Posts tagged ‘Small Batch’

Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine (Farm to Barrel Series) – Almanac Beer Co.


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!


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.



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Overall:  8.50

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

The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale – Flying Dog Brewery

Next up in our All Hallows Eve count down, Flying Dog offers us some great advice right on the bottle. In order to keep your fears from dominating you, we must embrace and conquer them. Not too shabby for beer bottle philosophy. How nice of them then, to include a little liquid courage with that nugget of wisdom…oh yeah, and those of you in the Maryland area maybe just ought to look into this weekend’s Halloween Smash and Bash party the brewery is throwing. It looks pretty damn cool.

*Warning: We may have gotten carried away with the puns on this one*


Name: The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale – Wild Dog Series

Place of Origin / Brewer: Maryland, USA / Flying Dog Brewery

Beer style / ABV%:  Imperial Pumpkin Ale / 9.0%

Specialty Prep / Individuality:  Brewed with Chico Yeast, Warrior and Williamette hops, pumpkin puree, and a (perhaps not so) secret blend of spices, The Fear weighs as a gravity laden, complex pumpkin pie crust and chocolate note oriented brew.



Part of Flying Dog’s “Wild Dog” series this bottle features a nightmare of a label pulsating with an ink blot canine that’s just screaming psychosis.  It’s just two steps away from a ‘Fear and Loathing Rorschach bat attack”.  I’m a little scared to drink this beer. – Tim

Flying Dog’s artistry will always hold a place in any Hunter S. Thompson lover’s heart.  Ralph Steadman has a style of art that is mad and impressive and hard not to recognize.  More specifically however we have Flying Dog’s The Fear label and in the true fashion of fear you can’t really tell what it’s supposed to be, but you know it scares the shit out of you. – Brittney


Color:  8

Don’t be fearful of this imperial ale’s deep dark color.  It pours lights-out opaque, like the darkest corner of the pumpkin patch.  With a blonde, toffee colored head at least two finger tall, you can’t beat it’s striking looks. – Rick

Black as sin with a hint of ruby when lit. Of course the light barely penetrates this ominous brew. The bone white head amplifies the effect nicely. – Mike

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


Aroma:  7

The aroma screams roasted gourd and allspice and brother, they’re letting you know this is an imperial right up front because, believe me, you could get drunk just off the alcohol fragrance hovering in the air above the head. – Tim

Clove and allspice float adrift a sea hoppy goodness, and a strong insinuation of bitterness runs so deep, we might need an exorcist. It’s definitely intriguing. – Mike

This ale has a typical stout-like aroma, but there’s more to it than it first presents.  There are some spicy notes in there fighting for life amongst the smoky cloves that really dominate the bouquet. – Rick

M- 7.5 / T- 6 / B- 6 / R- 8


Mouth feel:  7.5

This ale explodes on the tongue right away with flavor.  It’s super poppy on the tongue letting it’s presence fully assimilate your taste buds, the whole time reminding you of it’s 9% ABV with a rabid bite. – Rick

Despite the intense looking nature,  most of this dog is the bark, or rather more in the spirit of a blood curdling howl in the woods, with just a bit of nip when you actually realize it’s a cute little wolf pup. Ok, maybe that’s pushing it. But what I’m trying to say here is, this is mildly bodied at best. – Mike

M- 6.5 / T- 6 / B- 8 / R- 9.5


Tasting notes:  8

With deep molasses and huge roasted malts, they don’t call it “The Fear” for nothing.  This is agro beer.  It’s not pulling any punches, in fact it’s liable to clock you right between the eyes while you’re not even looking.  The sweetness here is masking a burnt sugar taste that handedly maintains the overall dominant assault that this beer is pushing. – Tim

The Fear definitely does not fall into the sweet pumpkin pie beer category and in true Flying Dog fashion creates a category all it’s own.  The spices and subtle pumpkin pull create a seasonal beer setting but the not so subtle malt and alcohol break the mold. – Brittney

There are some great hints of pumpkin spices lurking in the shadows of this full bodied imperial ale.  The smoky notes tend to stalk a touch of brown sugar as the ale navigates the tongue.  One of the stronger ales with a really bold taste, I can’t wait for a wide release of this brew. – Rick

Surprisingly sweet to start, it fades nicely into a much stouter bitter brew, that impressively doesn’t hide the pumpkin too much, but rather keeps it just below the surface giving you a solid and challenging imperial up front, and your seasonal treat once you’ve proven yourself worthy. It leans a bit on the cinnamon and clove nature, but, I can’t imagine that anything else wouldn’t just blend right into the dryer aspect of this one. – Mike

M- 7.5 / T- 7 / B- 7.5 / R- 9


Finish:  7

Crazy long finish and bitter as sin.  But neither of those things are necessarily bad here–I’ve got to assume that the guys behind this brew were basically daring people to drink it. – Tim

This is going to sound strange, but I almost get a starchy pear finish, and the accompanying nearly parching dryness of the tongue that makes this a continual sipper by necessity. It’s definitely a statement among pumpkin brews, but I could see this getting old quickly. – Mike

