Pumpkin season comes earlier every year. Ballast Point released its seasonal Pumpkin Down in the middle of August, and I was not ready. I've never been enthusiastic about the pumpkin-spiced beverage trend, and its appearance during a heat-wave-laden summer ranked tantamount to "Jingle Bells" in October — too soon.
9045 Carroll Way, Miramar
I know people love this stuff — Pumpkin Beer even has its own category at the Great American Beer Festival. But I feel sort of vindicated that, of the 92 categories in competition, Pumpkin Beer is the only one judges declined to award a gold medal in 2015. Silver and bronze medals were given, but not gold, per the following rule: "If judges believe that no beer in the category meets the quality and style-accuracy criteria, they may elect not to award a medal. Judges may award a beer with a silver or bronze medal and yet not award a gold medal."
I don't know if that should be a lesson or challenge to brewers thinking about brewing with pumpkin and holiday spices. It seems like the gauntlet's been thrown down for somebody to come up with a beer that could be deemed world class by certified beer judges. So it's not just me.
170 Orange Avenue, Coronado
But here the equinox came and went, and my feelings must have mellowed because I had positive experiences tasting both Coronado Brewing's Punk'In Drublic imperial pumpkin ale, and Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale. These got me thinking, if anyone could come up with a good use of pumpkin, it would be Ballast Point. So I gave Pumpkin Down a chance.
It's a flavored take on Piper Down, Ballast Point's Scottish Ale, a dark-brown beer with sweet and malty flavors. I might be projecting, but the pumpkin version seems to have more of an orange hue. It smells sweet, like dark fruit, pumpkin, and allspice.
It drinks wet, almost refreshing, with a roasted caramel base and rich prune notes to complement the spiced pumpkin. A light acidic bite cuts the sweetness a touch and lingers in the aftertaste, leading me to think this would be an outstanding choice to pair with chili.
Which is probably a safe bet with many pumpkin beers. I think 12 ounces made a perfect serving size for one of these, though I can't say I'd want two in a row. Either way, I must be turned around on the concept. I guess it would be great to see someone step up to the plate and grab gold in the category next year. But I'll go on the record right now as saying: the world's not ready for a Pumpkin Sculpin.