Part of the reason I was interested in doing a tasting was that I'd recently enjoyed Ten Ninety's new release De Ogen, a farmhouse ale brewed with pumpkin and spices, and wanted to try it next to other pumpkin beers. This turned out to be a terrible idea. What I liked about De Ogen—its lack of sweetness, slightly tart finish, and very mild spice flavor—made it taste sour and flat in comparison to the sweet, highly spiced beers we'd been drinking. After taking a sip one friend made a face, declared it too sour, and dumped out the rest of her glass. I had to admit that it did taste sour in that context, even though I knew it wasn't a sour beer.
In the end, two things stood out to me from the tasting. One was how much a year of aging improved both the Dogfish Head and Southern Tier beers. The other was how many of the beers I liked. There were a few duds—and there are several I've disliked in the past that I didn't buy again—but at some point I may have to stop saying that I don't like pumpkin beer.
Spiteful Jackass O' Lantern: One of my favorite pumpkin beers last year, this one was excellent again. It's got a slightly funky, roasty pumpkin seed flavor, not sweet at all—it was almost savory.
Schlafly Pumpkin Ale: A well-known brewery in St. Louis (my hometown), Schlafly just began distributing in Chicago, and their pumpkin ale is the first beer to hit local shelves. It reminded me of cinnamon cookies, sweet and highly spiced, but lighter and less syrupy than some of the other beers.
Slapshot Gourd Damn: Cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger; as mentioned above, this is much less sweet than your average pumpkin beer.
Southern Tier Pumking (fresh and year-old versions): This year's Pumking is very sweet and spiced, with a slightly bitter nutmeg finish. The older one is even more syrupy, almost candied, with no bitterness—a development I wouldn't have thought I'd like, but it works, mellowing and melding all the flavors.
Southern Tier Warlock: We tasted this pumpkin imperial stout last, so it may have fallen victim to palate fatigue. But while the sweet spiciness was balanced by the roasty, slightly bitter stout flavor, it didn't stand out to me.
Anderson Valley Fall Hornin': A strong cinnamon flavor, like Red Hots with less sweetness and heat, leading to a slightly hoppy finish.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin: Rich nutmeg, not too sweet, not bad but unremarkable. I will say that it's much better than the brewery's Pumpkinhead Ale, which I tried and hated last year (relabeled for Trader Joe's as Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale).
Saugatuck Pumpkin Chai: This tasted weirdly astringent, and not at all like pumpkin (spices) or chai.
Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale: Syrupy, with faint notes of bourbon that were hard to detect because the beer tasted like artificial flavoring to me.
Red Hook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter: This tasted like a roasty, dry porter, perfectly fine but with little hint of the pumpkin, spices, or maple syrup it was supposedly brewed with.
Julia Thiel writes about beer on Thursdays.