TAP Beer of the Week: Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale

ratemypumpkinsI had more or less seriously vowed not to have a pumpkin beer before October 1, my feeling being that this is a time for Oktoberfest beers—it still being September. When October arrives, then I’ll consider having a pumpkin beer.

I made an exception last night, September 19 [2013], only because of #BeerChat, a weekly endeavor on Twitter, Thursday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Anyone is welcome to join in each week–just use the hashtag #BeerChat with your Tweets and you’re in.

Last night the guest hosts were @RateMyPumpkins, also found on Facebook and at the ratemypumpkins website. Started by two women near Boston, the site appears to have a group of fanatics (obviously) who are plowing through and reviewing 61 pumpkin beers in 61 days, ending appropriately enough on Halloween.

[For those suffering deja vu, I put up this post yesterday to announce the chat, but said I’d return today to revise and expand it.]

Meanwhile, I went local and picked up a couple of bottles of Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale. The Vermont brewery claims to have brewed the nation’s first certified organic beers, made with 100% organic malt and hops, and there’s that USDA sticker right on the label.

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This is a pumpkin beer from the spiced school, where a little goes a long way in my opinion. (Actually, one or two pumpkin beers a season is about my speed. Drinking 61 of them is a little scary.)

The Wolaver’s is an attractively clear, burnt orange beer, with a nice, restrained balance in the spicing. It skews toward clove, and comes off as bright and tasty, not too sweet, lightly peppery, still a pleasing ale instead of merely an ersatz pie. According to their tasting calendar the RateMyPumpkins folks will be having it tomorrow, so I may have to revise the post again after their take is in, unless they see fit to chime in here.

Benjamin Moore, a beer blogger from Maine, started up #BeerChat and still hosts from time to time under his @ActiveBeerGeek guise. But lately he’s been dragooning guest hosts to take over the hour, the usual format to ask a handful of questions around some beery topic. Then whoever is on Twitter and aware at the time can dive in.

Alexandra Dietrich

Alexandra Dietrich

It’s not easy to imagine two less likely pumpkin beer fanatics than Nicola Chamberlain and Alexandra Dietrich. Nicola is a molecular and evolutionary biologist working at Boston’s Museum of Science, while Alexandra Dietrich is a mezzo-soprano leading what appears to be a busy life of performing and teaching in and around Boston. Nonetheless, this is their second consecutive year of going all-in on pumpkin beers and posting the results.

They asked six questions last night:
Q1: Pumpkin beer is a controversial style – often people LOVE it or HATE it. What about you? Why?
Q2: PUMPKINGATE – do you wait until a specific date to drink pumpkin beer or do you drink it the second it hits shelves?
Q3: Are you a sweet or savory pumpkin beer drinker? Do you want a cold pint of pumpkin pie?
Q4: Do you think pumpkin beer brewers should strive to use fresh pumpkin in the ingredients, or is puree an acceptable substitute?
Q5: Spices, which do you love or hate in pumpkin beer? Are any over or underused?
Q6: Southern Tier Pumking claims to be the king. Does anyone “dethrone” the monarch or are you a loyal subject?

That actually seems to be nine questions, but what the heck. The last question was asked with something of a drum roll, since the New York brewery’s Imperial Pumking Ale takes the controversial style and doubles down for a deliberately over-the-top brew. Last year it tasted to me like pumpkin pie dosed with a hearty layer of whipped cream. It actually made me laugh in its sheer audacity. But while it’s not a beer I could drink a lot of, I’d have another should I stumble across a bottle this year.

As might be imagined, answers to the other questions were all over the map, but considering how controversial pumpkin beers can be (they sure got Q1 right!), the ticker tape-like Twitter feed unfurled with as much civility as speed. The two camps actually seemed divided into LOVE and MEH; the haters probably didn’t bother tuning in to begin with.

Some sent along pictures of their beers–Josh Short @ShortOnBeer displayed his pint glass of Pumking with a rim of crushed pumpkin seed and brown sugar. Others talked about homebrew recipes, others made recommendations for their favorites, among them: Anderson Valley Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale, Alaskan Pumpkin Porter, Frog Hollow’s Double Pumpkin, Epic Brewing’s Fermentation Without Representation Imperial Pumpkin Porter, Propeller Pumpkin Ale, Tyranena Painted Ladies Pumpkin Spice Ale, Cape Ann Brewing’s Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout, Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin Ale, and plenty more.

wolaver's pumpkin_largeOne of last night’s participants was @OnPumpkinBeer, who’s been reviewing pumpkin beers since 2011 on his website. He hasn’t gotten around to the Wolaver’s yet this year, but gave it a thumbs up in 2012. In a blind tasting over at Boston.com four testers put 16 pumpkin beers through the paces this year and selected the Wolaver’s as their top pick.

Whatever one’s own Great Pumpkin Beer might be, there’s no lack of ’em out in the patch. Have fun with the harvest.

Name: Pumpkin Ale
Brewer: Wolaver’s Organic, Middlebury, Vermont
Style: Organic pumpkin ale
ABV: 5.8%
Availability: Seasonally, east coast
For More Information: https://www.facebook.com/wolavers

3 Responses to “TAP Beer of the Week: Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale”

  1. Beer Fox

    Great article. As you noted, I really love the Wolaver’s too. Tonight I’m reviewing the incredible AleWerks Pumpkin (formerly Williamsburg AleWerks). Cheers!

  2. Tom Bedell

    Against 51 other entries in the Pumpkin Beer category the Wolaver’s won the first-place gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival. The silver went to Spiced Harvest, Old Dominion Brewing Co., Dover, DE. And bronze to Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale, Stevens Point Brewery, Stevens Point, WI.

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