Friday, December 23, 2011

Shipyard - Smashed Pumpkin

Ahhh... another pumpkin beer and, no, I'm not get tired of them.  Today's review comes in the most impressive package: a gold foil top, silver foil "signature" on the label, heavy label paper, biiiig description of the beer on the back of the bottle, and a 9.0% ABV.  Inside this impressive packaging?  Shipyard's Smashed Pumpkin Ale.  I've been ready to dive into this bottle ever since I picked it up, so let's pour!

Aroma 9/12
There is something interesting going on here, but it is not the typical pumpkin ale.  The first aroma of note is that of the alcohol warmth and it is not shy.  It is followed by a not-so-sweet pumpkin aroma (think more gourd than pie) and a light spice.  This spice is not a bouquet like other pumpkin ales, but pretty much just the nutmeg stated on the label.  The beer's most surprising attribute is that I can actually smell some of the "normal" ingredients through the seasonal flavorings.  There is a grainy malt at play and a small aroma from a slightly musty hop.  With the high alcohol scent and slight, creamy (almost vanilla-y) sweetness, one could almost imagine this beer being tinged with a bit of Royal Crown.

Appearance 1/3
I will confess that I gave this beer a bit of a timid pour, but the head size still seemed lackluster.  The retention was slightly better, but the lacing is completely absent.  It poured thick from the bottle, which was promising, but the color seems very light.  It is a pale copper color with wide citrine bands around the edges.  Perhaps this pumpkin was picked before it was ripe?
Note: Later, even an aggressive pour yielded only a moderate, handsome head.

Flavor 16/20
There is only a flash of calm, creamy malt before this beer plunges into its backbone.  It has a rich, sweeter malt that stops short of tasting of caramel or molasses.  It is soon a burst of nutmeg and the not-so-sweet pumpkin from the aroma.  Slurping yields little except more warmth.  When held in the mouth a faint creamy sweetness re-enters the picture and a apple cider sweetness comes with it.  In fact, there's even an apple core-like bitter that tries to balance the pumpkin and malt sweetness.  OK, so it's probably hops, but when it appears with the apple notes, it is easy to imagine the bitterness that comes from taking one bite too many from the center of an apple.  The alcohol warmth cannot be ignored and the sweetness that is present feels a bit too tart to be coming from the pumpkin involved in the brewing process.  The finish is a tingle from the alcohol on the tongue, a continuation of the earlier bitter flavors, and a sweeter pumpkin than has been encountered before in this beer.  I believe it to be a point on the palate where the pumpkin and apple flavors combine to form a sweeter whole.  The aftertaste is simply more bitter from the hops, but does not lend itself to a drier finish.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The carbonation disturbs what smoothness could be possible in a pumpkin beer.  However, it is consistent with the lighter nature of this beer.  Sure, the body is nice and big, but the color, flavor, and carbonation are all that of a lighter more quaffable beer and don't seem to match.

Overall Impression 7/10
There are a lot of good things going on here, but this is not the best pumpkin beer that I have had this season. It's very smooth, despite the carbonation, and the flavor is not particularly rife with pumpkin nor spice.  Though I do appreciate Shipyard's choosing to lean on the pumpkin flavors more than the spices.  The body and mouthfeel are the strongest part of this beer.

Total 37/50
While I just mentioned that the body and mouthfeel are the strongest parts of this beer, unfortunately, I tend to prioritize flavor a bit more.  Not that this beer is bereft of flavor or has a bad one, it just is not what I am looking for in a pumpkin beer and if I may be so bold, I don't think it's what most folks are looking for in a pumpkin beer.  This begs the question, "What ARE most folks looking for in a pumpkin beer?"  The answer: pumpkin!  Sure there is pumpkin in this beer.  It's not overly candied.  It's smooth.  It's subtle.  However, I feel that it's subtlety errs on the side of being overshadowed by other ingredients.  Which is ANOTHER fine line to tread. Earlier I praised the beer for being able to detect it's other ingredients (malt, hops).  I stand by that.  It's not something that one finds in a pumpkin beer, or many seasonals at all for that matter.  I just wish that the prominence of the other ingredients was not at the expense of the pumpkin and spice.  I think this beer just opened my eyes to something new.  Before I had always considered the balance of pumpkin to spice a quintessential characteristic to a pumpkin seasonal.  Maybe now, I'll look a bit more for the balance between seasonal ingredients and our old friends, the malt and hop.

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