The holidays are over but winter is just beginning here in Southern California as the unfamiliar sound of rain beats down on my window. Sitting by a fire and wanting a beer I look through the fridge and hiding way in the back behind a forest of sours and saisons is a spiced pumpkin beer that seems perfect for the occasion. Southern Tiers’ Pumking.
Earlier in my craft beer career, sometime around six or seven years ago when I started trying to acquire out of distribution beers, I remember getting a bottle of Pumking in a trade and absolutely loving it. As I open the bottle I am excited to find out if my perception of this fall classic has changed after so many years.
The beer pours a deep amber reminiscent of the end of John Hammond’s1 cane. The thin off white head quickly fades to a still looking beer pretty quickly. The smell of gingersnap cookies fill the air even before I raise the glass to my nose. A quick whiff of the glass brings a big vanilla note along with the familiar scent of pumpkin pie. The baking spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice—are subtle enough to not dominate the nose but present enough to balance out the sweetness to make it an overall great smelling beer. The aroma brings back the fond memories of the first time I had the beer.
My first sip is met with mixed emotions. It is a pretty sweet beer with loads of vanilla and of course those pumpkin pie spices. It is reminiscent of a cream soda with a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Again the spices help balance out the malty sweetness but I feel the sugars comes out ahead in that fight. I also get a bit of a buttery flavor that is not the typical diacetyl flavor I would associate with butter but more of a buttery croissant like flavor. It is not as off putting as the normal diacetyl flavor, but still a bit of a negative for me. I also get a lasting bitterness on the finish that seems a bit out of place.