Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews


Southern Tier Brewing Company
Lakewood, NY

Style: Spice/Herb/Vegetable
ABV: 9.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)

Pair With:
• Goulash
In honor of Halloween, let’s talk pumpkin.

Uh, okay … let’s not talk pumpkin, as there really isn’t much to say. They’re large, they’re orange, and you can stick a knife in them to carve out funny and/or disturbing faces (you can also throw them at people or things that you don’t like, but Nigel doesn’t condone such childish behavior). Let’s face it, pumpkins and gourds aren’t exactly the most exciting vegetables out there.

As my colleague Jill wrote a few weeks ago, the complete lack of excitement that is pumpkin makes it a bit of a chore when trying to brew a pumpkin-based beer with any type of flavor. The key is the spices used, as it is meant to taste like pumpkin treats, not straight-up pumpkin. As a drinker who tends to avoid spiced beer, pumpkin brews have never been on my list of favorites, something I alluded to in my review for Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin.

With that in mind, Nigel was at his favorite craft beer retailer last month and had a nice conversation with their craft beer guru. Said guru was clearly a tried and true beer dork, as he knew of any and all craft beers in the U.S., and had a wide knowledge of foreign brews as well. Noticing the Heavy Weizen from Southern Tier in my basket, he asked if I had tried Pumking. “Nah,” I replied, “I’m not a pumpkin drinker.” While he understood my position and tended to agree with my stance that pumpkin and beer isn’t a good match, he insisted that not only was Pumking an excellent pumpkin brew, but it was “one of his favorite beers of all time.” Wow. Again, this was clearly a man who knew his beer, so I was completely taken aback, and HAD to try Pumking. Nobody makes a statement that bold without having it verified by Nigel.

So, is Pumking a great pumpkin beer? Absolutely … far and away the best I’ve ever had. Is it one of the all time top beers overall? No … not even close. I will say, however, that it’s the best beer I’ve ever had while watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” No pumpkin beer has ever captured as much flavor without going overboard in the spice department, and none have come this close to having the perfect blend of sugary sweetness that reminds one of liquid pumpkin pie or bars.

Pumking pours a nice coppery orange, with a creamy white head of about an inch that quickly dissipates, leaving a lingering lace at the top throughout the drink. If you had a vision of what liquefied, carbonated pumpkin may look like, this is probably it. The aroma is fantastic; no pumpkin brew I’ve had previously comes as close to the true scent of pumpkin pie in the glass like this does. Wonderful hints of rich, sugary caramel join a buttery aroma and spices heavy on nutmeg, cinnamon, and coriander, the key ingredients that make pumpkin pie ever so yummy. Yankee Candle charges big bucks for aromas this rich and pleasing, yet as a bonus, Southern Tier throws in a 9.0 percent ABV brew that will get you nice and buzzed.

As for that brew, it tastes fantastic, blending a rich, sugary sweetness with just the right amount of spice, making for a taste sensation that will please even the most ardent of anti-pumpkinites. Initial flavors of pumpkin pie mix and nutmeg, along with a touch of cinnamon, allspice, and coriander hit the tongue at the outset, quickly joined by a rich, buttery flavor and a nice amount of sweet caramel malt. At various times caramel, brown sugar, and molasses curl the tongue, making this a perfect drink for anyone with a sweet tooth. While the spice is present as you would expect, it’s not to the level it often is in pumpkin brews, making this far more tolerable than many of its brethren. As for the beer guru’s assessment, he has a point; this isn’t some gimmicky fall/Halloween beer release, but rather a legitimate beer that can hold a candle to anything regardless of genre. While the presentation and aroma rate slightly higher in my book than the flavor, it’s still a fantastic example of an often maligned style, and proof positive that any brewmaster with skill can mold even the dullest of ingredients into a fine brew. Medium bodied and smooth on the palate, Southern Tier is as close to a session pumpkin beer as I’ve ever had, although its hefty ABV would suggest otherwise.

The bottom line is this: Pumking is the best pumpkin brew on the market, bar none, and as a beer in general, it’s pretty damn good. No other brew captures the look, aroma, and flavor of homemade pumpkin pie like this does, and it is a must try for anyone, regardless of their opinion of pumpkin brews. While I stop far short of placing it in my all time top ten, it’s something I hope to enjoy for many autumns to come. Once again, kudos to Southern Tier for brewing a unique, tasty, powerful treat that continues the wonderful tradition established in their Imperial line of brews.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on October 30, 2008.
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