Holiday Creep and Pumpkin Beers

August is one of my favorite times of year. It is filled with a lot of anticipation for me. Anticipation for the upcoming football season. Anticipation for my annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks. Anticipation for Pumpkin Beer season. Wait. What? Pumpkin beers have been appearing on store shelves since late July? Are you kidding? I wish I was.

I really don’t enjoy drinking pumpkin beers when it is hot out. I would prefer to wait until the evenings have a crisp chill in the air before diving into a sea of pumpkin beer spiciness. Another thing that arrives every fall is the return of columnist Gregg Easterbrook. Gregg Easterbrook is by far my favorite columnist. While he is hired to be an NFL writer, his sprawling column touches on a variety of topics each week. One of the topics he brings up each year is Holiday Creep. Holiday Creep is the appearance of Christmas and other holiday swag earlier and earlier each year. Some stores are worse than others in this regard. Home Depot is usually the biggest offender each year. They probably have some Christmas stuff available now, in late August.

This trend of creep has become more and more widespread and is now even infecting my beer stores. A few weeks ago, I believe it was the last week of July I had my first sighting of a pumpkin beer. Several more have hit the shelves since then. The first one that I saw was Southern Tier’s Pumking. This is one of the most beloved pumpkin beers made, and was one that had some significant distribution issues last year. One of the things that I heard was that they were sending out ½ or ¾ full kegs to try to fill orders. This is just what I heard, and I have no real proof it is true. What I do know is true, is that stores would have Pumking in stock for a hot minute before it was gone. So it seems that they have responded by flooding stores with Pumking early this year. I just hope they have some come September, because I am refusing to buy any this early. I am sure I will not be the only one that will lose out from this stance.

Apparently some distributors are taking the same stance I am. Bella Vista, a premium beer distributor out of the Philadelphia area has stated they will not be shipping any pumpkin beer until September 1st.  I truly respect and applaud this decision. In fact, I would like to get to Philadelphia and give Bella Vista some of my business because I am so happy to see them taking this stance. I am sure that I am not the only one that feels this way either.

For those of you that are going out to purchase pumpkin beer early this year, I will review my annual pumpkin beer shootout that I do each year with some friends around Halloween. Just note that there were a few pumpkin beers that I would have liked to include, but couldn’t find samples of at the right time. Elsyian makes a few pumpkin beers that I couldn’t get as well as a couple from Shipyard. I was also really interested in entering The Bruery Autumn Maple into the mix as well. It is not a pumpkin beer, but rather a yam beer made in the same tradition as a pumpkin beer.

2012 Pumpkin Beer Lineup
2012 Pumpkin Beer Lineup

As I always do with my pumpkin shootout, a few had to be local beers. This year I look forward to having Full Tilt’s Patterson Pumpkin join the mix. So here are the results from last year.

5. Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale – While it was in last place, it was still a very enjoyable beer. It pours a dark, translucent amber with noticeable sediment. Strong nose of spices, with strong notes of nutmeg and cinnamon. Taste is rich in caramel, with the spices moving back a little. There is also an alcohol taste noticeable, but not distracting.

4. Southern Tier Pumking – To some, this result is blasphemous. But this was a tough line up. Pumking is a classic. But for me the one downfall is that with Pumking the focus is on the spice and not the beer. The spicing, is certainly expertly done, and creates a wonderful flavor, like drinking a pumpkin pie. But the spices are so strong it is tough to give any analysis, to what I suspect, is an excellent underlying beer.

3. Flying Dog The Fear – 2013 will be the third year for this interesting pumpkin beer. Flying Dog puts an interesting twist on pumpkin beers by using a dark beer, possibly a brown porter, for the base. It is well spiced, but not as much as many. The roasted characteristics share the spotlight with the pumpkin spices creating an interesting dance of flavors. Almost a fight between the two really. And maybe I am ranking this too high, but it’s uniqueness set it apart from the crowd and I appreciated that.

2. Schlafly Pumpkin Ale – This might actually be the best pumpkin beer out there today. I know… it didn’t win. But we’ll get to that. This beer is perfectly crafted. Spices are noticeable, but not overwhelming. You can actually get some taste of the pumpkin and not just the pumpkin spices. It’s an 8% ABV beer that is very drinkable. This is a beer that should be on everyone’s pumpkin beer list.

1. Heavy Seas Great’er Pumpkin – Heavy Seas does two pumpkin beers each year. The Great Pumpkin, and the Great’er Pumpkin. The latter being a Bourbon Barrel aged version of the two. I am a sucker for barrel aging, and I just really enjoy how the bourbon flavors play with the pumpkin spices. Personally I don’t really like The Great Pumpkin very much, but love The Great’er Pumpkin. Without the barrel aging this is an average pumpkin beer. The spices are nice, but not great. The beer is good, but could be better. But rest it in a bourbon barrel and things change. The bourbon notes are a little overwhelming, in fact in some ways it tasted more like a bourbon and soda with pumpkin spices. But while this might not be technically correct, it was something I really enjoyed. Check it out, you might like it.

While I don’t generally believe that pumpkin beers should be on the back to school shopping list, apparently they are now. Maybe next year we will see them on the shelves right after the 4th of July. I suggest if you see one you like, buy it, and throw it in a dark cool closet and wait a few months. Trust me you’ll enjoy it more when you are wearing long pants.