Finishes with lingering notes of clove, allspice and nutmeg but those are all cut short by a bitter brew and I mean that in the nicest way possible. – Brittney

M- 5.5 / T- 6.5 / B- 7.5 / R- 8.5


Flavor balance:  6.5

–         Pumpkin to Spice balance:

While it’s initial make-up seems to be of smoky cloves, it leans towards a gourd like flavor to really balance this great ale. – Rick

For all it’s frights, The Fear kind of fails at it’s one big opportunity to scare people–the spice arena.  I’ve got a feeling that if there were any subtle spices in here they got creamed by the ABV. – Tim

M – 6 / T- 5 / B- 7 / R- 8.5

–         Sweet / Dry balance:

This one has all the textural characteristics of sweetness with the 9% bringing it back and creating a dry balance. – Brittney

It’s way sweeter than it is dry but in a way that probably won’t endear itself to beer drinkers that are looking for a more saccharin brew.  But if you dig on the kind of complexities found in sugar that’s been caramelized just to point of blackness, then The Fear has a lot to offer. – Tim

M- 4 / T- 6.5 / B- 7.5 / R- 9

–         Multiple Drinkability?

Alcohol content be damned, I could really make a few of these disappear for good! – Rick

I think one of these would be most enjoyable, before the novelty wore off. – Mike

I tend to cut it short with the darker ones.  The body of this one could probably set me at two but The Fear would probably stop me there. – Brittney

Not for the faint of heart it’s a 9% ABV and I promise you can taste every bit of pain it’s offering. I’m afraid if I drink more than one of these then those ink blot bats are going to attack! – Tim

M- 4 / T- 3 / B- 6.5 / R- 8.5


Overall:  7.33

M- 6.50 / T- 6.42 / B- 7.33 / R- 8.58

Private Reserve Pumpkin – Woodchuck Cidery

Guess who’s back? Nuptial bliss and honeymoon trekking all in all, we didn’t have much like finding any of the European pumpkin offerings we’d heard so much rumor about in our web scouring. So we just had to settle for Scotch. Lots of Scotch. Hopefully though, that means a very welcome end to the graphic skimping on lots of our reviews since we’ll have a little more time post wedding to actually drink and shoot separately (trust us, it makes the images a lot less blurry that way.) Also, as a call to all you postal pirates out there, we’re having a difficult time tracking down a number of regional brews due to all the varying restrictions around the country about shipping beer. And while we’ve got a lot in the fridge, we’d like to more easily meet our goal of total coverage by asking anyone who thinks they have something we might now have access to at arms reach, to contact out main line ( if they’d be willing to ship us a few and sort things out via PayPal (obviously as long as all the legalities are in order for your state). It would be a huge help to us, and there might just be a t-shirt in it for ya! Now without further ado…


Name: Private Reserve Pumpkin – Woodchuck Hard Cider

Place of Origin / Brewer: Vermont, USA / Woodchuck Cidery

Beer style / ABV%:  Pumpkin Cider / 6.9%

Specialty Prep / Individuality:  Providing one of the more eclectic drinks we’ve taken  in on this journey, Woodchuck Private Reserve Pumpkin is just that. Limited to only two and a half hours time on the production line, it might prove fairly tough to get your hands on. Our first true medley flavor, this cider is designed to be everything you expect from the name, with a finish of pumpkin, designed to be served at a chilly 45 degrees. If nothing else, it is certainly a unique experiment in flavor.



Given it’s short production time on the line, it’s apparent that the Cidery took the most economical shortcut approach to this label, eschewing even the regular full color Woodchuck label for a 70’s light show of orange and umber that’s totally loud.  Still, there is a sense of mystery and certainly, the label screams: “This is so rare, we didn’t even really bother thinking up a fancy package for it. We just wanted you to see it on the shelf”. – Mike

It would be extremely difficult to not see the bright orange packaging, even in a Vermont snow storm.  The label is pretty simple, but sometimes there’s elegance in simplicity. – Rick

It’s a bold, kind of in-your-face, neon orange that dominates the whole label.  It works well against the green bottle.  It also has a decent bio and food pairings as well.  It’s just too hard on the eyes. – Erich


Color:  7

Pours up a dazzling crystal-clear brassy gold with tons of carbonation bubbles and a light fizzy head that snaps, crackles and pops like tempting bowl of Rice Krispies. – Tim

It’s a decent enough burnt orange that is transparent.  There’s no head to speak of with this one.  From it’s looks alone it appears to be light and watery. – Rick

M – 6.5 / T- 9 / B – 6 / R- 5.5 / E – 8


Aroma:  6

The apple cider base is apparent on the nose, but there’s a bit more going on – a complexity that’s enticing. – Erich

A brisk burst of over ripe apples on a cool morning, with just a whisper of mulling spice and something else sweet I can’t quite place. It’s intensely aromatic, if not particularly pumpkin. – Mike

