| Photo: Joshua M. Bernstein. |
When fall hits, kids get giddy about the mother lode of Halloween candy to come. But adults, too, have reason to celebrate the harvest season -- namely, pumpkin beers.
These vegetable-influenced ales are as varied as jack-o'-lantern carvings. They range from Cape Ann's smooth and chocolaty Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout to Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale, a rich ale dosed with brown sugar and pumpkin flesh. But our favorite Halloween sipper hails from Lakewood, N.Y. -- Southern Tier.
Since the western New York brewery's humble 2004 beginnings, it has spread across the country like kudzu, reaching more than 20 states. The rapid success is due to burly brews like the ludicrously hopped Unearthly Imperial IPA (11 percent ABV!), the dessert-like Crème Brûlee Imperial Milk Stout and the Pumking.
"It's a flavor you either love or hate," head brewer Paul Cain says of the royal ale, whose name references mischievous, shape-shifting Celtic spirit Púca. Cain constructs the Pumking with gobs of pureed pumpkin, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and "a secret," he says. The result is a concoction that "tastes like pumpkin pie itself."
We must concur. The Pumking pours a clear copper-orange (use a goblet or wide-mouthed glass), its rummy aroma spliced with vanilla and spices. It's sweet and warming (thanks, 9 percent ABV), with full-on pumpkin-pie flavors -- whipped cream and all -- balanced by a finishing jolt of bitter hops. It's too rich to chug by the pint, but it's an ideal dessert drink or turkey dinner accompaniment.
The Pumking's versatility is downright spooky.
Which pumpkin ales do you prefer? Spill it in the comments.