Craft Beer Scene Around Rockford: Southern Tier’s Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale: Changing your feelings on pumpkin beers

By Michael Sears
President, Forest City Brewers

Greetings, all.

Wow! We are halfway through October, and the leaves are starting a full free fall. Although the colors of autumn are beautiful, having to rake leaves cuts into my brewing time … GRRRR! OK, now that I have vented, this week I would like to highlight a beer that changed my feelings regarding pumpkin beers. The culprit is Southern Tier’s Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale.

Founders Phineas DeMink and Allen “Skip” Yahn started Southern Tier Brewing Co. of Lakewood, N.Y., based on the idea of reviving the practice of small-batch brewing to a region rich in brewing tradition. With purchased equipment from the Old Saddleback Brewing Co. of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, they began production in a business park just outside of Lakewood in 2002. By 2003, they were locally distributed, and by 2005, covered the majority of New York State and Pennsylvania. The original lineup was a Pilsner, Mild Ale and India Pale Ale. They now boast a portfolio of nine year-round, 13 seasonal and 10 special-release beers that are available in 30 states. The brewery took its name from the counties of New York west of the Catskill Mountains along the northern border of Pennsylvania, named the Southern Tier.

Southern Tier’s website describes this autumn seasonal as “Aromas of pumpkin, pie spices, buttery crust, vanilla, roasted pecans with flavors of malty sweetness, vanilla, clove, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg.” That description has got my attention, so let’s get this started.

For this tasting, I will use a goblet, as this is a big beer with lots of flavors. Southern Tier recommends this to be served at 40 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit out of a goblet.

The pour produces a yellowish/orange-colored body similar to the eyes of a candlelit jack-o’-lantern. The head starts out vigorous, building to an off-white two-finger depth, which dissipates rather quickly to thin, dainty foam. A hint of lace remains at the top of the foam. A very nice-looking beer, indeed, as it almost glows.

Wow, the aroma is intense, with a hefty backbone of malt and roasted pumpkin mingled with graham cracker and pumpkin pie spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and almonds (and maybe vanilla). There is a sweetness that reminds me of eggnog … very interesting and intoxicating. No hop aroma is present.

The first taste is a carbon copy of the aroma; the pumpkin is very prominent, but the caramel malt is hidden deep in the background, as the pumpkin spices make their presence known. I do get some of the vanilla and almond that I detected in the smell. There is a floral hop flavor at the finish, along with a hint of alcohol, which is well hidden, considering this beer is at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. There must be a healthy dose of hops in here to balance the sweetness.

The mouth feel is rich and creamy, with some spicy sweetness that finishes surprisingly dry. The carbonation is light, and I feel a bit more would help out on a beer like this.

What is it about pumpkin pie that we like? Is it the spice; the sweetness? As I mentioned at the beginning, I was not a big fan of pumpkin ales, but this beer changed my perception of what pumpkin ales can be — and Pumking has it. This is one of the better pumpkin beers I’ve ever had. I base this on two things: one, it’s more than just a spiced beer and it actually tastes like pumpkin, and secondly, it’s not overly spiced. It’s a worthy seasonal that lovers of the style owe it to themselves to seek out.

Hmmm … I wonder how this would taste after aging a year or two? Maybe I’ll set a couple aside for next year?

Prost!

Michael Sears is the president of the Forest City Brewers. The Forest City Brewers is a home-brewing club dedicated to the art of finely-crafted beer. The club meets on the first Wednesday of each month at Thunder Bay Grille on East State Street. For more about Forest City Brewers, go to http://forestcitybrewers.org. If you have comments or recommendations, please contact Mike at rockfordcraftbeer@comcast.net.

From the Oct. 15-21, 2014, issue

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