First sniff?  It smells like an energy drink.  I do not smell any of our usual suspects, no pumpkin no cinnamon or clove or allspice or nutmeg.  Second sniff?  It smells like a Twizzler. – Brittney

M – 7 / T- 4 / B – 5 / R- 4.5 / E – 8


Mouth feel:  6

Pucker up, this is a sweet and sour cider super light body and super crisp acidity.  It bounces around the mouth sending you about two-steps away from sugar shock.  Big carbonation–this is what they refer to when they say ‘adult soda’.  I could imagine that if the mouth feel was heaver this would be as unpleasant as drinking apple juice concentrate. – Tim

It’s definitely the slightly syruped cider that you’d expect from woodchuck’s other offerings with a crisp bite to offset. It’s interesting to me how harmoniously those two contrasting feels seem to intermingle. – Mike

It confuses me as to what I am drinking.  Is it a cider or a sweet wine? Is it apple juice?  It feels cooling and refreshing and perhaps a little flat. – Brittney

M – 6.5 / T- 6 / B – 5.5 / R- 4 / E – 7


Tasting notes:  6

Not too sweet, not too tart.  Crisp apple is muted nicely by the pumpkin, or rather the pumpkin is effectively sharpened by the apple notes – suffice to say they compliment each other well.  This is a devilishly good cider. – Erich

It’s actually what I would expect from a cider, it tastes fruity, sweet, and is refreshing.  It just lacks any discernible spices to qualify as pumpkin. – Rick

I really want to find pumpkin in here, but this takes like drinking a candy coated granny smith apple.  Amazingly, it’s got 6.8% ABV and I can’t find a note of alcohol in until it hits my chest and warms me up. Notes of flowers and honey are there and the sugar, while pretty aggressive, isn’t syrupy.   It actually works if you’re looking for a super sweet cider–I tend to like mine on the dryer side.  – Tim

Wow. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to think about pumpkin cider. Creamy yogurt and apple explode on the tongue, transforming into a slight cider spice, and then slowly collapsing into brown sugared squash. Quite the evolutionary trifecta. It’s saccharine exploits are sure to turn off some, but this is a truly unique flavor experience. – Mike

M – 8.5 / T- 5 / B – 5 / R- 2.5 / E – 9


Finish:   5.5

It’s a little strange. I’ll give you that. Tart granny smith flirts with baked pumpkin, with the apple finally coming out on top. There’s definitely a bit of zip on the posterior, which the elevated alcohol content surely plays a part in. It reminds me a touch of mead as well. – Mike

It likes to pretend it goes down in a refreshing way but at the finish you realize that slick syrupiness is hanging out at the back of your throat. – Brittney

It has a slightly syrupy aftertaste despite it being a smooth drink.  It’s too fruity for my tastes and reminds me of a carbonated fruit juice. – Rick

M – 6 / T- 5 / B – 5 / R- 1.5 / E – 7.5


Flavor balance:  4.5

–         Pumpkin to Spice balance:

Not sure if there’s any explicit attempt to spice this cider, so this is difficult.  Take this as a “pumpkin vs. apple” comparison: the scales are tilted over on the apple side. – Erich

Woodchuck can call this a Pumpkin Cider all they want, but I can’t find a single note of pumpkin in the mix and there are zero spices–which to be fair, they never advertise.  What I think they did here is toss some pumpkin into the mix in the end and said….viola!  Its a bit of a shame, because if they spiced this a touch, it might have worked–or at least cheated enough to qualify as ‘pumpkiny’ but right now, it’s just a hard cider with a different label on it. – Tim

This one is tough, as there doesn’t seem to be the usual intent of pumpkin pie that so many seem to be shooting for. Instead, Woodchuck shoots, and scores, on a product with no equal, and really, no peers to even compete with. That being said, the hints of each are fairly equal, if also fairly different from the status quo. – Mike

M – 7 / T- 1 / B – 5 / R- 1 / E – 6

–         Sweet / Dry balance:

Just a bit on the sweet side, but controlled well. – Erich

Not dry at all, I keep going back to the fruit juice analogy.  It’s actually sweet from fruits not the typical spices we’re used to. – Rick

M – 4 / T- 4 / B – 5 / R- 2 / E – 9

–         Multiple Drinkability?

Even to someone who isn’t a cider fan, this was remarkably drinkable – not too sweet, not too tart, not too dry, not too heavy and not too strong.  Absolutely delectable. – Erich

I’m not a big cider fan and this brew solidifies my dislike.  It’s too fruity and overwhelmingly sweet to the point that I couldn’t finish it. – Rick

Only if I’m begging for a hangover. – Brittney

While a bit indulgent of the sweet tooth, the right mood could set me after 2-3 of these. Of course, with a limited batch, you might want to spread them out over the season. – Mike

M – 5 / T- 4 / B – 4.5 / R- 1 / E – 8


Overall:  5.83

M – 6.67 / T- 5.33 / B- 5.17 / R- 3.50 / E – 7.92