Redux Review 0006: Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Happy Halloween! Here’s a redux review and a small vertical tasting all-in-one. Last year, I reviewed Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, their autumn seasonal, and gave it 80 points. At 7% ABV (alcohol by volume), this pumpkin beer seemed like it might be a good candidate to hold onto for a year and see how it changes. So, I did — and when the 2012 version recently came out, I picked up a bottle to do a redux review and a vertical tasting.

Punkin was one of the very first pumpkin beers on the market, with roots all the way back to 1994. The beer made its debut at an event held in southern Delaware called ‘Punkin Chunkin,’ where competitors build homemade contraptions to see who can launch a pumpkin the furthest. In addition to the pumpkin throwing, there are a bevy of pumpkin inspired food and drink — and in 1994, Dogfish’s Sam Calagione brought his pumpkin beer to the event. It took home first prize in the pumpkin recipe contest.

Brewed with real pumpkin, organic brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, Punkin is basically a spiced-up Brown Ale. I find that Punkin tends to be one of the more popular pumpkin beers, and people seem to really go after this brew…probably because it’s from Dogfish. Punkin sees release each September 1, and Dogfish is to be applauded for not saturating the market with the early release of a pumpkin seasonal.

For this review, I sampled both the 2011 and 2012 versions of Punkin side-by-side. We’ll start with my take on the fresh 2012 batch:

The pour served up an average size, creamy head that quickly diminished. The liquid was amber-orange in color, had a clear body, and was free of particles and sediment. As I drank, there were a few small bits of lacing that clung to the glass.

The aromatics were fairly basic and good for a pumpkin beer: The pumpkin was up front, and mixed well with the generous helping of allspice and nutmeg. Caramel was a prominent part of the backbone, along with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Other than the sweetness, this didn’t really have much in common with a brown ale other than a sweet bread-like scent.

On the palate, Punkin 2012 offers toasted bread, which picks up the spice component well — there’s ample cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and even some clove. The pumpkin was present, too, but it’s more of a background offering. The finish delivered caramel sweetness with just a touch of bitterness from some burnt toast. Mouthfeel was thin and foamy, with average carbonation.

I thought the fresh batch was a little too generous on the spice and didn’t go enough in with the pumpkin; however, I felt like I could drink a couple of these, which is saying a lot for a pumpkin beer.

Dogfish Head Punkin (2012), 86 points. Price: $7.99 for a four-pack.

Punkin 2011

The pour on the aged version produced the same average sized, creamy head that the new bottle made, only it faded a bit faster. Again, the beer was amber-orange, and the body was clear, free of particles and sediment. There was a small amount of some sparse lacing. Nearly identical to the 2012.

Here’s where things begin to get vastly different: the aroma featured no pumpkin at all, and what we had here was truly a faded Brown Ale — sweet caramel/toffee up front, providing a base for sweet bread notes with just a slight hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. I wouldn’t call it a bad scent, by any means… just faded, and with no pumpkin.

The taste brings on a nice bit of caramel but then a sharp toasted bread; middle of the mouth has some of the pumpkin/yam, but very faint, ushering on a finish that is moderately bitter with a definite taste of alcohol. I didn’t detect any of the spices used in this beer on the palate, which was a shame.

Bottom line: don’t age Punkin. I’m thinking you want to enjoy this within six months of bottling, or better yet, just drink it while its on the shelf.

A brief capsule:

2012: Smoother, more pumpkin flavor, lots (maybe too much) of the spices.
2011: Softer in terms of spice, but lacks pumpkin flavor. Does have a nice caramel flavor, but any advantage is lost here with the alcoholic and bitter finish.

Dogfish Head Punkin (2011), 77 points. No longer available.

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