Almanac

If our first two reviews this month are any indication, California is killing it when it comes to craft beer and the farm to table movement. Further, if this beer is par for the course, Almanac Beer Co. is poised to quickly rise to the forefront of said movements. A pair of “gypsy” brewers (or for the uninitiated, brewers who don’t own their own brewery), Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan brew through the good faith of using other local brewing equipment. As a result, Almanac is the definition of “small batch”, creating exclusive seasonal releases that incorporate local ingredients, and flies off the shelves in no time. Already well decorated in accolades, we weren’t surprised that this was a good one. We were surprised at just how good it was though, and just how hard it was to get our hands on it!

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Name:  Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine (Farm to Table Series)

Place of Origin / Brewer: San Jose, California / Almanac Beer Company

Beer style / ABV%:  Pumpkin Barley Wine / 12.8%

Specialty Prep / Individuality:  Almanac Pumpkin Barleywine is made with 500lbs of hand-roasted heirloom pumpkins from La Tercera Farms in Bodega Bay. The caramelized gourds were added to their American Barleywine and aged in brandy barrels for a year, then the resulting concoction was blended with a freshly brewed spiced barleywine.

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Packaging:

The design on this bottle is amazing. Well thought out from top to bottom, informative, clean, and simply breathtaking. From farm to anything seems to be on everyone tongues lately, and with good reason. Farm to Barrel is proudly expressed on the side of this bottle as well as a gorgeous sketch of a tree I would gladly enjoy a pint under any day. – Brittney

My favorite label to date. This one balances beauty and professionalism with charm. Maybe a bit of design porn, what with all the sexy type, but the label just enhances the experience of this great beer and shows the level of appreciation that went into making it. – Rick

A gorgeous postage stamp visage which shows careful consideration on the part of the brewers to impart both information and aesthetic appeal in a design so cool, I would consider framing it.  I hear they grow these pumpkins in Bodega Bay…I was half-expecting some “Birds” on the label.  You Hitchcock fans will understand what I’m talking about. – Tim

Perhaps the sexiest beer bottle I’ve ever seen, this baby features detailed wood cut hop bines accented by metallic gold and ivory lettering a font designer would die for. A sleek and narrow lower paper trailer label encircles with details about the specific bottling, and a giant tree mandala, tractors, and the state silhouette remind you that this is California, Farm to Table and “Beer is Agriculture”. (Also, it says that on the bottle.) – Mike

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Color:  8

            This takes your Belgian dark and adds gorgeous red undertones. It looks thick, decadent, and overtly autumnal. –    Mike

            Nearly opaque, the body is full and inviting. It’s awesome copper and burnt umber coloring is accentuated with a light fuzzy head on top that leaves behind a bit of legging as well. – Rick

M- 8.5 / T- 7.5 / B- 8 / R- 7

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Aroma:  8.5

Wow, this is a sensory overload of the highest order, with black fruit, brandy, molasses followed by intense malt and vanilla notes.  I want to live inside this…I’m trying to imagine how amazing this would smell if you warmed it up. – Tim

Smells just as it states, very much like barley wine & barrel aged beer would smell, high in alcohol and earthly. Although like any good fall vegetable should, the sweetness is brought forward from being caramelized just a touch. – Brittney

M- 9 / T- 9.5 / B- 8 / R- 8

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Mouth feel:  8.5

            Creamy. At 13% that should read boozy, but it’s lush and gorgeous, and the only hint of fire is on the swallow. – Mike

It has a full body, but it stays smooth as each sip spills a plethora of flavor over my tongue. It doesn’t burn too much at first, slowly giving way to the inevitable bite of a strong beer. – Rick

M- 8.5 / T- 8.5 / B- 8 / R- 9

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Tasting notes:  9

            Warm brown sugar, caramel, an explosion of malt, pumpkin, and spice tamed only by wood, and a finish of vanilla, apricots, violets, and cognac. This is what the flame on the tea light inside your jack o’lantern must taste like after a round of Brandy Alexanders. – Mike

Boozy and sweet, rich with raisins and prunes, caramelized pumpkin, dark molasses and brown butter, vanilla and clove, it dances across the palate with waves of flavor, this is a meal, dessert, and after-dinner drinks in a single glass.  It’s like drinking pumpkin pie. – Tim

I like to believe that our palettes are ever changing.  There was a time that I didn’t really have a taste for anything that mentioned barrel aged or barley wine. This has nothing to do with a lack of love for things that come from barrels. Trust me.  For it’s style, this one does it well, it doesn’t feel or taste too heavy and it allows for the earthy elements as well as the care in brewing and aging to shine though.   – Brittney

As expected, the style really dominates the backbone of the profile with some awesome pumpkin qualities to make this brew shine. I’m almost overwhelmed by the nutty vanilla bean that introduces me to a cinnamon topped buttery crust, there’s so much going on here! – Rick

M- 10 / T- 9 / B- 8.5 / R- 9

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Finish:  8.5

The finish is the reminder that this beer has spent some time in barrels; the oak and smoothness of the vanilla notes stay with you, as does the thickness of the mouth feel. Final reminder is the12.8%. – Brittney

Long and sweet, with bitter burnt caramel notes and linger of dried fruit and oaked brandy notes.  It doesn’t linger nearly as long as I would like it to, but to be fair I’d like it last forever, so grade that on whatever curve you want. – Tim

M- 9 / T- 8.5 / B- 7.5 / R- 8.5

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Flavor balance:  8.5

-         Pumpkin to Spice balance: 8.5

As usual, anytime pumpkin in any state can shine through a spice presence, I call balance. Blending the ales is a genius move for the style. – Brittney

Everything meshes really well, and the pumpkin flavoring is grand. I’m starting to think that complex brews like this one really capture all the nuances of a pumpkin beer, and are the perfect vessel for this gourdy imbibement. – Rick

M- 10 / T- 8.5 / B- 7 / R- 8

-         Sweet / Dry balance: 7.5

It’s Barleywine, it’s not meant to be dry.  The high ABV and bitter burnt sugar notes do less to curtail the sweetness and more to extend its enveloping character. – Tim

This is the only minor space for fault. It is pleasantly sweet, but so bold and luxuriant that it is almost overwhelming. Almost. – Mike

M- 8 / T- 8 / B- 7 / R- 7.5

-         Multiple Drinkability?  9

If I could drink more I would. This beer alone warrants a trip to the west coast in search for more of Almanac’s offerings. – Rick

At 12.8% ABV the intensity of this ale is more than enough for a single 375ml serving.  That said, this is a stockpile-level spirit and I would gladly cellar as many of them as I could get my hands on.  In fact, if I see it at a store, you better get out of my way. – Tim

M- 8.5 / T- 10 / B- 8 / R- 8.5

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Overall:  8.50

M- 9.00 / T- 8.67 / B- 7.92 / R- 8.42