A discussion about pumpkin beers in New England is not complete without mention of Shipyard Brewing from Portland ME. Why? Because their Pumpkinhead Ale is seemingly the most available pumpkin beer around in Autumn. You’ll often see 6-packs, 12-packs, and cases of it stacked high in every corner of liquor stores. Most people either love it or hate it.
I…do not love it. When I gave it a thorough critique last year on BeerAdvocate.com, its aroma was flat immediately after the pour. I told myself the aroma was just...uhm, distant. Subtle. And therefore the flavor would be elegant. Yeah, elegant. I was wrong. It was mediocre at best with only a faint hint of fall spices and a malt profile that tasted cheaper than the free coffee at Building 19. My message to Shipyard is this: Budweiser called - they lost their pumpkin ale recipe and they suspect you have it.
Shipyard makes another pumpkin beer called “Smashed Pumpkin”. It’s part of the brewery’s “Pugsley's Signature Series” that consists of unique beers, with higher ABV's, released in 22oz bottles.
I recently poured a Smashed Pumpkin into a tulip glass and saw a nice copper/amber brew with little head. The aroma was stern with nutmeg and cinamon spices. Pumpkin notes lied underneath.
The flavor was big. Pumpkin pie hit me first. It’s strong, but not cloying. Munich malts add significant bread-like malt flavors. Cinnamon and nutmeg spices linger on the tongue in the end, along with a little alcohol warmth.
The mouthfeel isn’t too heavy. It’s generally smooth, albeit a little prickly at the beginning from the alcohol bite.
In the end I was happy that Shipyard is able to make a decent pumpkin beer. Although it’s more expensive, I’d always choose Smashed Pumpkin over the Pumpkinhead Ale. The thing is, there are still plenty of people who love Pumpkinhead. I’d strongly argue that there are way too many good pumpkin brews in New England to waste your time with Pumpkinhead, but see for yourself if you haven’t already. After all, if taste wasn't subjective, none of this would be any fun.