It occurred to me Sunday afternoon, as I was rummaging around in the refrigerator (and noticed that we have four—yes four—cold Wisconsin pumpkin beers), that The Boy and I have not done a pumpkin beer tasting at all this season, and Halloween is only a few days away. Oh. The. Humanity.
So what better time to do a Wisconsin pumpkin beer tasting than during half time of the Sunday night Green Bay Packer game? On tap last night: Lakefront Brewery Imperial Pumpkin, New Glarus Pumpkin Pie Lust, Horny Goat HornyCopia, Stevens Point Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale.
Three ales and one Weiss. We kept the same metrics from last year: color, nose, taste, finish, bottle design, and yes, “pumpkiness.” Ready? TO THE PUMPKIN PATCH (aka…our apartment in Princeton, NJ).
First, we have Stevens Point Brewery Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale. This recent find was shipped it out to us in a special package, along with some New Glarus (I love that the beer stays local, but it makes it really hard for us displaced Wisconsinites to enjoy some of our favorite brewskies). This ale is 7.5% abv and brewed with “real pumpkin and savory pumpkin pie spices.” Both of us agreed this one was a pleasant surprise. Not as much of a pumpkin flavor as we would have liked, but there’s a strong initial spice (not a bad thing) and the finish has a nice subtle pumpkin pie flavor. We’ve already got our eye on the Espresso Stout when we’re in Wisconsin over the holidays.
Alright. Horny Goat. Quick storytime: last December when the temperature was -10 with a double-digit windchill, The Boy and I ventured out to the Horny Goat brew pub just to check it out. We got some loaded tots (ahhhmazing!) and brownie porters (#nomnom). So naturally, when we were at Joe Canals in Lawrenceville, NJ a few weeks ago and saw HornyCopia (Horny Goat is a rarity around here), we were pretty excited. Then…we journeyed into the pumpkin patch yesterday night and were vastly disappointed. It almost tasted a bit skunked at first (?!). As the beer warmed up, it had a slightly better flavor, but this 6.3% abv “pumpkin pie in a bottle” (to quote their website) unfortunately did not live up to our expectations. It won’t stop us from visiting the brewery again, but alas, it came in last on our list.
New Glarus has a delightfully spotty (#cowpun) reputation; it’s the craft beer that’s brewed in Wisconsin and stays in Wisconsin. I highly doubt you can walk into a bar in the state and not find something from New Glarus. The Boy and I visited the brewery last spring when in town for a wedding (check it: The Wisconsin Brewery Mothership) and it was everything we’d hoped for and more…alas, this beer was not one of their best. Were our expectations too high? Perhaps. This Pumpkin Weiss is great for those new to pumpkin beers and who tend to order lighter things (we’re more stout and Belgian-style ale fans). We found it lacked the expected pumpkin flavor; we couldn’t detect at all. It honestly pains me to say that because we love New Glarus. Give us a Spotted Cow, Fat Squirrel (actually drinking one right now, in fact), or Scream IPA any day; this one can stay in the pumpkin patch. But, for those craft beer aficionados who like to keep it local and try different seasonal brews, this is definitely one you should try!
Last, but not least, Lakefront Brewery’s latest seasonal release: Imperial Pumpkin Ale brewed with pumpkin, spices, vanilla, and aged in brandy barrels (I know, right?! #totallywisconsin). This one was a limited release and we weren’t optimistic about founding it out in Jersey, but lo and behold, Joe Canals comes through again! This ale has a higher abv than most of Lakefront’s other brews (9.5%)…which is probably why it came in at the top of our list. Like the others, the pumpkin flavor was not prominent; but the spices and warmth won us over. It’s a nice, stronger alternative to their popular Pumpkin Lager.
Of these four, here’s our ranking: 1) Lakefront 2) New Glarus 3) Stevens Point 4) Horny Goat. Though, I gotta say, in the “pumpkiness” category, none of these was particularly…smashing. Maybe our expectations are too high and we’ve grown accustomed to Southern Tier’s Pumking (only the best pumpkin beer ever) and the imperial pumpkin ale from our local favorite, Weyerbacher. I think we both had higher hopes for all these Wisconsin brews…just like we had higher hopes that the Packers would pull off a win Sunday night. Too soon? #cheeseheadproblems