You might think February is an odd time to write about pumpkin beers, and you’d have a point. But since A) I didn’t do it before (even though a friend asked me about pumpkin beers), and B) we were recently surprised to find two very good specimens at a local bottle store, it seemed like a fun subject to revive on this cold, snowy day.
Pumpkin ales are freakin’ everywhere in the fall, but they tend to disappear by around Christmas. Seasonal styles are like that. So I was very happy to see both Southern Tier Pumking and Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch on the shelf at One Stop Brew Shop last month. I’d only seen the Rogue version on tap once, and didn’t see many bottles of it in stores, so I was excited to find it so long after the pumpkin harvest.
Pumpkin/squash ales are a subjective style, and range from the merely spiced, to the extremely squash-heavy. While there are plenty of them out there that I’ve not tried, I have worked my way through a fair number of examples, both commercial and homebrew. Without venturing into the stout or wood-aged categories, Pumpkin Patch—BeerAdvocate Score: 86—and Pumking— BeerAdvocate score: 91—are the best I’ve had.
So here we go. Get cozy, and try to pretend for a minute that it’s not the middle of winter.
Appearance: As you can see from the photo, there’s a huge color difference between them. Where Pumking is the yellow-orange of fresh pumpkin, Pumpkin Patch pours burnt umber (my apologies for the too-bright picture. Neither beer is quite as pale as they look when shot facing a window).
Nose: The Rogue version, which uses †Dream pumpkins grown on the Rogue Farm in Independence, Oregon, has a delicious aroma of spices and malt, with only a hint of pumpkin. The Southern Tier offering, by contrast, is very squash-like in its smell.
Taste: The differences hinted at in the nose are borne out by the ales’ flavors. Pumpkin Patch tastes like a medium-rich old ale, with spices—especially cinnamon—and a hint of pumpkin. In my opinion, the Pumking, which hails from Lakewood, NY, is the best non-stout pumpkin beer from this part of the country. But in comparison to the Rogue version, it is thin, overly sweet, and punky. And this seems strange, since Pumking is an ‡8.6% ABV imperial, where Pumpkin Patch weighs in at a modest 5.6% ABV.
Body: Both beers are medium-bodied, though Pumpkin Patch is the fuller and more viscous of the two.
Pumking is released in mid-July, well ahead of the actual pumpkin harvest. Their website doesn’t say anything about the origin of their pumpkin, but the summer release practically guarantees that they use canned. This is a common practice with the style, but Rogue does it differently. According to them, their pumpkins go straight from the farm to the brewery in Newport, where they †”roast and then pitch them into the brew kettle.” I’m not an experienced pumpkin beer brewer, but perhaps the differences in pumpkin handling techniques help to explain the contrast in body and flavor between the two ales.
Overall, I highly recommend Rogue Pumpkin Patch, if you can get it. Rogue is one of my all-time favorite breweries. I don’t often get to enjoy their beers these days, so I’d imbibed the Pumking on tap multiple times before coming into contact with Pumpkin Patch. But side-by-side, I have to say that the Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch is hands-down the better beer on all points.
“Pumking | Southern Tier Brewing Company | Lakewood, NY.” BeerAdvocate.
‡”PUMKING Beer Page.” Southern Tier Brewing Company. Southern Tier Brewing Company.
“Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale | Rogue Ales | Newport, OR.” BeerAdvocate.
†”Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale.” Rogue Ales & Spirits. Rogue Ales.
*As a quick heads-up to any readers in the Greece/Rochester area, One Stop Brew Shop is on Ridgeway Ave, and their selection is decent. It’s smaller than AJ’s Beer Warehouse, which store we’ve mentioned before on this blog, and doesn’t have the extensive refrigeration sections that AJ’s can boast. But every time I go into One Stop, they have a number of quite good and hard-to-find (at least over here) beers. If you’re closer to Greece than Henrietta, or happen to like supporting local purveyors of good beer, it’s worth checking out.