Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013 Pumpkin Beer Round-Up

My husband and I are huge fans of pumpkin beer. We try a bunch of new brews every year in search of our favorites. This year we originally set out to test 20 pumpkin brews, but that list ballooned into 29 beers. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it! We drank three to four seasonal beers each weekend for the past few weeks to find what we think is the best. A few beers really surprised us—especially some of the more popular ones. In the end, a local brew was declared the winner, and a very popular one finished in last place.

#1: Stegmaier Pumpkin Ale - Lion Brewery, Inc. (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Stegmaier Pumpkin Ale, the winner of the bunch, is a local brew. We are fortunate to have several decent breweries in our little valley. Stegmaier brewed this beer for the first time two years ago, but they didn't make it available to the public. We first tried it at an Oktoberfest celebration and were hooked. We couldn't wait until they bottled it. This is the perfect pumpkin ale. It tastes strongly of pumpkin and spices—especially cinnamon—that perfectly complement each other. It makes an awesome dessert when served in a cinnamon-sugar rimmed glass. This is the ultimate pumpkin pie in a glass and hands down our favorite. 

#2: Pumpkin Ale - Williamsburg AleWerks (Williamsburg, VA)
Ever since we had Williamsburg AleWerks Pumpkin Ale for the first time about two years ago, we've been on the hunt for it. We drank the last two bottles at a small local eatery and were in love. But we were out of luck. It was mid-October (which you beer lovers should know is winter brew time), and the beer was nowhere to be found in Northeast Pennsylvania. So we waited until the following year and hunted this beer to no avail. Finally two years later, we procured a case. (The only case in the whole Valley, I'll have you know!) This beer is very spicy with a slight sweetness and a mellow pumpkin flavor. It has a high alcohol content, which makes you feel warm and fuzzy. The two-year wait was worth this beer, and I'm savoring every bottle. 

#3: UFO Pumpkin - Harpoon Brewery (Boston, MA)
UFO Pumpkin has a clean, yet strong pumpkin flavor with mild spices. It smells strongly of pumpkin and light spices. We really enjoyed this one. We had a chance to try this on draft and was again wowed by the flavor of this pumpkin beer. 

#4: Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale - Stevens Point Brewery (Stevens Point, WI)
Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale smells like pumpkin pie and tastes spicy and sweet. It has a strong pumpkin flavor and was heavy on the spices, especially the cinnamon. It easily won us over. 

#5: Pumpkin Ale - Old Forge Brewing Company (Danville, PA)
Old Forge Pumpkin Ale was recommended to us by our beer guy. We bother him all the time to put beers aside for us and send him on wild goose chases for certain beers. This beer was the only pumpkin we tested in a can. It has a light pumpkin scent that was followed by notes of vanilla. It tastes similar to its smell. It is sweet and has a noticeable pumpkin flavor that is accented by vanilla and spices. It was unlike most of the other pumpkin ales we sampled. 

#6: Jack Be Nimble Pumpkin Ale - Nimble Hill Brewing Company (Mehoopany, PA)
Nimble Hill Brewing Company is another local brewery. They are only a few years old and also make some pretty decent wines at Nimble Hill Winery. We were lucky enough to try Jack Be Nimble two years in a row, and this year, we got to take home a growlette to enjoy. It has a strong pumpkin and caramel flavor that starts and finishes sweet. The spices are very light. It remains one of our favorites. 

#7: The Fear Pumpkin Ale - Flying Dog Brewery (Frederick, MD)
The Fear is very dark for an ale. It has a strong scent of spices, but it is very faint on the pumpkin. Although it was hard to detect any pumpkin flavor at all, we liked the very spicy flavor and almost creamy texture. It also has a high alcohol content. 

#8: Terrapin Pumpkinfest - Terrapin Beer Company (Athens, GA)
Terrapin Pumpkinfest was also recommended to us by our beer guy. Aside from the cute turtle on the bottle, this beer was really good. It has a mellow pumpkin flavor complemented by light spices. It also has a slight bitter finish, but is easy to drink. 

#9: Night Owl Pumpkin Ale - Elysian Brewing Company (Seattle, WA)
The label sold me on Night Owl Pumpkin Ale. Who could resist a huge owl face? This pumpkin ale is very interesting! It tastes like pumpkin seeds and spices. It is heavy on allspice and cloves and smells fantastic. While I loved this beer, however, my other half did not enjoy it at all. We agree to disagree.

