Now if you’ve had any of Southern Tier’s big ol’ bomber bottles, you know that those things are rife with flavor. It’s with that in mind that I’m pretty excited to be reviewing their pumpkin ale, Pumpking. Pumpking is often listed as one of people’s favorite pumpkin beers and definitely has a national reputation for excellence. This should be a good review for me as I feel I am notoriously picky about pumpkin beers, especially their balance between pumpkin sweetness and those fall spices. Let’s pour!
Aroma 12/12: I unhesitatingly give this a 12. It is completely unique to anything else on the market. It erupts with a buttery pumpkin nose and a extremely delicate use of cinnamon and nutmeg. The sweetness of the pumpkin comes later, and not far after a bready malt sweetness oozing with caramel. There is also a distant dark vanilla which blends painfully well with the buttery notes. As the beer warms, the initial buttery note turns into more of a vanilla custard. This is insane!
Appearance 3/3: It pours a bright orange appropriate to an aisle in any big box store selling Halloween wares, but thankfully sits in the glass in a hue more natural to the season. More of a “burnt orange,” with golden highlights than the traditional Halloween orange. The head was 1.5 fingers tall and its off-white color was tinted by that of the beer below to a pastel rust color.
Flavor 19/20: It begins humbly enough, with a mild-mannered, authentic pumpkin flavor and a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon. Soon that delicious buttered pumpkin note from the aroma eases gently in on a viscous wave of caramel, though not in quite as strong a fashion as in the aroma. What a flavor! The backbone then transitions to that of pumpkin pie filling replete with all the spices and sweetness expected. Minus the buttery flavor, which I would not remove for the world, this is almost an exact replica of pumpkin pie filling straight from the can. Holding the beer in the mouth longer allows the spices and caramel to die down a little and one is left with a lot of natural tasting pumpkin, cinnamon, and some neutral 2-row malts. The finish gives a brief reprise of the pumpkin flavor right before the cinnamon goes down the throat kicking and screaming. Believe it or not the aftertaste does show that there are hops present in this beer! Not long after swallowing, the mouth is left dry and bitter. It’s definitely not something that I expected after drinking a beer this sweet.
Mouthfeel 4/5: The mouthfeel might be the only noticeably lacking part of this beer. It remains far from distracting, but the mouthfeel is far from anything I associate with “imperial.” The ingredients list 2-row malts, undoubtedly used to bolster the body of this brew, but I think they took the day off. The body is medium at best but does a surprising job at carrying all these large flavors. Its carbonation is tiny and feels active, but closer inspection will reveal the majority of that tingle on the tongue to be the cinnamon working its magic. The ABV is listed as 8.6%, but I never saw a trace of it.
Overall Impression 10/10: A top 5 pumpkin beer on the market, maybe even top 3. The nose is without question unlike any pumpkin beer currently available. It is phenomenal and it alone would justify purchasing the bottle. The flavor is less, but certainly not disappointing. This has instantly earned the status of “go-to” bottle for pumpkin seasonals. It is something that I’ll will be purchasing on an annual basis.
Total 48/50: Boy, to dock this brew two points seems like a bit much considering how much I enjoyed it! However, there are some areas that I see for improvement. A bit more caramel would be appreciated and I think could really combine well with all the pumpkin/vanilla custard sweetness. Also, if we’re adding more caramel, presumably by adding more caramel malts, then that would also take care of the lighter mouthfeel. However, knowing Southern Tier’s ability to make huge, tasty, sweet beers, maybe this is something they tried and it made the beer thick, syrupy, and undrinkable. Its mouthfeel might not be imperial, but it sure tastes like one and that’s more important anyway. If you haven’t heard of this pumpkin beer already, it definitely deserves your attention. It is anything but a spice bomb and easily ranks at the top of its style. It should be widely available and at a decent price. What are you waiting for?!
Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!