Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales)

According to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery founder Sam Caligione, Punkin Ale is older than the brewery itself. It was concocted as a home brew and entered into the pumpkin-themed recipe contest at Sussex County's famous Punkin' Chunkin' 1994. The brewery opened in '95.

Since then, Punkin Ale seems to have attained legendary status among Dogfish Head's fanbase, and it disappears from the stores pretty rapidly when it is released every September. Me, I don't usually go out of my way to buy it unless my wife happens to ask for it by name (which, come to think of it, she does just about every year). But I recently sampled Punkin Ale in a lineup with eight other pumpkin beers, and now I have a renewed appreciation for what is exceptional about it.

The beer pours a warm amber gold, and quite clear. Half inch of nearly white head settles down to a thin film. The aroma is sweet and mildly spicy, with a clove-like note most prominent (I guess it's actually allspice, since clove is not listed as an ingredient), and a little alcohol detectable.

The taste is immediately sweet, then rises to a clear malt note at the pinnacle of the flavor before the spices enter and swirl together with the pumpkin and the beer base in a very nice blend. Hard to pick out the pumpkin distinctly, but the cinnamon is definitely there, as is the clove-y allspice. But that central, distinct malt note -- that's what none of the other eight beers really had.

The body is of medium weight and well carbonated. There is a distinct tang of alcohol at the end. I've got to admit, that taste evokes many pleasant things about the mellow autumn season -- leaves, abundant food, evenings by the fire, and, of course, various festive libations.

The thing that Dogfish Head seems to have nailed better than the other pumpkin beer purveyors is simple: restraint. The flavor of the additives combines with the flavor of the beer, but never takes the foreground. The result is the sense of drinking a well-brewed ale with a seasonal angle, not drinking a fizzy vehicle for liquified pumpkin pie.

(My runners-up, by the way, were Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale, Post Road Pumpkin Ale, and Saranac Pumpkin Ale.)

From the bottle's label:

A full-bodied brown ale brewed with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, & nutmeg.

Featured beer:
Punkin Ale

Honorable mentions:
Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale
Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Saranac Pumpkin Ale

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