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The Great Pumpkin Reviews

by Matt O'Connor

I’ve only been back to law school for a week, now entering my second year, but I think I can safely say this regular column will be the only fun thing I write all year. Maybe that’s cynical. Maybe I will grow to absolutely love the issue of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair, speedy, and public trial, the likely topic of a thirty-page case comment due next semester. Either way, I’m going to need some beer to make it through, so I might as well write about some of them, no? So, before I start adding footnotes to my columns with full law review citation format, let’s get started.

It’s almost autumn. Let’s just face that fact. I’m sure the weather will turn warm again for a strange stretch in late September or something, but as of now it’s 55 degrees at night, some places colder, and only in the low 70’s during the day. So, while it’s not leaves changing and apple picking kind of weather just yet, our ever-so-knowledgeable brewers have decided it’s pumpkin beer time. In fact, Pumpkinhead, Shipyard’s very popular offering, was first spotted on Boston shelves in JULY!

I firmly believe that beers purporting to be seasonal should try and at least attempt to follow the seasons they are trying to invoke. Nothing makes me angrier than going to the liquor store before a big Patriots game on a cool but sunny and beautiful early November afternoon and finding winter seasonal mix-packs. It’s really in October and November that I want to see the pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers (late September is my absolute earliest), but instead I get smacked with them in August. The only thing I will say about drinking these seasonal beers now is that they’re certainly fresh. Fresh beer is good. So, I caved to the pressure and in the past two weeks I have purchased 4-5 great and diverse seasonal offerings, most of which I’ve had before, to review here for The Inclusive.

Today’s beer hails from Dogfish Head, Delaware’s favorite son in the beer world. I’ve reviewed some of their beers before and have given a little background on their founding as a small brewpub in Milton, Delaware. However, today’s beer predates the pub itself. Dogfish Head brewed up Punkin Ale before it was officially called Dogfish Head. It originates as a homebrew cooked up in founder Sam Calagione’s kitchen.

Punkin was cooked up in honor of Delaware’s Punkin Chunkin festival. Punkin Chunkin is basically an anything goes pumpkin launching festival held in a large open field. We’re talking pumpkin guns, pumpkin cannons, pumpkin slingshots, pumpkin catapults, capable of launching a pumpkin (to last year’s winning measure of) 3,000 feet. Obviously, this is the kind of event that is greatly enhanced by adding beer.

Dogfish debuted Punkin Ale in 1994 and it has been selling strong since. They, like other brewers, have caved to the plague of early availability, with beers being seen on shelves in my area the last few days of August, but that’s life.

The beer pours a delicious looking, relatively clear tea color with a nice tan head of foam. This beer is a brown ale first and foremost, with real pumpkin and spices, so in the nose you get the caramel malts of a nice brown ale. Adding to these more mundane beer aromas is the nutmeg and allspice, which are positively alluring. Add in a touch of molasses and (of course) cooked pumpkin and that about rounds out the tasty nose.

Upon first sip, you're reminded this is a flavored brown ale first; this is not a pumpkin soda like some other beers. It has a strong, malty backbone with the zesty spices giving your palette a bit of a zing. It finishes with a bit of a vegetal taste that I think is the real pumpkin meat – think squash or yams, an earthy taste. This more muted flavor is accented by a nice alcohol heat – this is relatively strong at 7.0% ABV – and the lingering spices. This has become one of my favorite pumpkin beers, by far. Check below for some other ones I’ve tried this fall. Enjoy fresh beer, even if it’s still astronomically summer. Grade: A


Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Style: Pumpkin Brown Ale

ABV: 7.0%


Also Try:

Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Weyerbacher Brewing Company (Easton, PA). I suspect this was named an “imperial” years ago, because now its 8.0% ABV is pretty typical for these strong, spiced pumpkin beers. This one is a classic, worth a try if you see it. Grade: B+

Fat Jack, Boston Beer Company (Boston, MA). Nowadays Sam’s beers get routinely knocked for being on the sweet side. In a pumpkin beer that’s not such a bad thing. Fat Jack is very well balanced and nicely spiced, with lots of fresh pumpkin. I see it as a close cousin to Dogfish Head’s Punkin, just a slight step below. Grade: A-

Pumking, Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY). This is in the “also try” section since I want you to try it and make up your own opinion. I think it’s horrid. This is not a majority opinion. A lot of people like this beer. I see it as a alcohol-filled hot, over spiced, vanilla wafer cookie flavored disaster. Sorry. Grade: C+

Smashed Pumpkin, Shipyard Brewing Company (Portland, ME). This is Pumpkinhead’s big and much tastier brother. It is a little heavy on the spices, but manages to mostly come across as a solid unit. Worth picking up. Grade: B+

Image courtesy of the author


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Matt O’Connor lives in Boston and is a proud graduate of Boston University. Explore beer with him as he quits his job in the sciences and starts law school. Send any requests, beer, or job offers to him at: matt.oconnor[at]