Sud Savant: Wachusett Imperial Pumpkin – Falls a Bit Short

Happy Belated Thanksgiving everybody!!! May your blessings be innumerable and your loved ones be close. To celebrate this day, I’ve already had 2 bloody marys, 1 mimosa, 1 Woodchuck fall cider, and 1 Heineken. While I know it’s not the most prestigious lineup in the world, it has done the job and filled me with the holiday spirit… and it’s only 1:30 p.m.

Today’s review will be for Wachusett’s Imperial Pumpkin ale. It’s something that my wife and sister-in-law picked up in Boston for me on a recent trip. Actually, it was a trip that my wife took on our three year wedding anniversary so she knew she had to pick up something nice. Wachusett brews this beer with pumpkin puree, Belgian Candi sugar (sic), vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. It sounds pretty par for the course, but this brewery has the ability to do some very above average brewing. Let’s pour!

Aroma 9/12: Things begin with a subdued, sweet caramel malt and some equally muted spices. The pumpkin seems pretty far behind until the beer warms in the glass and only then takes over as the primary aroma. Once warmed properly the pumpkin and spices are both easily discerned with a sugary caramel blending well with the pumpkin aromas. Unfortunately, the cinnamon and nutmeg seem to be a bit strong after additional warming.

Appearance 3/3: The glass burns with rusty siennas and burnt orange colors. The off white head is perfect in size, shows adequate retention, and remains as a creamy covering on the beer’s surface.

Flavor 15/20: A flash of dark sugary caramel is given before plunging the tastebuds into a dust devil of holiday spices. The pumpkin is all but undetectable, but the beer does offer you a cinnamon and ginger laden brew in its stead. However, through continued warming the semblance of a balance takes place. By that, I mean that the pumpkin and caramel are actually allowed to be tasted through the aggressive spicing. Still not enough to consider it balanced, by any means, but the sweetness is welcome nonetheless. The finish is 98% spices and dominated by the cinnamon of course. There is a hint of the Belgian candi sugar, but it is merely a polite suggestion amongst a yelling match. It fades a bit a lets some pumpkin flavor through, but again it is vastly outnumbered. The aftertaste is a ginger/cinnamon tingle on the tongue, but otherwise remains as a bittersweet note, an undeniable dryness, and an eventual bitter.

Mouthfeel 4/5: A full bodied beer, but is made to seem lighter by the tongue-pricking action from the cinnamon. The carbonation itself is actually done quite well – tiny, non-aggressive, smooth even – but the abundance of cinnamon again spoils an otherwise excellent aspect of this beer. The warmth is occasionally detectable on an exhale, but other wise the 8.0% ABV remains well camouflaged throughout.

Overall Impression 5/10: As mentioned earlier, the cinnamon in this beer is simply too much. It overshadows the otherwise nice, sweet flavors of the malt and it also ruins what should be a nice, smoother body that what is shown. The pumpkin is generally weak, or maybe it just seems that way since it is being covered by other flavors. I think there are good things happening here, but there’s too much interference.

Total 34/50: Unfortunately, this beer has found one of my pet peeves: pumpkin beers that hide behind too much spice. Oddly, in Wachusett’s case, I don’t think that it’s hiding an inferior beer behind the flavor of numerous spices. The beer behind this seems to be well-made, sweet, exhibits fine carbonation, and a good body. It would just be easier if it were easier to detect all of that goodness behind the veil of cinnamon and ginger that is presented. Which brings up a question that has been bothering me. When are brewers going to learn that cinnamon kicks other flavors’ asses?! It’s strong stuff fellas! A little bit goes a long way. If you want to make a cinnamon or spiced beer, the please by all means continue to add excessive amounts of cinnamon (and/or nutmeg). However, if you’d like to make an amazing pumpkin beer, please consider letting me taste the friggin’ pumpkin. Even with all this beer’s other positive attributes (sweetness, body, carbonation, etc) was still weak on the pumpkin. This, unfortunately hits on one of my other beer pet peeves: beers that promise one thing and deliver another. Sorry, Wachusett! I’ve had some tasty offerings of yours, but this falls a bit short.

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!