Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SIXPOINT - AUTUMNATION REVIEW

Brewery: Sixpoint (NY)
Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 6.7%
Grade: B

I am a huge fan of basically every Sixpoint beer I've had. You may notice that I'm also a big fan of (the concept of) pumpkin beers, even if I'm usually disappointed with their execution. So yes, I did go out of my way to review Sixpoint's brand new pumpkin seasonal that just hit shelves about 5 hours ago.

Last year, when Sixpoint was still just a local brewery you could only find in city bars, they released a pumpkin ale called Pumpkin Brewster, which I thought was good but very typical for the style (except for the brilliant name.) But this year everything has changed, and Sixpoint's main four beers are available in cans all over the place. Now, with the arrival of fall, comes Sixpoint's first canned seasonal: Autumnation, a 68 IBU pumpkin beer made with citra wet-hops (basically, super fresh hops, in every sense of the phrase "super fresh.")

So yeah, this is basically a pumpkin IPA. Crazy, right? I had long joked that a pumpkin beer could technically be anything... "Even an IPA, ha ha. Ha." Because that sounds ridiculous.

But Sixpoint went ahead and did it, and it tastes kind of how you'd expect, if you can even wrap your head around such a thing. To date, the most bitter pumpkin ale I'd come across is Smuttynose pumpkin. Most pumpkin ales measure in at around 20, 30 IBU max, to give you an idea of how high 68 IBU is for the style. This really is bitter — not unlike a spiced version of Sixpoint's Righteous Rye — so bonus points for originality. Far too many pumpkin beers taste like slightly-lighter/slightly-heavier versions of the same recipe. I may have to have a few cans of this before I can really decide how I feel about it, but right now... it's overcoming the initial shock and winning me over.

The bitterness is sharp, but that works well with these particular pumpkin spices, which are also kind of sharp. Citra hops are generally very juicy and fruity, but Autumnation actually has a very piney bitterness to it, accentuated by the sharpness. As it warms up, the fruitiness comes out a bit more, and that exposes the sweetness. And the spices. This beer changes quite a lot along with its temperature. What tastes initially like an oddball IPA begins to take on more pumpkin characteristics slowly — they're never huge, never more than subtle, but act as a sort of replacement for the maltiness that brewers usually balance IPAs with. I don't want to keep focusing on the IPA characteristics, though — with its piney, gingery, almost peppery undertones, Autumnation has things in common with saisons too.  Best of all, that creamy mouthfeel that I associate with Sixpoint's house yeast is very clear here, as usual — always one of the highlights of their beers. It helps balance the bitterness, and while the pumpkin flavors are subtle, the smooth texture of the beer accentuates them.

This is a curious beer for sure. And while it's marketed as a pumpkin beer, think of it more as a fall IPA, a strange cousin to the excellent, spicy Righteous Rye — just with a different cast of spices. It's a good one for curious hop-lovers who want something other than generic caramel malts to balance IBUs. It'll give you a nudge toward your pumpkin fix, but more importantly, it'll shatter your expectations of what a pumpkin beer can be.


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