Although it hasn’t exactly charmed the online craft beer communities, Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead Ale has a devoted (bordering on cult-like) following. The brewery’s fall seasonal, released at the end of each summer, is greeted here in Maine by release parties, huge grocery displays, and excited chatter among local beer drinkers. For the New England beer drinker, nothing heralds the arrival of fall weather more than the Ichabod Crane-labeled Pumpkinhead.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no huge fan of Pumpkinhead. I just don’t think it’s a good beer. The mix of spices overpowers the pumpkin flavor and give you something much closer to pumpkin pie than a pumpkin-y beer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (God knows I love Southern Tier’s Pumking), but prefer pumpkin brews that taste a little more like the veggie. Think the Dogfish Head Punkin.
Having said this, I still found myself looking forward to the release of Smashed Pumpkin with a lot of excitement. The weather here in Maine has been positively autumnal for the last couple days, and it feels like time to start drinking fall seasonal beers. The last couple releases from the Pugsley’s Signature Series – named after Shipyard Master Brewer Alan Pugsley – have been great, and a real chance for the brewery to show some creativity in their lineup. Pumpkinhead doesn’t exactly excite my tastebuds, but when finally I saw a bottle of the Smashed Pumpkin I knew I had to give it a try.
Here’s the description of the beer from the brewery;
Smashed Pumpkin is a big-bodied beer with a light coppery orange color and pleasing aroma of pumpkin and nutmeg. The OG and final Alc./Vol. provide the structure and body. Pale Ale, Wheat and Light Munich Malts combine with the natural tannin in pumpkin and the delicate spiciness of Willamette and Hallertau Hops to balance the sweetness of the fruit.
For what it’s worth, everyone I’ve talked to about the beer refers to it as an “Imperial Pumpkinhead,” so comparisons are inevitable.
The beer pours burnt orange in color, with a small white head of foam that lasts for a damn long time. The carbonation looks much lazier than in a lot of Shipyard brews; just a pleasant stream of bubbles floating up to the top of the glass. The nose is like an amped-up Pumpkinhead, with lots of nutmeg, cinnamon, and other fall spices dominating. I can happily report that there’s a bit more going on behind the first sniff, with pale malt and real pumpkin smells coming through.
The beer tastes like an amped-up Pumpkinhead, but it’s so much more than that. THIS is what I look for in a pumpkin beer. The pumpkin pie spices that were in the nose are all there, big and bold and full of flavor. Along with this is sweet pumpkin (real pumpkin!), bready malts, and a touch of brown sugar. The spicy hops make things just bitter enough, and really come through on the finish. Although the ABV is up around 9%, you definitely can’t taste it in the beer at all. The beer feels nicely carbonated, and has a mouth-coating, long-lasting aftertaste.
I wish that this was the Shipyard brew on tap around Portland this fall. Everything about the beer is big and exciting, and (rather than an unsessionable high alcohol content) it totally surpasses the beer it was inspired by. The Smashed Pumpkin needs to be tried by everyone, regardless of love or hate of Pumpkinhead. This beer tastes like fall. Highly recommended.