It's coming up to Hallowe'en and so here is the second ale that I am trying that is themed for the time of the year. Also, as a pumpkin ale, it gets to take part in that huge argument and controversy online about pumpkin ales. Coming, as I do, from the UK I really don't see many pumpkins (more now than when I was young) and so I don't see many ales that are pumpkin themed either. Alas, I have not yet seen the brewdog offering but I have picked up a Wychwood Pumpking that claims that it is evil pumpkin ale. I have, actually, had this three times before in a forlorn attempt to review it around this time last year but I never got round to it.
Truth be told, I actually like this ale. But it never hurts to offer a proper review of it around the right time of year and so I present to you the review at the right time of year for Pumpking. Would you like to know more?
The first thing to tell you is that I bought this last year with the express intention of having a review up around Hallowe'en. I drank my first bottle and thought it a decent enough drinking ale that I could probably try again to review and then failed again. After the second bottle was consumed of an evening without getting a review written I bought a third just for the Hell of it and had that afterwards. The batch was clearly a good one and I can honestly confess that I didn't notice anything much of the pumpkins, instead enjoying a good sessionable ale with a touch of spice added for the benefit of my tastebuds. It was neither evil nor strong and, at 3.8% ABV, was a rare ale that hit the standard measurement for alcoholic units in the UK. In short, I enjoyed it.
Now, this must be another batch and straight away there are significant differences. The aroma is fine, there's a hint of the spice that I recall from last year but mostly it's malt and a hint of hops, putting me in mind of the sort of malt deal that Old Tongham Tasty (see here) had going on without the same complexity and fun. I am minded of the fact that I have had another truckload of ale since last year and that my tastes have been modulated by my experience at three beer festivals. Still, the slight spice on the nose is no bad thing when coupled with the new series of the X-Files playing on DVD. The aspect is dark and brown, being very much as I imagine ale should look like when I try and make something up in my head. Nowt special with the head and little in the way of something strange or alluring in the aroma but a decent enough 3.8% ABV ale.
Taste is... well, actually there's a big difference from what I have stored in my memory. Last year I was struck by the spice and the warming sensation it gave the otherwise normal brew, making it feel like there was more alcohol and the taste was enough to carry that through. This time things are a tad more watery, but still avoiding the thin nature of some shockers I've had in the past. There's a good deal of malt in there but there's no thickness to it, it runs a little over the edges and the spice from the flavourings just isn't concentrated enough to really make that much of a difference to the experience. The bubbles do their work of trying to deliver the yeast and hops to the palate but get stopped along the way by tidal buffers that almost force them in on themselves and all I get left with is a sort of weak eddy of spice as it drains to the back of the throat, hits the edges and then plunges away. No build up of aftertaste, pumpkin or otherwise, and nothing huge on the tongue.
In defence of the ale I had eaten pork and vegetable cous-cous for my evening meal and there had been a strong flavour there but it really ought to have been able to crest that weak wave and make more of itself. I really rated it last year and was annoyed that I never got round to getting a review up. Part of me was even hoping I could get a few of these in and enjoy the experience again but this particular batch seems to be performing below my expectations. I don't dislike it, and I wouldn't warn people away from having it, but there are plenty of better ales out there that I think I would prefer to have at this time of the year. I am now very much looking forward to my bottle of Pendle Witches Brew to review on its own, having previously been part of a showdown review (see here) a few years ago.
In short, be careful. Last year I was lucky and the batch was pretty good, the spice was enough to really do battle with the increasing cold and darkness, enough that I had a few of these. This one was more the sort of ale that one has because they have no other ale in rather than because you want to try something themed and special. Not a patch on the amazing Dunkel Fester (see here) and really put in the shade by the Spooks Ale (see here) I had earlier. In short, by all means get some in but there's no guarantee you'll get the stuff you're after.
I even tried to get an animated photo of this one but... I was about as successful as I was in taste. You can see the embarrassment below: