Beer Review 0037: Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
It started out a miserable day here in North Carolina; rainy, chilly, and yet another day without sun. Norbert, my cat, took one look out the door and resigned himself to the photo above, a wise choice.
But now it’s cleared off and is sunny and warm. Ahh, fall…and it’s time to look at another seasonal beer.
Punkin Ale, Dogfish Head’s autumn seasonal beverage, is a pumpkin beer — I don’t know if it is the first pumpkin beer, but its roots can be traced back to the very beginning of Dogfish. One of the first beers the company ever brewed, it debuted at the 1994 Punkin Chunkin contest — an event that takes place each fall after Halloween in southern Delaware where competitors build crazy contraptions and see who can launch a pumpkin the furtherest. This contest has gained nationwide fame through the Discovery Channel.
At Punkin Chunkin, this beer won first prize in the pumpkin recipe contest, and since then, Dogfish has been brewing it for release on September 1st each year.
Of all the pumpkin beers, I find this one to be the most sought after and heralded. While this might not be the first pumpkin beer (anyone know?) this concoction of pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg surely started the craze of what is today autumn pumpkin beer — and Punkin usually disappears fast, leaving all the other orange-inspired beers to rot on the shelf.
The beverage itself is a brown ale that has been modified with fresh pumpkin meat, organic brown sugar and spices; it comes in at 7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and unlike other “seasonal” beers, this one is always released in September, never before. (Heavy sin to be paid for having a pumpkin beer on the shelf before then.)
An aggressive pour produced a large, frothy head that audibly crackled and popped like a bonfire. The beer was dull orange in color with a cloudy body free of particles and sediment. The lacing was disappointing with only a spot or two present on the glass. This drink indeed looks like fall, which has got to be the intention.
The aromatics are dominated not by hops, malts or yeast, but by the miscellaneous smells Punkin is flavored with, most notably nutmeg. There are faint hints of pumpkin lingering around, but there’s also bold appearances by cinnamon, and clove, the latter which isn’t prominently featured in the wording on the bottle. This scent is not for everyone, and as it eschewed all the traditional aromas of beer, I scored it accordingly, although I personally quite liked the aroma. I wouldn’t want to smell it from every beer, but once a year is nice.
The organic brown sugar rules on the palate, with a small suggestion of pumpkins, then some nutmeg. The finish is bittersweet with a spicy cinnamon kick, a quite rich creamy ending that turns deeply sweeter as it goes on. I noticed as I allowed this beer to warm, the pumpkin flavor became more prominent on the finish, but it’s never front and center although being called “pumpkin ale.” The mouthfeel was thin and slick.
Rating these pumpkin beers is hard. Hardly any of them are very pumpkin-y, because pumpkin itself tends to be somewhat bland. Punkin is definitely more spice and flavorings than pumpkin, but I think the quality of the ingredients used make this an interesting concoction and one that I found pleasant to drink. It fits the season and for once a year, I say hey, have at it. That being said, I realize pumpkin beer is probably an acquired taste that many people simply aren’t interested in — and I will probably not review any more pumpkin beers following this one. Seasonal indeed.
If you’re curious about pumpkin beer, I do think you should try this one and the other I reviewed, Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, 80 points. Price: $7.99 US for four pack.