“Beers that Taste Like Disappointment.”

“I just assumed you liked beers that taste like disappointment.”

This coming from Angelique. One of my best friends. A person who follows this blog and knows I’ve made something of a hobby of beer. A woman who loves beer, but has been known to ask me a question or two about beer and take my recommendation on beers.

Of course, all bets are off when it comes to pumpkin beers. As far as I can tell, there’s no more polarizing beer style. There’s a lot of love or hate for them, and a lot of opinions on what tastes good and what doesn’t.

Angelique and I both avidly try pumpkin beers and look forward to the season. This year, I have been particularly vocal on Twitter about liking “pumpkin-fruit beers1.” Angelique has, more than once, flat-out told me that she and Marty have found that pumpkin in the beer contributes nothing and only pumpkin spices matter. Thus, I assume she’s a “pumpkin-spice beer” kinda gal.

So, of course, I jumped at the chance to go to “a pumpkin event” with her and Marty during Baltimore Beer Week. Not only was I likely to get to taste many pumpkin beers I hadn’t ever tasted, but I also was going to get a chance to see how similar or different our tastes really were.

The event was actually a tasting of “Autumn Flavors” at Hudson Street Stackhouse. This is not a bar that is screwing around. I was pretty intent on trying many beers, and they provided. They’ve got 36 taps, and all of them were some variant on an “autumn” beer. I was gleeful when I realized 23 of the taps were PUMPKIN beers. Four were “harvest” beers, and the rest were Oktoberfest beers.

As an aside, I am sad I was so dedicated to trying all the pumpkin beers that I missed all the Oktoberfest beers. But sometimes in life sacrifices must be made.

I did not manage to try ALL the pumpkin beers. But I made a valiant attempt, clocking in at tasting (in one way or another) 17 different pumpkin beers (and two “harvest” beers). I left out three I’d had before, one (Blue Moon Pumpkin) due lack of interest2, one I expected be able to try later at Angelique and Marty’s house (didn’t manage) and one I missed just due to lack of time.

I’ll be honest. My opinion is that most of these beers were awful. I was expecting that, to be fair. So, I didn’t finish most of these beers, including four out of the first five I tried. I took super extensive notes on tasting, as shown below, but I’m not going to go through all 17 beers. I think that would bore everyone, including me, to tears. If I’m wrong, you all let me know in the comments and I’ll come back and write THAT post.

But I do want to touch on high points of the evening.

First, I have never liked Southern Tier’s Pumking nor Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead beers. I gave Pumking another shot. I still hate it. Pumpkinhead wasn’t available, but Shipyard had a different pumpkin beer on called, Smashed Pumpkin. I tried it mostly for completeness, and found myself liking it. As Angelique pointed out, it had a bit of a honey finish to it, and the overall balance and deft spicing were really lovely. And one of those good/bad things? It didn’t taste like it’s 9% ABV; smooth, but deceptive.

Terrapin’s Pumpkinfest was delightful. An Oktoberfest base with some pumpkin and spicing added to make a whole beer of fun and deliciousness. Probably my favorite new pumpkin beer of the night, and one I’d have again and again if I could. I’d also insist pumpkin haters but marzan/Oktoberfest lovers give it at least three sips to try it. I suspect more than one would sing a song of praise here. Jeremy, I’m talking to you.

Heavy Seas had out a beer called The Great’er Pumpkin, and while it was truly delightful (Angelique may have said something about wanting that beer’s babies), I struggle to call it a “pumpkin” beer. It was aged in bourbon barrels from A. Smith Bowman, and the barrel aging really came through. Vanilla flavors in particular. Angelique described it as pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top, which makes me think that if Eric can ever get his hands on it, he needs to give it a shot. That is, after all, what he once told me he wanted in a pumpkin beer.

Finally? Let’s talk about my favorite pumpkin beer of all time. The one that Angelique would have tried on name alone, from the beginning, except that I said it was my favorite pumpkin beer of all time.

Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus.

I love this beer. I love this beer fresh. I love this beer forgotten in my cupboard for a year. This beer is wonderful, and so different, at those stages. To me, there’s basically nothing “spicy” about this beer, though the description of it certainly includes spices one would put in pie. It’s got just a touch of funk and sour, but generally not enough to be off-putting to anyone. It’s delicious.

And it’s the beer that, when I finally convinced her to try it, had Angelique looking slightly dazed and telling me she finally understood my distinction between “fruit” and “spice” pumpkin beers, and that something could be delicious if it just focused on the “fruit” flavors. Prior to tasting Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus, “I just assumed you liked beers that taste like disappointment.”

Shoulda just trusted me from the get-go, lady.

fn1. I’m convinced there are pumpkin beers that taste more like the fruit, pumpkin, and others that taste more like the spices we associate with pumpkin, such as in pies and lattes. Thus “pumpkin-fruit” or “pumpkin-spice” beers. Personally, I find a very spice-forward beer anywhere from mediocre to revolting.

fn2. I’d actually be curious about this. But not when there’s 22 other similar & maybe better beers I have to make decisions about.

4 thoughts on ““Beers that Taste Like Disappointment.”

  1. I just so happen to have a >1yr old bottle of Pumpkin Lambic sitting around if you want it…..

  2. So, it seems like you actually agree with me that most pumpkin beers don’t live up to the hype of “OMG IT’S PUMPKIN BEER SEASON!”? After all, you “expected” most of the beers on tap to be “awful.”

    That’s my problem with this “style” of beer. Everyone does them, but only a few breweries get it right for my particular palate, which for me means super-subtle pumpkin and even more subtle pumpkin spice. It’s possible I haven’t tried this particular “pumpkin fruit” variety of which you speak, though, and certainly will if/when our paths cross. Anything with “lambic” in the title instantly brings up my level of interest.

    I’ve found my best bet for pumpkin ales this year (of the five or so I’ve tried) have been pumpkin stouts as I like the roasty bitterness of the stout against the sweet’n’spicy pumpkin adjuncts. Is that part of the allure of the pump-lambics?

    • I can only sort of say I agree with that assessment, because I get crazy excited every year when it’s pumpkin beer season! I love to try them, and I really love the ones I love. It’s just that so many are spice bombs. OF DOOOOOOOOOM. And, as such, I don’t have high expectations for the vast majority of pumpkin beers. I’m conflicted, is what I’m saying.

      I can agree on pumpkin porters & stouts. Those tend to be better, generally speaking, than the average pumpkin beer. That said, the Jacques Au Latern may be up your alley as well, given what you’re saying. I felt like the flavors that came from whichever Belgian yeast they used were really nice with the spicing of the pumpkin. As for the lambic, I wouldn’t say it’s strongly sour. I think it just tames whatever spice is in there, brings out the flavor of the beer without being cloying. It’s just flat-out tasty.

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