Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dogfish Head Beer: Punkin Ale

Now that we're into October, I thought it might be a good idea to feature a nice seasonal brew. While walking into QFC today, not expecting to find anything, I happened to spot Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale sitting in a lovely 4-pack on the shelf begging to be purchased. As it stands I've never had the privilege of sampling this beer. I have heard only good things about it so I immediately proceeded to the checkstand with a 4-pack in hand. My favourite Pumpkin Ale thus far is Pumking from Southern Tier so I was curious to see how Punkin would compare. It being Dogfish Head, my assumption was that it would indeed hold its own.

A little background on the unique seasonal style of Pumpkin Ale: as far as my knowledge allows (please correct me If I'm wrong), the first real recognition of such an ale was in 1801 when Pumpkin beer was mentioned as being healthy and in some cases prescribed by physicians of the time. Pumpkin was used as a common additive in beers, sometimes replacing hard to come-by malts entirely. It wasn't until the early 19th century that pumpkin began to fall out of popularity with regards to beer production. The first example of modern day Pumpkin Ales was released in the late 1980's by Buffalo Bill's Brewery. Current Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione entered the pumpkin beer scene in 1994 by entering and winning a beer competition (at the Punkin Chunkin competition) with a homebrewed batch of Punkin. This was in 1994, before the brewery opened in 1995 and ever since they have brewed and released Punkin each fall. The interesting (and misspelled) name for the beer comes from this nearby 'Punkin Chunkin' contest held yearly for the past 25 years in Delaware in which contestants compete by launching pumpkins as far as possible. Contestants utilize whatever methods they see fit, catapults and other contraptions are fair game. Perhaps you have seen the TV show on Discovery Channel?

My experience with Pumpkin Ales has led me to try offerings from Buffalo Bill's to Elysian Brewing Company, to Rockbottom Brewing Company, Southern Tier, Midnight Sun and now Dogfish Head. So I feel ok saying that I have a decent base of knowledge of such beers. Sometimes the beer is overspiced. Sometimes there is too much actual pumpkin and the mouthfeel and lingering flavours are off, so naturally I was interested in sampling Dog Fish Head's take on the style.

Some breweries release several offerings each year, ranging from brown ales, to stouts and porters to Imperial Pumpkin Ales. In fact, this year (actually next weekend, the 8 - 9th of October) Elysian Brewing Company is throwing a massive Pumpkin Ale festival named: The Great Pumpkin Beer Fest, which will feature at least 50 different pumpkin beers. From Elysian Brewing Company alone we can expect: Mr. Yuck Sour Pumpkin Ale, Night Owl (their flagship seasonal release), Great Pumpkin, Dark o' the Moon Pumpkin Stout, Hansel and Gretel Ginger Pumpkin Pils, Coche de Medianoche, K├╝rbitinus, PK-47 Pumpkin Malt Liquor, Headless Horsey, Ursa Orange and one another TBA. It is quite apparent that demand for pumpkin flavored beers has grown in the last decade. More recently bigger macro-breweries such as Anheuser-Busch and MolsonCoors have been releasing their own fall-seasonal Pumpkin beers in recognition of the craze. As it seems I have veered off-course with my explanation of Pumpkin Ales, allow me to get back on track, tasting notes anyone?

Name: Punkin Ale
Category/Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 7.00%
IBU: 28
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon & nutmeg
Bottled: 2011
Bottle Size: 12 oz
Location Purchased: QFC, North Bend, WA

The Pour: Off-white head, moderately vigorous pour leads to disappearance of head, poor retention thus far, lacing? Color of brew is golden copper-orange.

The Nose: Lots of spice. Pumpkin pie, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Malty sweet on the outside. Digging deeper and we find the pithy squash-like characteristics lent to us from the pumpkin used in the brew. Hints of caramely brown sugar well distributed throughout. Fresh baked gingerbread? A little metallic? My mouth is watering, let's go for a taste...

The Taste: Letting it sit on my tongue for a bit the carbonation is fairly light. A whole mouthful of spice, but not overdone like other pumpkin ales. Initial burst of sweetness fades to a punch of spice and ends with a moderate bitterness. Near the end I'm getting something floral? Hops? Intriguing lingering mix of spicy, sweet and bitter on the finish. I rather like this one. Mouthfeel is not heavy by any means, for a 7% I say drinkability is very high and the body is definitely in the realm of medium.

The Verdict: I would definitely rate this Pumpkin Ale in the upper tier of seasonal Pumpkin Ales. I would be interested in sampling one side-by-side with my other favourite: The Pumking from Southern Tier. In Punkin the spice is noticeable but it's not overdone and complements the other flavors instead of dominating them. For a stronger brew this is very drinkable, although my ability to consume pumpkin flavoured beers is usually limited to just one, I rather enjoyed this. I can easily say it's one of the best I've ever had. This would be a great complement to Thanksgiving dinner, a slice of pumpkin pie or simply as a dessert on its own. If you've yet to try a Pumpkin Ale, let this be the first. If you can find it, buy it, it doesn't last long, and you won't be disappointed :]

Thanks for reading!


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