-white head and lacing.
Aroma: Pumpkin, spices (cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg and clove), wheat, vanilla and a slight sweet malt note.
Taste: Wheat followed by pumpkin and spices.
Overall: Fairly well balanced and drinkable. I may not run out and buy a six pack of Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat, but I wouldn’t turn one down at a party. At 5.2% ABV I could cozy up to a few of these on Halloween night and not be disappointed and for someone on a budget it is a pretty decent pumpkin beer to have around.


Mark Harvey

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Heretic Brewing Company Evil Cousin Imperial IPA and Evil Twin Blood Red West Coast Amber

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beers are Heretic Brewing Company Evil Cousin Imperial IPA and Evil Twin Blood Red West Coast Amber. When I heard that Heretic was planning to have their first pint night (ever) at Handles Gastropub in Pleasanton, CA I knew I had to get over there since I had yet to try the beer. Little did I know that I was going to see my good friends from HopTech Homebrewing Supplies (Jade and Roberto), see Mike McDole again and say “Hello” to Jamil Zainasheff, Chief Heretic at Heretic Brewing Company. I needed to pick up a Heretic pint glass for the collection (much to my wife’s chagrin).
From the Heretic Brewing Company Website: “Evil Cousin is Heretic's take on a West coast imperial IPA. This beer is a bold, in-your-face hop monster. It has a light, easy drinking malt character that allows the hops to stand out. The hop character in this beer is intentionally on the dank side; big, sticky, and aggressive. This beer is for those of you who can't get enough hops. Join us on the dank side.”
Let’s get started! First up, Heretic Brewing Company Evil Cousin Imperial IPA…

Appearance: Pours an excellent amber caramel color with a great white head and nice lacing.

Aroma: Citrus (grapefruit and orange) and pine hops followed with a nice sweet caramel malt presence. Very nice!

Taste: Upfront grapefruit followed by pine with a sweet caramel malt and biscuit backend. Extremely tasty and addictive!
Overall: Well balanced, extremely drinkable and at 8% ABV a beer I could drink this for a little while. I look forward to seeing this all over the place and hopefully someday in bottles. A VERY solid beer!
Next up, Heretic Brewing Company Evil Twin Blood Red West Coast Amber …

From the card at Handles Gastropub…”This blood-red ale may not be what you might expect from a malty and hoppy craft beer. Evil Twin has a rich malt character, without being overly sweet. It has a huge hop character, without being overly bitter. It is a great example of a bold, rich, balanced craft bee, without being heavy and hard to drink in quantity. Our Evil Twin is only bad because it is too good to resist.”

Appearance: Pours a very dark amber with a nice off-white and thick head and excellent lacing.

Aroma: Citrus (grapefruit), tropical fruit and pine hops with sweet caramel, toffee and toasted malts. Smells great!

Taste: Grapefruit, lemon, tangerine, pine with sweet malts, bread and toffee to perfectly balance this hoppy red. SO GOOD!

Overall: Incredible balance, incredible drinkability and at 6.8% ABV Heretic Brewing Company Evil Twin Blood Red West Coast Amber is amazing. I highly recommend Evil Twin and I look forward to their other offerings.
After these two I wanted to try Tafelbully, Heretic’s Belgian-inspired table beer, but my wife needed me to finish her Maui Brewing Company CoCoNut Porter so I had to hold back. Most certainly next time.

If you have a chance to check out Heretic Brewing Company’s offerings, DO!


Mark Harvey

Fulton's Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur

Good evening all,

Fall is the perfect time to enjoy specialty foods and beverages and I think I may have found a Halloween/holiday staple for my house in Fulton's Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur.

This exceptional product is made by Heaven Hill, who was elected 2009’s distiller of the year by Whisky Magazine and is best known for a rich tradition of Kentucky Bourbon.
From the Kentucky Distiller’s Association press room :



First-ever Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur is 2011 Double Gold Medal Winner

BARDSTOWN, Ky. – Fulton’s Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur is available for fall 2011 nationally. The lush, creamy all-natural liqueur is the first-ever pumpkin pie cream liqueur and is immediately reminiscent of homemade pumpkin pie complete with the flavors rich vanilla, brown sugar and spices. It is best served chilled or on ice, as well as in coffee and in a variety of cream-based cocktails.
Launched originally in limited markets, the seasonal item is available at retail from September through November. The package for the product features pumpkins and spices and reflects the vivid colors of autumn. The product is a direct result of keen seasonal interest in pumpkin flavors and scents.

“The first year of sales was remarkable,” said Brittany Blevins, Brand Manager for Fulton’s Harvest. “The flavor profile and personality of the product really touched people. As a result, we broadened the product’s availability. Consumers just cannot get enough of it.”

I know, I know…this isn’t beer and you may be wondering why I am reviewing a liqueur…so I’ll tell you. At first I wasn’t sure about the purchase. One never knows how good something like this will turn out.

