It is officially pumpkin beer season. Most large craft operations have a take on the style, and despite the eyerolls of #beertwitter, pumpkin beers obviously have an audience. Dogfish Head has one of the more notable pumpkin offerings in Punkin Ale. According to Dogfish Head, the beer made its debut at a local pumpkin festival in 1994—a full six months before the brewery itself opened. Twenty-plus years later, the brewery still churns out batches of the brown ale infused with pumpkin, brown sugar and spices.
Punkin Ale’s label features a spooky Halloween night scene complete with a pumpkin-headed human, crows, a full moon and a black cat. But it’s the 7.0% ABV that catches the eye—a touch higher than most garden variety pumpkin beers. Punkin Ale is rich in its copper color and totally transparent. What it has in clarity and color it lacks in head, with a minimal layer of bubbles that quickly fades into oily-looking islands.
There is no mistaking the pumpkin aroma. Punkin Ale smells sweet and malty with abundant spice notes. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove—basically pumpkin pie seasoning on the nose. There is no hint of hops, so any bitterness will have to come from malt or spice if the aroma reflects the taste.
I wanted to like Punkin Ale but the spices just don’t work for me.”
Punkin Ale opens with a dry and light feel before the flavor kicks in. The spices dominate, and the flavor is more stale and medicinal than warm and toasty. Despite the lack of a hop profile, malt reliance and brown sugar addition, Punkin Ale is very sweet without becoming syrupy. Alcohol heat helps to clean up some of the spice, but the prevailing aftertaste is an unpleasant blend of old cinnamon gum and medicine.
I wanted to like Punkin Ale—the idea of a pumpkin spiced brown ale for dessert by a campfire sounds appealing—but the spices just don’t work for me. It obviously works for some, as Dogfish Head has produced the fall seasonal for more than two decades. As for me, I have five more in the fridge I’d happily part with.