#10: Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale - Shipyard Brewing Co. (Portland, ME)
Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale was one of the first pumpkin beers we tasted a few years ago when we began drinking pumpkin beers. And it used to be one of our favorites. The smell of this beer is unbelievable. It smells like pumpkin pie and is heavy on the spices. Sadly the taste has changed. We found the flavor very light, almost watered-down. We wondered what happened to this great brew. 

#11: Fegley's Devious Imperial Pumpkin - Bethlehem Brew Works (Bethlehem, PA)
We first tried Fegley's Devious Imperial Pumpkin at a beer sampling. It has a great pumpkin flavor and is heavy on the spices. It finishes slightly sweet and smells like pumpkin pie. An all-around decent pumpkin brew. 

#12: Imperial Pumpkin Ale - Weyerbacher Brewing Co. (Easton, PA)
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale is another beer with a high alcohol content. We tend to gravitate toward and enjoy high-alcohol beers. This beer didn't disappoint. It smells awesome and tastes like a spicy pumpkin pie with lots of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. 

#13: Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat - Anheuser-Busch (St. Louis, MO)
We are huge fans of wheat beers, so Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat intrigued us. Even though it is light, we were able to detect both pumpkin and wheat flavors. It is a little light on the spices for our tastes.

#14: Pumpkin Ale - Susquehanna Brewing Company (SBC) (Pittston, PA) 
SBC is another newer local brewery. I'm sad to say their beers have not been our favorites. Last year they made a peach pumpkin berry beer that was gag-worthy. It was very bitter, and we couldn't taste any pumpkin or fruit flavors. This year, they kept it simple and brewed a normal pumpkin ale. I must say we were pleasantly surprised. The beer has a deep pumpkin flavor and is slightly sweet. It is not as bitter as their other beers. Our only complaint is the lack of spices.

#15: Saranac Pumpkin Ale - Matt Brewing Company (Utica, NY)
Saranac Pumpkin Ale has a light pumpkin flavor, mild spices, and a hint of vanilla. We enjoyed the pumpkin flavor and sweetness of this beer. Although it lacked spices, its sweet finish made up for it.

#16: Captain Pumpkin's Maple Mistress Ale - Saucony Creek Brewing Company (Kutztown, PA)
Maple Mistress was another beer that we were very excited to try, but we were quickly disappointed. It is very dark when poured and smells like pancakes. We didn't taste any pumpkin or spices. The beer tastes sickly sweet, like drinking maple syrup. It also has a high alcohol content, which makes it feel hot going down. 

#17: Ubu Pumpkin Ale - Lake Placid Craft Brewing Company (Lake Placid, NY)
I really wanted to enjoy Lake Placid Ubu Pumpkin Ale since it had received rave reviews. It is very dark like a porter with flavors of coffee and spices. We didn't detect any pumpkin at all. It tasted more like an Oktoberfest porter and has a slight bitter finish. 

#18: Country Pumpkin - Ithaca Beer Company (Ithaca, NY)
Ithaca Country Pumpkin has no wow factor whatsoever. It is very light and does not taste like pumpkin or spices. It is nothing special. 

#19: Harvest Pumpkin Ale - Samuel Adams (Boston, MA)
While Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale isn't a bad beer, it isn't very flavorful or memorable. We didn't taste or smell any pumpkin or spices. 

#20: Boxcar Pumpkin Porter - Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, VA)
We love porters, so we were excited to try Boxcar Pumpkin Porter. It has a dark, rich color but sadly this beer tastes flat. We did not detect any pumpkin, and the spices are very faint. 

#21: Potbelly Pumpkin Ale - Breaker Brewing Company (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Potbelly is from another local brewery. We love these guys, and their tasting room is always a lot of fun. I really wish I liked their beers more, though. Like many of their offerings, this pumpkin ale is a tad bitter. While the pumpkin flavor and spice factor are pretty decent, we didn't enjoy the bitter aftertaste.

