I love fall: Sweaters come back into functional vogue, the smell of wet leaves on an October morning, and a glut of orange-labeled pumpkin beers come flying off of store shelves. But what makes a good pumpkin beer, well, good? It’s a highly subjective question, because there’s two distinctive types of pumpkin beers.
- The pumpkin beer that has pumpkin flavor; and,
- The pumpkin beer that has pumpkin pie spice flavor.
In an effort to provide some context for each species of beer, I ventured out on the usual Thursday night and pulled two beers from the cooler at Gilly’s, sans recommendation and with absolute blind luck.
Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale (the lighter colored beer in the Troeg’s glass) is an offering from, you guessed it, Shipyard Brewing Company. This Portland, Maine based outfit focuses overwhelming on ales, and has been pumping out brews since 1994. Awesome name and sweet label aside, this beer falls into the first classification of pumpkin beers.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (the darker colored beer in the Fordham glass) is the fall seasonal from everybody’s favorite Delaware brewery, and presents us with the second type of pumpkin beer.
Delivery method: Two twelve-ounce bottles, poured artfully into your basic roll-top pint glass.
So the first sip…of Pumpkinhead is about as close as I’ve come to drinking butter, but in a good way. It’s slippery smooth, with a nice way of rolling around in your mouth, and has very pronounced pumpkin notes. If you think of how some beers aerate and expand a little, it does the opposite quite nicely. Without having done much qualitative analysis, I’ll chalk this up to low carbonation by design. Punkin Ale, on the other hand, is closer to a traditional ale, taking a more assertive stance on your palate and telling you that this beer is here to make a statement. That statement is a potent punch of pumpkin spice, without any actual pumpkin undertones.
As the night went on…I noticed the difference in finish fairly definitively, especially when I’d alternate sips out of curiosity (what, I double fist sometimes, so sue me). The Punkin Ale has a crisp, fresh finish that doesn’t overstay its welcome on your tongue. The Pumpkinhead, though, lingers just a little too long if you don’t consistently sip it down. Some might say that’s by design, but I don’t feel it’s a nefarious finish designed to promote rapid consumption. More likely, it’s the unavoidable result of seeking out a buttery texture, so it’s entirely forgivable.
When I closed my tab…I decided on one thing, and one thing only: Both beers have a home in your fridge, but for specific contexts. In the case of Punkin Ale, it’s easily a 2-3 bottle session without a second thought, thanks mostly to a back half that, like a good party guest, doesn’t overstay its welcome. Think of it as the beer you’d have while making the turkey. Pumpkinhead, on the other hand, is a one and done-r that can replace the pumpkin pie entirely and serve as dessert.
Arbitrary, proprietary ITTFID scores: 3.5 out of 5 for both.
Would I let you drink these? Have a few Punkin Ales, and you’ll be less annoyed with raking leaves, and then reward yourself with a Pumpkinhead afterward.