Brewery: Smuttynose (NH)
Style: Pumpkin Ale
I don't know how much Smuttynose's recipe may have changed over the years — and I'm sure my own tastes have changed — but Smuttynose pumpkin ale is definitely better than I remember. Three or four years ago, I didn't particularly care for it, but after trying another two dozen or so pumpkin ales since then — well, this is one of the better ones. That being said, it's still sort-of average — just on the acceptable "pick it up if you aren't splurging" side of average, rather than the "meh" side of average. Smuttynose has always been one of the easiest pumpkin beers to find, and it's usually the first one out every year. I guess my expectations have changed along with my tastes, and I've accepted that this will have to do for a good, ubiquitous representation of the style.
I might have unfair biases when it comes to craft beers easily found in grocery stores and corner stores. Only a small percentage of the population ever goes to a good beer store and browses the selection, so these Grocery Store Beers may be the only variations that many people ever see. I guess I tend to judge them more harshly if they're shit. Once fall rolls around, there are a few pumpkin ales you're almost guaranteed to see in any store in New York: Post Road Pumpkin, Shipyard Pumpkin Ale, and Smuttynose. One of my friends once nicknamed Shipyard "Shityard" for obvious reasons, and I remember Post Road being pretty bland, if not outright bad. But I'm glad I got around to reassessing Smuttynose this year. This one really isn't half bad.
One thing that may throw off pumpkin beer drinkers here is the surprising amount of bitterness. Whether from hops or the spice additions themselves, Smuttynose's pumpkin is a bit more bitter than most of its competition. This is actually a fairly pleasant twist, as pumpkin beers can easily get sickly-sweet. This one isn't overly spiced, and it's nicely smooth. It's certainly not adventurous — other than the bitterness, it's a pretty mild example of the style in every way — but importantly, it's done right. I'd definitely take this over most of the obnoxiously malty imperial pumpkin ales I've been trying lately.
So, while Smuttynose Pumpkin may be average, it's the kind of average that reminds you why so many others are settling for the same thing. Congrats, Smuttynose, you pass.