October 29, 2014 by Alex Hannagan
The Oldest Rivalry in the South. One of the hottest trends in seasonals. The last tailgate before Halloween. Of all those milestones, only the last one made any sense. A great thing about the others being true, though, is that a lot of area breweries are putting out pumpkin beers left and right – sometimes more than one from the same brewer! With it also being Homecomings at UVa, we also had quite a crowd on hand at the tailgate. I had more suggestions on the pre-gameday Facebook feed than I had slots in my six pack, though, but judging from the reactions this was easily our most popular tasting to date.
Tailgate Throwdown: Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Pumpkin
Game: North Carolina vs. UVa, October 25, 2014
Featured Beers: 3 Brothers Fairgrounds Fall Ale, Starr Hill Boxcarr, DC Brau/Epic Fermentation Without Representation, Heavy Seas Great’er Pumpkin, Hardywood Farmhouse Pumpkin, Lickinghole Creek Estate Pumpkin Ain’t Easy
# of Tasters: 13!
There’s a lot of local firepower on this table. The special requests I fulfilled included the 3 Brothers and Hardywood entries, and by absolute surprise I stumbled upon the DC Brau collaboration and Lickinghole Creek limited releases.
Beer #1: 3 Brothers Fairgrounds Fall Ale
Profile: Pumpkin Ale
Tasting Notes: “Like eating a slice of pumpkin pie”
Overall: This was by far the sweetest entry on the day, but what little hint of spice it carried kept it from going too overboard. This one was hard to find, and I can see why…
Crowd Score: 8.0
My Score: 8.0
Beer #2: Starr Hill Boxcarr
Profile: Pumpkin Porter
Tasting Notes: “Heavy” “You sure this is pumpkin? More like chocolate”
Overall: Interestingly, on my previous encounter with Boxcarr I really liked it precisely because it wasn’t overwhelming with pumpkin. After the experience with 3 Brothers, though, I could barely even get a whiff of pumpkin on the nose, much less taste any. If you had to pick one for a six pack this is a good place to start, but for a pumpkin hoedown it came up a bit lacking.
Crowd Score: 6.0
My Score: 5.0
Beer #3: DC Brau/Epic Brewing Fermentation Without Representation
Profile: Imperial Pumpkin Porter
Tasting Notes: “creamy,” “sort of like roasted pumpkin seeds”
Overall: This is not what one would expect from DC Brau. At all. You could almost chomp on the head, and the sheer saturation made this pretty smooth. Once again, though, it didn’t quite ring true to “pumpkin.”
Crowd Score: 6.0
My Score: 6.0
Beer #4: Heavy Seas Great’er Pumpkin
Profile: Bourbon Barrel Ale
Tasting Notes: “Oh wow,” “like a splash of Maker’s Mark in some soup”
Overall: The bourbon aspect is -ahem- heavily apparent from the first whiff all the way to the bottom of the glass. The pumpkin is subtle, but here they took more of a pumpkin spice approach which works wonders on the oaky tones. Seasonal, experimental, pumpkin, bourbon…we didn’t care, we just wanted more. Awesome.
Crowd Score: 9.0
My Score: 9.0
Beer #5: Hardywood Farmhouse Pumpkin
Tasting Notes: “all spice,” “tart,” “funk”
Overall: This one carried all the right tones, but in the wrong mix. I’m starting to like Saisons quite a bit, but in this case they all but washed out the pumpkin elements. It took us a while to place the spice notes, but the all spice description was fairly apt as no other element really stood out. A few of the beer aficionados (I’m looking at you, Scott) we’ve met while doing this liked this beer and then some, and even made off with the bottle when we were done, but I’ll keep my funk for George Clinton.
Crowd Score: 7.5
My Score: 6.0
Beer #6: Lickinghole Creek Pumpkin Ain’t Easy
Profile: Belgian-Style Blonde
Tasting Notes: “Too tart”
Overall: I had never heard of this Estate Series beer from LCCB, nor had anyone else. Go figure – they don’t even list it on their site! After the fact, I found references to their “Belgian Style Ale” albeit the 2013 version, but here I’m sticking to my guns on the Blonde aspect. Just about the only thing that separated this from a pure Belgian Blonde was some of the earthy tones from the pumpkins (which they apparently grew themselves – bravo!) This is one where I think the spice route may have led to a superior beer.
Crowd Score: 6.5
My Score: 6.0
Winner, Best Standalone Beer: Heavy Seas Great’er Pumpkin
Food Pairing: Homemade Sausage and Ground Mustard
Some signals were clearly lost in the planning for this tailgate – it didn’t happen that a lot of regulars were absent and replaced by first timers arriving only for Homecomings. A lot of chips, Chex mix, brownies, donuts…with only hot dogs and fresh sausage from the grill. And this was for an “Oktoberfest” theme paired with Halloween decorations… Well, we’d gotten a heads up on the sausage well ahead of time, and as I saw the proud grillmeister actually forming the faux links by hand right before tossing them on some heat, I took a bite and realized the spices could play a good foil for the pumpkin. A dollop of German-style ground mustard would serve as a condiment much as we’ve been doing.
INTERJECTION: In retrospect, not sure what I was thinking as this did not pair well…at all.
3 Brothers: Didn’t do much either way for the sausage, but the sweetness sat fairly well over top the mustard to balance the second bite out.
Starr Hill: The porter aspect really was not a good fit. Sorry, Starr Hill, just not a good day for what really is a solid beer.
DC Brau: Although also a porter, the creaminess which was a turn off earlier actually absorbed some of the mustard flavor. Hard to describe, but although it mellowed the food out it did make the flavors persist a bit longer before fading. Wouldn’t be my first choice but decent.
Heavy Seas: I had high hopes for this pairing, but the spices actually ended up clashing with one another.
Hardywood: Remember all that funk from earlier? In this case, it completely overpowered the food.
Lickinghole Creek: The tart notes in the Belgian weren’t a good match for the spices in either the sausage or the mustard.
Winner, Best Food Pairing: 3 Brothers
Final Thoughts: I have to say I was shocked by this Throwdown. Almost as if we were a beer shop, a constant stream of tailgaters stopped by most of whom I’d never met. What was not as surprising is that my thoughts weren’t quite as high on the pumpkin beers…but even for me, the scores were higher than any other set we’ve done this season. It’s as if the brewers weren’t content to experiment a bit with some of these profiles, but started with a good beer and worked the flavors to a unique spot. Go back and take a look – none of the styles are exactly the same. Even the two closest in style – 3 Brothers and Heavy Seas are both regular ales – differed quite a bit in execution. The biggest surprise of the day wasn’t that I didn’t absolutely hate all the beers, but rather that I came away wanting to stash the Heavy Seas away for the winter and break it back out when things start warming up again. You know you found something special when 13 people (most of them strangers to each other) all agree about how good one particular beer is. Well done, Heavy Seas…well done.
Overall Winner: Heavy Seas Great’er Pumpkin