“This thing’s giant,” Four Peaks Brewing manager Randy Shultz says, eying the dry tap that not too long ago — yesterday, actually — was cranking out mugs of the brewery’s popular Pumpkin Porter ale.
“People love it,” he says. “We went through 30 barrels in a week.”
Asked if Four Peaks will brew more of the amber, spicy elixir, Shultz says simply: “Oh, yeah.”
Pumpkins? On tap? It must be seasonal beer time, that quarterly blitz of limited-run brews that aficionados greet with guarded optimism. After all, that springtime Grape Pale Ale could be refreshing, balanced and delicious, or it could taste like, well, beer with grape juice.
Autumn is no different. Come fall, beer drinkers are likely to encounter flavors that can be a bit scary in excess — flavors such as nutmeg, cinnamon, pumpkin and apricot.
Properly deployed, they could taste fantastic. If not, you’re chugging potpourri.
Purely in the interest of consumer advocacy, we sampled a few of the fall seasonal beers currently on the market (check out AJ’s Fine Foods for the brews) and offer our impression here. Because fall, and fall beers, are wasting.
Abita Pecan Harvest
Appraisal: This Louisiana-brewed seasonal doesn’t smash you upside the head with pecan flavor; it’s more like a friendly pat on the back, followed by a hypnotic whiff of autumnal spiciness. In the end, Pecan Harvest scored the highest of the 12 beers, fetching praise for its balanced, malty finish and food-friendly flavor profile. Price: $1.59
Dogfish Head Punkin
Appraisal: Divine overkill. The pumpkin adjuncts in this Delaware-brewed seasonal were no less overwhelming than in the lesser pumpkin beers we sampled, but for some reason, the nutmeg and cinnamon flavors popped a little truer in the Dogfish Head. It was delicious, but — as if confronted by a slice of supremely rich pumpkin pie — none of us could stomach the thought of drinking more than one. Price: $2.79
Lakefront Brewery Inc. Pumpkin Lager
Appraisal: From the state that mongrelized American brewing, Wisconsin, comes this predictably oafish pumpkin-flavored seasonal. Heaped with heavy spices and sweet adjuncts, it tastes more like a cider than a beer. At least the honey-colored hue is pleasant. Price: $1.79
Shipyard Brewing Co. Pumpkinhead
Appraisal: Like being smothered with car deodorizers. One panelist likened its chemical, extract-heavy flavor to flea medicine. Another noted the beer’s “confusion of principle” — shouldn’t a fall brew have a bit more color and malty muscle? Not the evening’s most popular offering, to say the least. Price: $1.59
Dogfish Head Aprihop
Appraisal: A bit of a misnomer, here. Sure, the apricot was delivered as promised, along with a seductive aroma and a fruity-but-not-too-cloying mouth, but whither the hops? If you’re going to call a beer Aprihop, you better load up on the stuff, but here it feels like an afterthought. Which is to say, we could barely taste it. Still a nice guzzle, though. Price: $2.39
Kona Brewing Co. Pipeline Porter
Appraisal: Opinion varied wildly on this coffee-flavored Hawaiian seasonal. One panelist who doesn’t like dark beers thought it tasted like “an ashtray,” but those of us who like the dark stuff relished the unabashed coffee-bean profile. One panelist snarkily called it “a great breakfast beer.” Texture-wise, it was a bit thin through the hips. Price: $1.39
Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale
Appraisal: Hardly an Earth-shattering brew, but this pumpkin-flavored offering from the Hefeweizen-happy folks at Blue Moon Brewing Co. drew muted raves for its crisp, golden character and nicely integrated fruit flavors. The kind of seasonal beer you could happily drink to excess. Price: $1.39
Breckenridge Autumn Ale
Appraisal: Finally, a seasonal beer with some backbone! Easily the most aggressively-malted of the brews sampled, this mahogany-hued ale evoked images of crackling evening fires and bearskin make-out sessions. That the finer flavors survive the malt onslaught is impressive — like a gymnast who opts for a difficult, risky routine and nails it. Price: $1.39
Four Peaks Brewing Co.
Where: 1340 E. Eighth St., Tempe (between Rural Road and McClintock Drive, south of University Drive)
Open: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday
Information: (480) 303-9967