Brewed For Battle: Pumpkin Ale

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At what point does one elevate from merely drinking beer to being a full-on beer snob? Answer: when you feel compelled to tell other people what to drink. And the inevitable result of this peculiar ailment is the beer argument.

In the spirit of all great beer-related discussions, we present Brewed For Battle; a new series of Chow Bella blog posts that pits a selection of brews from a given style up against each other and lets the taste buds of one layman battle them out. Multiple beers go in. One beer comes out the victor.

This week's battle: Pumpkin ale.

Around this time of year, everything starts getting a little more...orange. Jack-O-Lanterns, soup, pie -- in fall, the noble pumpkin shines. As such, most breweries worth their salt release beers made with the massive gourd, flavoring their brews with hand-cut slices, purees or flavorings added directly to the mash. Pumpkin ales are varied; they can be as light in flavor or color as a pilsner or as dark and roasty as a porter. They're typically mild, lightly malty and sweet, with pie spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice often taking the lead.

Zach's Pick: Rock Art Pumpkin Imperial Spruce Stout

Not all brews made with pumpkin need to taste like you've dipped your face in pumpkin pie. In this big, 8 percent ABV beer from Vermont's Rock Art brewery, large amounts of pumpkins and spruce tips were added to the kettle for flavor and bittering qualities. The pumpkins were used mostly to add sugars to the mash and complement the flavors of the toasted malt. Aromas and flavors of bright, woodsy spruce, coffee and melted dark chocolate coalesce in this smooth yet powerful brew.

Jonathan's Pick: Wasatch Pumpkin Ale

I walked in to Tops Liquors in need of a recommendation. When they speak, I listen. This week they recommended I do battle with this beauty from Wasatch. If you're looking for subtlety in your pumpkin beers, this ain't the one for you. Drinking it is crisp and refreshing; almost more like a pumpkin soda than a real beer. At a mere 4 percent ABV it's the lightest of our picks. It won't kick your ass. It's not challenging. It's just delicious.

Shannon's Pick: Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

When it comes to fruit beers of any sort, I prefer the less is more route. Dogfish Head captured the essence of pumpkin without it actually tasting like pie. Creamy, smooth and light enough to drink on a hot Autumn Arizona day. Just the right amount of spice with just a hint of pumpkin taste. Since it's such a low key pumpkin beer, you can probably drink the whole four-pack without being overwhelmed by sweetness.

The Layman's Choice: Four Peaks' Pumpkin Porter?

What's that you say? I fourth beer was the winner? Yup, we brought our picks to see how they stack up to the local favorite. It turns out they don't. This week's layman, chef and Chow Bella contributor Carol Blonder preferred the deliciously dark porter from Tempe's own Four Peaks Brewery.

"The Rock Art became really bitter after the third or fourth sip. There was too much molasses for me, and no pumpkin flavor. Dogfish Punkin would be good for pairing with other foods, such as brisket, turkey or pumpkin pie. The Wasatch beer had lots of cinnamon, which I liked. It was spicy like a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. The Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter doesn't have much pumpkin flavor, but it's a great anytime beer. I could have it while cooking, watching the football game, or in the shower. My favorites were the Pumpkin Porter and the Wasatch Pumpkin ale. Based on pumpkin flavor alone, I'd have to go with Wasatch. But for best beer overall, it's the Pumpkin Porter."

Next week: 'Tis the season for a saison.

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