Sud Savant: Dogfish Head – Punkin Ale (2011) an Excellent Pumpkin Ale

Hey yo! A good majority of us in the U.S. craftbeer scene have had the privilidge to enjoy a Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. It’s generally well-received, earning an 88 on and a 90 at RateBeer. But how well does it age? Will its 7% ABV have kept it safe throughout the course of one year? Where ever will we find someone to answer these persistent questions? Don’t worry. I might know a guy.

If you’d like a little history of DFH’s Punkin’ Ale, their website has this to say about it, “Punkin Ale is named after the seriously off-centered southern Delaware extravaganza Punkin Chunkin (check out some of these Discovery Channel videos of Punkin Chunkin, you gotta see it to believe it!). In fact, Punkin Ale made its debut as it claimed first prize in the 1994 Punkin Chunkin Recipe Contest. Yes, that was a full 6 months before we even opened our doors for business!”

Obviously, being DFH’s first award (even before they officially opened), gives it a special place in their history. I’m sure there’s a great attatchment and sense of gratitude toward this beer for a great start on a burgeoning business. Shall we see why this brew received its award back in 1994? Let’s pour!

Aroma 11/12: This is very well done and exceptionally balanced. First to the nose is actually the pumpkin flesh, a nice change from being ambushed by spices as is all too easy to do with this style. The mix of allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg (as listed on the bottle) are not far behind, but they are presented as rounded and not a sharp kick. There is also a distant brown sugar that blends very well with the light caramel malts. This smells like the holidays! I’m reminded of gingerbread men, but not quite as dark. As the beer warms, the spice, pumpkin, caramel trifecta is right on the mark, as all three contribute and can easily be detected.

Appearance 3/3: It is several shades lighter than the below photo would indicate, which does not do it justice. It is a combination of dark gourd hues, a mish-mash of autumnal palette colors, and a rusty amber shade. Definitely appropriate for the season. Its bisque head is adequate in size and shows above average retention.

Flavor 17/20: With almost no introduction the beer rushes in and there is plenty of pumpkin and spice to go around for everyone. Behind those primary flavors is some nice caramel sweetness and a surprisingly dark tasting malt. There’s also an interesting bitter note to balance all the sweetness of the malts & pumpkin – likely contributed by the spices. As the beer sits in the mouth, all the distractions of the spice, bitter, etc fall away and one is left with a relatively undisturbed, slightly sweet pumpkin flavor. This isolation is shattered as soon as you swallow. Immediately, the spices rush back in, practically tripping over themselves to be the first down the throat, and leaving a slight alcoholic warmth in their wake. The spices and alcohol give the tongue a tingling sensation before transitioning to a rather drying and bitter aftertaste. The beer as a whole is well-balanced between the dark, almost molasses-like malts and the spices, with the more subtle pumpkin flavors doing their damnedest to keep pace.

Mouthfeel 5/5: The carbonation is kept at a perfectly subtle level for this beer and leaves most of the prickly sensation in the mouth to be contributed by the spices. Thankfully the carbonation does give the drinker a fantastic(!) silky foaming action in the mouth. This combination of low carbonation and nice foaming keeps the beer drinkable, yet substantial. At 7%, I’m surprised I can sense much of the alcohol warmth at all, but if anyone knows how to expose and utilize an alcohol’s warmth, it’s Dogfish Head.

Overall Impression 8/10: A nice pumpkin beer! It definitely does not hide behind its spices. While said spices are certainly present in this beer, they never dominate the profile. The aroma is well done in its balance and the mouthfeel is a “best of both worlds” characteristic that could be easily overlooked despite its importance to the beer as a whole. There’s a lot going on at once: spice sensations, spice flavors, pumpkin sweetness, malt flavors, bitterness, foaming action… take some time to appreciate all of it.

Total 44/50: This is a little less robust of a beer than Dogfish Head typically puts out, but they can’t all be giant killers now can they? In other words, it’s not a super high ABV, flavor saturated, tongue punching ale to be reckoned with that we’re used to seeing from DFH, but who says that’s a bad thing. This is one of the most drinkable DFH beers that I’ve ever drank and please do not infer that means it’s short of flavor. There is plenty of flavor to be found here, and thank goodness it’s not all a Tony Montana-sized desktop coke mountain made of cinnamon and nutmeg. There was restraint used in making this brew and I appreciate that to no end. Usually, buying a less-than-powerhouse beer is not why I buy Dogfish Head, but if it can guarantee me an excellent pumpkin ale, then I will make that purchase time and time again.

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!