Beer Review 0501: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale

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Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Smuttynose Brewing Company is named for Smuttynose Island, the third largest of nine islands that comprise the Isles of Shoals, located seven miles off the New Hampshire and Maine coasts. The island is best known for a brutal double axe murder that took place in 1873.

The brewery began production in 1994 and are currently expanding, with a new facility being built — there’s even a website where you can watch a live camera of the building process. Be sure to check out the video at the bottom of the page which shows a time lapse from the beginning of construction until now; the facility is very close to completion.

With their Pumpkin Ale, Smuttynose honor America’s early brewers, who began using pumpkins in their beers in colonial times. The pumpkins took the place of costly imported malt, and were plentiful — the fruit (yes, pumpkins are a fruit — they are classified as a berry) provided the brewing process with much needed fermentable sugars. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale is brewed with pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, comes in at 6.3% ABV (alcohol by volume) and hits 35 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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Pouring made for a small, creamy, bright white head that had lots of tight, compact bubbles. The head lingered above a golden-orange beer, quite a looker given the time of year. The body was hazy but featured no particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving behind thick and puffy clumps of foam.

If you’re looking for pumpkin on the nose, be prepared to search for it — this beer is heavy-handed on the spices, especially nutmeg and clove. These two scents are so potent that you really have to dig to find some pumpkin, but it’s here, along with light caramel malts and some cinnamon. The cinnamon actually adds a nice, gentle layer to the aroma, which is a bit abrasive and otherwise unimpressive. Often, I find that heavily spiced pumpkin beers take on a hairspray-like aroma, and this brew has it in spades.

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More of the same on the taste; there’s heavy blasts of nutmeg and clove up front, along with a big kick of orange peel along with a hop bitterness. Eventually, the orange peel wins out and takes on a juicy note but it still continues to bring the heavy bitterness. This beer is spice, hop, then straight to the finish, which is medicinal bitterness, Big Red chewing gum cinnamon, and lingering clove. There’s no pumpkin to be found here at all. The beer is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy texture.

I almost hate to write this, because I generally dig beers from Smuttynose, but this is not good. I finished the bottle, but I didn’t want to. And while pumpkin beers generally aren’t my favorite in the world, I don’t think even the most ardent fan of the fall mainstay will want more than one of these. Sorry, Smuttynose, but this is a miss.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, 66 points. Price: $1.99 for one twelve ounce bottle.

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2 responses to “Beer Review 0501: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale”

  1. Beer in my Belly says :

    Strange enough, I remember liking this beer a lot last year but I have to agree that this year’s tastes terrible… Maybe they tweaked the recipe?

    • allthesamebeer says :

      I had never had it before until this year, so I can’t comment on previous editions, but I do remember two different ABVs — when I did my research on the beer, it was listed at 5.something % on the Smuttynose website, but the bottle says 6.3%. I had to scratch out the ABV on my review sheet to correct it to what the bottle said. So you might be correct in thinking they changed the recipe.

      I recently saw 12-packs of this in my bottle shop, and I thought man, what a nightmare that would be!

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