Beer: Pump[KY]n Brewery: Avery Brewing Co. Style: Imperial Porter ABV: 17 percent
We are now in the thick of pumpkin-beer season. Beer labels, like leaves on trees, have shifted to shades of brown, black and orange. Pie spices and pumpkin puns can be found all over the place, and everyone wants to know: which of these gourd-based brews is the absolute gourdiest?
For myriad reasons that have to do with beer styles, availability and good old-fashioned personal taste, I can't tell you which pumpkin beer is best. I can, however, tell you which one will get you drunk the quickest: Avery Pump[KY]n.
Coming to us from Boulder, Colo., Avery produces some of the booziest beers you can find. The brewery's Annual Barrel Series, a sequence of seasonal ales aged in used spirits barrels, includes Uncle Jacob's Stout (15% ABV and aged in bourbon barrels), Tweak (a 16% ABV coffee stout also aged in bourbon barrels) and Rumpkin (17% ABV and aged in rum barrels).
Pump[KY]n is the newest addition to the series. Released in early September, this imperial pumpkin porter was spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and cloves, then aged in freshly emptied bourbon barrels for six months. The idea, according to brewery founder Adam Avery, was to extract the vanilla-like flavors of the bourbon and oak and mix those with the flavors of pumpkin pie. But actually executing that idea, especially in a beer as immense as this, is another challenge entirely.
Treat Pumpk[KY]n like the near-liqueur it is and pour it into a snifter. You may entice a little foam out of the beer, but it won't last long -- alcohol, while encouraging the formation of head, has a deleterious effect on its retention. Most beers with alcohol contents above 12 percent won't produce many bubbles at all. So what you'll have is a glassful of intimidating ink -- a thick liquid the color of dark chocolate.
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Now, here's where things get weird. Dip the nose to the glass and search for some pumpkin. You may find a bit of it, along with gentle nudges of coffee and burnt toast. But permeating those underlying aromas is a dressing of barbecue sauce -- tangy, sweet, molasses- and brown-sugar-laden, smoky, leathery Heinz 57. The flavor displays some of this oddness too, though a prodigious burnt-sugar sweetness rises up to combat it. The brew's very oaky, with notes of dark cherries, brandy and mild pumpkin puree. Bitterness is, surprisingly, striking, lingering near the back of the tongue for long while while alcohol fumes torch the nasal passages.
Now, if this sounds like your idea of a good time, seek out a bottle of Pump[KY]n as well as Rumpkin, a similarly flavored strong ale brewed with pumpkins and aged in rum barrels. Both can still be found on shelves and on draft at better beer bars across the Valley, both are syrupy-sweet, and both are inebriating as hell -- which may be all you want out of a pumpkin beer. I don't judge.