Even though by my own rules Pumpkin Beer Week ended last week, I still had a bottle of Elysian Brewing’s Night Owl Pumpkin Ale to review. So (again, my own rules!) I’ve extended the Week long enough to include this review.
To be honest, I have mixed feeling about Night Owl these days. Back in 2008 when I first reviewed it, it was a pure rave: I declared that it “might well be my new favorite pumpkin beer.” Indeed, it was a first-class pumpkin beer. But since then (and especially this year), I noticed there was something different—it has taken on a more filtered, “clean” quality—I want to say “commercialized” because that’s how I think of it, though there’s nothing wrong with being “commercial” with a beer. What I mean when I say is, the beer doesn’t have that “artisanal” character that I remember, instead seeming as though it’s gone through more commercialized industrial processes like filtration.
And you all know I think a pumpkin beer should never be filtered. Filtering a pumpkin beer strips away the essential pumpkin characteristics, which give it body and mouthfeel that help to buffer against the harsher notes that spices by themselves can lend to a beer.
I suspect part of the issue is that this beer is jointly brewed with New Belgium Brewing (where they can brew larger batches), and the New Belgium brewing processes account for the “change.” I would love to try Night Owl on tap as long as it came out of the Elysian brewery in Seattle, so I could compare.
Let me clear though: this is in no way a bad beer. It’s still one of the best examples of pumpkin beer available.
Appearance: Orange-tinted amber and very clear; thinnish light tan head.
Smell: Nice, sweet brown sugar and pumpkin pie spices. Some cooked-pumpkin aromas as well, I think, punctuated by caramel.
Taste: Malty amber base with caramel malts and light on the spicing. Touch of cinnamon at the back of the throat. Decent, but more “amber ale” than pumpkin from what I remember.
Mouthfeel: Crisp, medium-bodied but clean—filtered.
Overall: Not as good as when I first had it. Better than many, but definitely “commercialized.”