Fall is once again upon us, which can only mean one thing: break out the pumpkin flavored, well, everything. From the endless cups of pumpkin spice coffee to the sickly sweet aroma of pumpkin pie-scented candles, this versatile squash certainly makes its presence known during the season of vibrant foliage. While many corporate and craft breweries jump on the pumpkin beer bandwagon to bank on a seasonal fad, a truly succulent pumpkin beer is hard to come by. Pumpkin ale is typically the heavy hitter this time of year because of the flavor versatility that ale brewing affords, and because ale is a relatively non-threatening type of beer to pumpkin fans who are just in it for the flavor.
For those pumpkin eaters who like to flirt with the dark side in terms of their beer, the recently released Imperial Pumpkin Stout from the Harpoon Brewery is both a refreshing reprieve from the inordinate amounts of pumpkin ale for sale and a gratifying experience in the versatility of pumpkin flavor.
In my personal experience with imperial stouts, the color trend typically moves in the direction of dark, chocolate browns, but Harpoon’s Imperial Pumpkin pours out perfectly pitch black. The effervescent tan head dissipates quickly, leaving just hints of milky lacing. In terms of aroma, the most striking thing about this beer is the subtlety of the pumpkin scent. Instead of the overpowering smell of pumpkin that is omnipresent in many such seasonal beers, the fragrances of roasted caramel and heavy spice are the most noticeable elements.
The first sip yields an intense rush of flavor. Dense malts and caramelized sugar blended with notes of dark fruit and cinnamon delight the palette superficially, but are swiftly replaced by an aftertaste reminiscent, not surprisingly, of gingerbread. The thickness of this beer is the most notable facet of the overall composition, and even a small sip gives the impression of swilling a mouthful of molasses. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Stouts as a beer style tend to be on the thicker side as a result of heavier malts, so I had no illusions going into this that I was going to be imbibing a seriously dense beer.
However, the thickness is offset slightly by the carbonation, which leaves an understated tingling on the lips and brings the flavor together smoothly. The lingering tastes of smoke and roasted malt coupled with the palpable tang of alcohol make this beer a dynamic exercise in complex flavor configuration, an attribute I do not grant lightly. I am absurdly picky when it comes to my pumpkin beer, but Harpoon has genuinely impressed me this time around with their unique take on the pumpkin trend.
If you find yourself tiring of the same old six packs of Shipyard Pumpkinhead, but you simply cannot quench your thirst for all that is pumpkin, take a visit to the dark side and give the Imperial Pumpkin Stout a try. Be warned, this is a bold and boozy beer that should not be guzzled simply for the intoxicating effect. The Harpoon Brewery has a legacy of releasing distinctive and delicious beers, but this time they have truly outdone themselves. Competing pumpkin beers beware; Imperial Pumpkin has thrown down the gauntlet.
Emily Brightman can be reached at email@example.com.