Fulton's Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur pours with the consistency of Bailey’s Irish Creme – similar in color. It smells like pumpkin pie with nutty overtones. I also detect the scent of graham crackers. Sweet, but not overly, it tastes like Heaven in a glass. Perfectly spiced. Perfectly sweet. Creamy and like pumpkin pie in a glass.

Fulton's Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur is a unique liqueur that is full of flavor and packs quite a punch at 12.5% ABV. Available from September through November in 750ml bottles.


Mark Harvey

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Uinta Brewing Co. Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Uinta Brewing Co. Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin Ale. This came highly recommended from the folks at Mission Liquors. Since I had enjoyed Uinta’s Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale I thought I should try this unique offering from their Crooked Line of beers.

Press Release:
"(Salt Lake City, UT) – Uinta Brewing Company introduces the newest addition to their Crooked Line of beers, Oak Jacked Imperial Wood Aged Pumpkin Ale. “Jacked” is a very limited, seasonal beer, only 850 cases were produced.

Jacked is brewed with fresh pumpkin and fall spices and has been aging in Oak barrels for 6 months. The oak barrels add subtle nuances of toasted vanilla and bourbon notes. With an ABV of 10.31% (a play on the date of Halloween), Jacked is a big, unique pumpkin ale.

Continuing with the spirit of the Crooked Line, Utah artist Trent Call was commissioned to design the Jacked label. Each bottle is a work of art.

Pop the cork and pair Oak Jacked with flavors of the season!"
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours a wonderful dark amber with an off-white head that leaves light lacing.
Aroma: The scents of the season! Roasted pumpkin, light sweet malts and caramel, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, vanilla, molasses, oak and a little whiskey – this beer smells AMAZING!
Taste: The taste is nothing short of perfection and tastes like the aroma. Rich, malty, sweet and spiced to perfection. The oak comes through with a fantastic vanilla sweetness on the back and not too boozy.
Overall: This is by far one of the best pumpkin ales I’ve had. Incredible balance, creamy and delicious, and trouble. At nearly $15.00 a bottle and 10.31% ABV you may not run out and buy a case (I did go back and buy two more bottles), but you DO need to try this one. I can’t say enough about this…magnificent!


Mark Harvey

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin Dark English Ale

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin. My brother-in-law mentioned that he really wanted to bring back some Wychwood beers for me while on his last trip to England. Shipping beer isn't easy and he was happy to find out (when I told him) that their beer is available in the US. Based on his recommendation I thought it was high time I went out and started trying these Halloween themed beers.

From the Wychwood Brewery website:”Legendary Ruby Beer – Traditionally craft brewed with Chocolate & Crystal males and a blend of Styrian, Goldings & Fuggles hopes to produce a full-bodied, Ruby beer that delivers a delicious chocolate toffee malt flavor, balanced with a rounded moderate bitterness and an overall fruity, mischievous character. Deliciously Dark. What’s the matter Lagerboys…Afraid you might taste something? Goes with…Hobgoblin is the perfect beer to drink with meat stews & Steak & Ale pies, Sausages & Mash, Burgers & BBQs; roasts; & char-grilled vegetables. Ideal for Halloween!”
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours a dark ruby amber with a slight head that disappears quickly leaving some nice lacing.
Aroma: Scents of sweet malts, toffee, sweet fruit and floral hops.
Taste: Starts out sweet and rich – malts, toffee and some spice. A touch of hop bitterness, but not too much in the finish.
Overall: Wonderfully drinkable and tasty this has to be one of the best Dark English Ales I’ve tasted. At 5.2% ABV this is perfect for your Halloween festivities!


Mark Harvey

Monday, October 10, 2011

Drake’s Brewing Alpha Session NorCal Bitter

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Drake’s Brewing Alpha Session NorCal Bitter. Last Friday night I had the distinct pleasure to work Drake’s First Friday for my kids’ school. The staff at Drake’s Brewing is incredible and they prove yet again how cool the brewing industry is. After having a couple pints of Denogginizer I was encouraged to try Alpha Session…and I am SO glad I did!
From Drake’s Brewing – “Our session beer is 3.8% ABV, but packed with as much hops as we use in our double IPA’s (Citra, Simcoe & German Magnum). All very high in alpha-acids, giving the beer great flavor and aroma. Have an Alpha Session today!”

Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours a cloudy gold color with a frothy white head, sticky lacing and excellent head retention.

Aroma: Smells amazing! Huge hop presence (Citra and Simcoe), citrus and pine and a light sweet pale malt scent in the background.

Taste: Hop forward with grapefruit, tangerine and pine and the slight flavors of pale malt.
Overall: I absolutely love it. Incredibly sessionable and perfect in so many ways. Listed at 3.8% ABV on Drake’s website, this one was listed at 4.2% ABV at the brewery. I’d love to have a case of Alpha Session in my hands for those times when you want something to session that has great hop character, but that won’t put you on your rear end. Unfortunately I was told they won’t be bottling this gem, so get down to Drake’s Brewing! You’ll be glad you did!

Mark Harvey