Welcome to the second Blind Pumpkin Beer Taste Test, 2014 edition.
Taste in beer is very subjective. For example, the popular Southern Tier Pumpking is either loved or strongly disliked. Some people really enjoy the unique sweetness that resembles a pumpkin pie in their beer. Others have different ideas of what a beer should be like. There is no right answer!
But it’s still fun to try and rank ’em!
Which beer won this year?
Similar to last year’s post, an array of pumpkin beers were purchased, score sheets were made, and one individual poured one beer at a time into 9 glasses (there were 9 of us) and brought them into the living room for all of the guests to try out. The guests did not know which beer it was, except for a corresponding number to identify the beer.
Unlike last year, the 9 of us were basically all peers of similar ages. Yet, there was an appropriate spectrum of tastes/experiences with beer. For example:
- One tester brews his own beer and has been for a while. He knows the ins and outs. He even contributed two homemade pumpkin beers for this taste test party.
- One tester loves beer but HATES pumpkin beers. We all knew this going in.
- Two testers barely drink, let alone beer. They prefer wine. Yet they were probably some of the most sophisticated cooks in the group.
- One tester is mostly familiar with German beer (she has a PhD in German) and has lived in Vienna and other parts of Europe, so she prefers beers on that side of the pond.
- The youngest tester is not even 23 yet, so her palate (and wallet) probably did not align with craft beer. This type of thing was very new to her.
There were many (some would say too many) categories this year. Underneath each one are some descriptors or questions that would help the taste tester rate the beer in that category.
The categories I chose were:
- “Visual appeal? Head longevity, lacing, clarity, carbonation. Does this beer say “pick me up and drink me!”?
- Pumpkin Aroma
- “Does it taste like pumpkin should? Does it remind you of this season, in a good way? Are the pumpkin spices pleasant?”
- Overall Aroma
- “How would this smell affect you if this was just a normal beer?”
- The “feel” of the beer inside your mouth and as you swallow. Smooth or harsh? Heavy or watery? Balanced or one-dimensional?
- “How strong/weak is it for you? Does the alcohol/lack thereof get in the way of the taste?”
- Pumpkin Taste
- “How many spices can you identify? How does the flavor vary from start, middle and finish, and then the after taste? Is this what pumpkin beer should taste like?”
- Overall Taste
- “Sweet, acidic, bitter, sour, salty? Overall does this beer taste good?”
- “Would you drink this beer again? Would you drink a full glass of this, or just sips?
The rating system was a 1 through 5 system. 1 being “Awful”, 2 being “Not super”, 3 being “Neutral/OK”, 4 being “Good” and 5, the best, being “YUM!”
In order of tasting them, this year we tried:
- Blue Moon Harvest Moon
- Blue Mountain Spooky
- Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
- DC Brau The Imperial Pumpkin Porter
- Flying Dog The Fear
- Homebrew #1
- Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream
- Homebrew #2 (this had more sugar added to it)
- Elysian Night Owl
- Southern Tier Pumpking
We all got pretty tired of trying beers by this point. The others that we had but did not try were:
Some thoughts on a blind taste test party.
These two beer taste test parties were very different. Last year was in the middle of the day, more relaxed, over a long period of time, and the beer was not the focus (actually watching Mariano Rivera’s last home game at Yankee Stadium was the focus. The beer tasting was something to do during commercials/slow parts of the game. Aka most of the game).
This year the focus of the party was to taste beers! But it was later at night, people had to drive, and it seemed that adding more categories to the score sheet AND asking the guests to be super focused did not work out that well, since the guests were enjoying each others’ company and didn’t really want to bring the friendship and socializing to a halt.
If I were to have a taste test party in the future, I would have a more serious one earlier in the day and made sure there was plenty of time to rate the items, especially if it is beer. I would also make sure not to confuse the theme of a taste test party with that of a dinner party. However, if I wanted a more relaxed atmosphere and I wanted the dinner party theme to be primary, I would make the score sheet/rating system WAY easier.
Was this a scientific taste test?
Oh goodness, not really!
If this was more organized, I would have introduced the beers in a specific order, from light to dark, from non-hoppy to hoppy. So all of the porters and stouts would be at the end. Ideally I would also try to go in order from least alcoholic to most.
The beers were all in the fridge for enough time for them to be similarly cold by the time of the tasting, but were the temperatures exact? Should they be exact?
Also, everyone tried these beers ONCE (unlike last year; once we went through each beer, we would go through them again in any order we wanted). So someone’s ratings of the first few beers may have changed once they have tried them all. The first beer we tried was Blue Moon’s. If someone gave the pumpkin taste a 4, but then tried Pumpking’s which was the last one and gave that one a 4, that implies they have the same pumpkin taste score! But I bet if that tester went back and examined their previous scores, there would be many adjustments. This, I think, was the biggest flaw in this year’s taste test.
Also, the taste testers were not really trained. At all. Maybe the guy that brews his own beer has the best sense of what to look for. But this was also the point; I wanted normal people, especially individuals who did not like pumpkin beer, to give their say.
It should also be known that the beers in this year’s party are different from last year’s party. The goal was not to compare both years, but it would have been great data to have.
I’m sure there were many other mistakes that would call the validity of these results into question. Oh well.
Scores and winners.
Remember, everyone scored each beer in each category on a 1 to 5 scale, 1 being the worst, 5 being the best. And these scores are first impressions. No one went back to adjust their scores.
Taking the average score of every category for each beer, the winners are:
1. Elysian Night Owl
3. Homebrew #2
(Night Owl and Spooky were .01 off, so they are essentially tied).
However, if we just average the pumpkin categories (Aroma and Taste), the top three are:
1. Elysian Night Owl
2. Southern Tier Pumpking
3. TIED: Matt’s Homebrew #2 and Matt’s Homebrew #1
Interestingly, if I just average the Overall Aroma and Overall Taste scores, we get:
2. Homebrew # 2
3. DC Brau
(This list also does not change if I incorporate Drinkability)
Although, just ranking Drinkability, we get:
2. Homebrew # 2
3. Magic Hat
(This list is the same when ranking just the Overall Taste category. Elysian is down at #7 on the Drinkability and Overall Taste lists)
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin was dead last in every category. I remember disliking it a LOT in last year’s taste test. Although my friend who also rated Shipyard low last year claims that drinking an entire glass of it is actually better than sipping a little bit and then moving on. I wrote about this issue last year.
Here are the numbers:
Overall, this was a fun time. I would easily do this again with a different kind of beer (the friend who hates pumpkin beer wants to do this with Winter Ales).Also, it should be known, since I was the one pouring this year, I did not have time to mindfully sit down to rate these beers. Basically, all of these numbers do not include my ratings. Therefore, the whole thing really should be void. 😛
You want a more extensive list of pumpkin beers out there? Check out this blog which I have definitely spotted on the interwebs before: Bumpin Pumpkin Beer
What pumpkin beers do you enjoy?!