Smuttynose has done something cool on their website: they have a page of Brewer’s Comments where they get the brewers to describe the beers and thoughts in developing them. The entry for their Pumpkin Ale is from September 2003, and in part reads:
The one characteristic I wanted clearly defined was that underneath the pumpkin and spice flavors was truly an interesting beer in its own right. I’ve had too many spiced and fruit beers that are overdone and enter the realm of soda pop, causing you to have one but not another, let alone several. And let’s face it, I gotta sell beer here. So we started with a base beer that is orange in color and fairly hoppy. We knew the spices would need some sweetness for balance so we used a mixture of crystal and carastan malts. To this we added pumpkin pie spices at the end of the boil. We actually found that adding pumpkin into the fermentor at the end of primary gave us the most interesting pumpkin flavor, and so that’s when we add the puree.
I wouldn’t have thought of adding pumpkin after the fact—any contribution to fermentables that the pumpkin contains at this stage is minimal. Indeed, the whole point of mashing the pumpkin with the grain is to convert the starch to sugars and extract as much fermentable material as possible (thereby brewing this style very much in the tradition of the colonial American brewers). Very interesting—this makes this beer more of a hoppy pale ale infused with pumpkin rather than fermented with it.
In fact, at 6% alcohol and its spicing, if this beer were a little darker—throw a little chocolate malt in there, perhaps—it would be an excellent Winter Warmer.
Appearance: Nice shiny copper in color with a haze (not sure if it’s a chill haze or a yeast haze… there seemed to be a bit of sediment on the bottle of the bottle, so it might be yeast). Off-white head that fell slowly.
Smell: Spices and toasted malt. Nutmeg, allspice. A bit sweet smelling—honey malt and syrupy and maybe a hint of Belgian candy sugar.
Taste: At first blush—spicy, and bitter from hops—a dry pitchy/resiny bitter that’s not piney (like you’d expect a pitchy hop to be). Nice undercurrent of pumpkin character that reminds me of my own homebrewed version (or it is the spices that trigger this?). Earthy—pumpkin and hops combine to convey this.
Mouthfeel: Dry, the bitterness sticks with you. A bit of body here, not quite medium-bodied, firm but not chewy.
Overall: Much hoppier than I expected for the style. I’m trying to decide if the hops overpowered the pumpkin, or balanced with it, but this is definitely a beer worth trying.