(Interior – Food Science Laboratory) A white-coated mad scientist holds aloft a beaker filled with an orange liquid. Toxic vapors cascade from the top of the beaker, condensing and burning holes in the lab bench. Lightning sizzles outside as the scientist cracks a lopsided grin, breaking into a machine gun burst of maniacal laughter. “Preeeecious puuuuuumkin spiiiice. I'll mix a laboratory full of toxic chemicals and tell them it's the smell of autumn! The bloated masses will dump the caustic substance into their lattes, and post ironic social media content! They won’t know we use the same chemicals in “Autumn Scent” toilet cleaner and seasonal beverages! Meanwhile, the wretched substance will eat them from within! It will cook the very souls from their bodies!”

This week, loyal reader, is my least favorite week of the year. Worse than tax season and “Holiday Beer” season combined, the autumnal oozing of pumpkin beers into local retailers is a dark time for both the liver and the mind. While I was prepared to I’ll tough out these tastings for your edification, I was pleasantly surprised that though I hate pumpkin beers in general, this batch wasn’t half bad!

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin (Portland, ME)

Format Sampled: A daunting 16 oz. can

ABV: 9.0%

Availability: Purchased at RSVP

Tasting Notes: Pours a murky amber with an off-white head. Aroma is thick with ... something. Tasting partner Ellen compares the aroma to "high-quality cough syrup." I'm detecting nutmeg and cinnamon in addition to the sweet cherry aroma. The initial flavor is refreshingly NOT pumpkin-like. It's thickly sweet, with plenty of syrupy malt, and gobs of butterscotch. Tasting partner Ivan detects notes of burnt sugar as well. The pumpkin spices are subdued. I'm getting lots of clove, some nutmeg and plenty of cinnamon. As the beer warms, a hot boozy quality arises. What might be seen as a flaw in other beers, this alcohol flavor actually enlivens the spices, producing a more warming beverage that calls to be enjoyed by a fire.


Harpoon Brewing UFO Pumpkin (Windsor, VT)

Format Sampled: 12 oz. capped bottle

ABV: 5.9%

Availability: Purchased at RSVP

Tasting Notes: Pours a glowing copper with thin, white head. Aroma has cinnamon oil, nutmeg, vinegar and ginger. The first sip follows the theme set by the aroma, delivering a pungent blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger all elbowing each other for Autumnal dominance. This is the classic combo of spices that has become a cultural phenomenon (some would say, an abomination), but it's well done in the context of this beer. After the spices, some wisps of wheat malts drift over my palate, as well of the hint of some spicy hops. Compared to previous years, the 2018 UFO pumpkin seems better balanced, and the blend of spices much more harmonious.

Downeast Pumpkin Blend Cider (Boston, MA)

Format Sampled: 12 oz. can

ABV: 5.1%

Availability: Purchased at RSVP

Tasting Notes: Pours a murky, yellow-brown with no head. The aroma is an exotic spice caravan of mulled wine, chai tea, and dried citrus. Perhaps the most exotic, spiced aroma I've ever smelled from a fermented beverage. The first sip is a gustatory journey through fall. I taste dried leaves, apple pie, numbing clove, hot cider, and ephemeral wood smoke. As the effects of the initial spice-shock subside, I appreciate the flavors of a well-made, off-sweet cider, murky and turbid with flavor. It's not a beer, of course, but it has a garish pumpkin on the can, and I expected to hate it. I'll reluctantly admit that this would go exceptionally well with a cool autumn evening, watching the light fade and the leaves surrender to the coming winter.

Seth is a beer writer, outdoor enthusiast and non-profit consultant.

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