Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
A couple of years ago, I discovered that Southern Tier Brewing Company, which brews arguably the best pumpkin beer, created a special, even more limited, release of Pumpking, aged in rum barrels. Having had Pumking a bunch of times over the years, I was intrigued at the prospect of a boozier edition, with additional flavors that added a complex element to this delicious beer. Unsure of how much was distributed, I searched during most of last season whenever I was in my local bottle shop but, unfortunately, I was unable to find a single 500ml bottle. It seemed like I would once again struggle this year, until I noticed a dozen bottles at my local beer store – and I swear, it seemed like there was some sort of orange aura coming from that shelf.
Southern Tier Brewing Company was founded in 2002 in Lakewood, New York by Phineas DeMink and Allen Yahn, who created small batches of beer that were locally distributed. In the early days, Southern Tier made just three kinds of beer: India Pale Ale, Mild Ale and Pilsner. Things have certainly changed in almost two decades, with Southern Tier now pumping out 100 barrels per hour of a whole slew of beers in it’s 45,000 square-foot warehouse, accompanied by a 7,200-barrel fermentation space and a distillery, which is really how the idea of a barrel-aged Pumking came about in the first place.
Rum Barrel Aged Pumking was first brewed back in 2014, thanks to more barrels being on hand, and was referred to as “Rumking.” It’s a 13.4 percent imperial pumpkin ale, featuring notes of pumpkin pie spice, that has been aged in the company’s barrel house for five months before it makes its way to both bottles and kegs. Southern Tier calls it “gold, in liquid form” – I’ll be the judge of that – and incorporates several different pirate puns in the beer’s description. They do recommend aging it by standing it upright in a cool, dark place, which can really only accentuate that rum flavor and make it more boozy.
As far as the packaging goes, this one is pretty simple. Rum Barrel Aged Pumking’s label looks like something you’d find from your hyper-local brewery, with the name of the beer, how long it’s been aging, the ABV and DeMink’s signature, to really kind of emphasize the specialty of such a rare beer.
Popping the cap off provided me with the most distinct smell I think I’ve ever experienced while reviewing beer for Thirsty Thursday – it smelled like rum. Rum, rum, rum – to the point where I quoted Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean even before I had taken my first swig. That’s not really like me. It wasn’t the only aroma I noticed, however, as there was a hint of vanilla and caramel mixed in too. I poured it into a tulip glass and it poured a clear, darker amber color with a brownish head that was pretty minimal, which surprised me, but it was clear and it was very well carbonated.
Speaking of carbonation, Rum Barrel Aged Pumking is medium-bodied, bordering on full-bodied, and the flavor is complex, yet only for a specific type of drinker. I noticed a little of the pumpkin flavor and the pumpkin pie flavor that Southern Tier touts with this one and a little caramel but the rum, and it’s wood flavor, was overpowering. Listen, I like my fair share of boozy beers but it just felt like I was just drinking rum on a couple of occasions.
I would’ve liked to see the imperial pumpkin flavors highlighted maybe a little more as opposed to just rum on the back-end because it really left that flavor lingering when going for the next sip. As the glass got close to empty, I found myself struggling a little to finish off what was left, exhausted from the rum, though the warmth was welcomed on a cool night when family and I were carving up some pumpkins together.
This version of Pumking was $10.99, though I have to imagine that number can vary depending on your location. When I looked on BeerAdvocate, the average score was based on 532 ratings, some of those ratings came from previous editions, so keep that in mind. But Rum Barrel Aged Pumking scored an average of 4.06, though I would go significantly lower than that, giving it a 6.2 out of 10. I understand what Southern Tier was going for here but I just think it’s too complex for its own good because the underlying flavor is there, and delicious, but just too overpowered by the rum barrel-aging to really be appreciated. Give me more of that pumpkin flavor to better balance the rum that’s popping out of it and that rating would go up significantly. I think I’m just going to stick to Pumking but you should try it and see what you think for yourself.
Stay tuned for next week, because I might just try something from your favorite brewery.