#22: Pumpkin Lager - Lakefront Brewery, Inc. (Milwaukee, WI)
Lakefront Pumpkin Lager smells like pumpkin pie, but then the scent fades. The pumpkin taste is pretty much nonexistent. The spices seemed to fade with each sip as did our interest in this beer.

#23: Johnny Rails Pumpkin Ale - Erie Brewing Company (Erie, PA)
At first we really liked the intense pumpkin flavor and smell of Johnny Rails. It also has a hint of spices. The more we drank it, however, the more it tasted like the smell of the inside of a pumpkin (pumpkin guts, gross!). 

#24: Pumpkin Ale - Long Trail Brewing Co. (Bridgewater Corners, VT)
Long Trail Pumpkin Ale is not very sweet and finishes with a slight bitterness. It is light and has more of a caramel flavor than pumpkin. The spices are also light. It is nothing special. 

#25: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale - Smuttynose Brewing Company (Portsmouth, NH)
We loved the name of Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale and really wanted to love it. But we just didn't. We don't like bitter beers or IPAs. We try and try, but they just don't do it for us. This beer is light and bitter, and we did not detect any pumpkin. I think the bitterness really turned us off. 

#26: Jack-O Traveler Pumpkin Shandy - Traveler Beer Company (Burlington, VT)
Jack-O Traveler came highly recommended to us by one of our favorite waitresses at a local pizza place.The first sip tasted of pumpkin and cinnamon and something else that I could not quite put my finger on. After the next few sips, I figured out the taste: cola. The beer tasted less and less like pumpkin and more like terribly sweet cola by the end of the glass. It was very off-putting and made the beer very unenjoyable.

#27: Pumpkin Ale - Southampton Publick House (Southampton, NY)
Southampton Pumpkin Ale tastes of pumpkin and bitter cinnamon. It smells much better than it tastes. The beer is very thin, and its flavor is flat and odd. 

#28: Pumple Drumkin Spiced Ale - Cisco Brewers Inc. (Nantucket, ME)
Pumple Drumkin is another beer with a cute label. But don't let the cute little pumpkin man fool you. This beer is all-around bad. It is sour, bitter, and leaves a bad aftertaste. It reminds me more of a really awful Oktoberfest than a pumpkin ale. Where's the pumpkin Drumkin? 

#29: Pumking - Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY)
Pumking was the first pumpkin beer we sampled this year. We missed out last year on this popular brew. As soon as we opened it and got a whiff, our excitement dissipated. The smell is sickly sweet. It is way too sweet and hard to drink. It tastes like candy corn and pie crust mashed together. Out of all the beers we tried, we sadly dumped this beer down the drain. Sorry Southern Tier! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

One of my friends celebrated a big birthday recently, and I made her cupcakes to celebrate. I wanted them to be special, exciting, and delicious. She likes chocolate and raspberry, so I decided on a vegan chocolate cupcake stuffed with chocolate raspberry ganache and topped with raspberry buttercream. I also wanted them to look super girly and pretty, so I decorated them with pink edible pearls and sparkling white sanding sugar and baked them in zebra-striped cupcake liners. These cupcakes were rich and sweet. The bittersweet ganache in the center was a nice surprise and a perfect complement to the sweet raspberry buttercream.

Chocolate Cupcakes
adapted from Martha Stewart Cupcakes
(makes 12 cupcakes)

1 and 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa (unsweetened)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1/4 cups water 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a cupcake tin with 12 paper cupcake liners. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In another bowl, beat together oil, vinegar, vanilla, and water with a hand mixer on medium-high speed. Add flour mixture and beat until smooth on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full and bake about 20–25 minutes.

Chocolate Raspberry Ganache
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

4 oz. chopped chocolate or chocolate chips
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter (room temperature)
2 tablespoons seedless raspberry preserves

Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set aside. Simmer the heavy cream in a small saucepan until hot and simmering. Pour hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for one minute. Stir until silky and smooth. Add butter and raspberry preserves and stir until combined. Let cool for a few minutes.

Raspberry Buttercream
2 sticks salted butter (room temperature) 
3 - 4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons seedless raspberry preserves
1 - 2 tablespoons water or milk (or any other liquid)

Beat the butter on high speed for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Turn mixer to low-medium speed and add powdered sugar one cup at a time. Add raspberry preserves and water, until desired consistency is reached. Beat well.