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I always end up with a lot more free time on Saturdays once college football is over, and while I love football season and watching my Hokies every weekend it’s actually kind of nice to have a Saturday with no television requirements.  The first thing on my list after the end of the regular season this year was a road trip to an out-of-town North Carolina brewery to check another one off my Mountains-to-Sea Brewery list.  By this point I’ve visited just about every Triangle-area brewery (I think the lone missing brewery is Triangle Brewing in Durham) so I was excited for a day trip to a brewery in a different part of the state.

My first hope was to visit Duck Rabbit out in Farmville, but for some reason their newly opened tap room isn’t open on Saturdays.  Next on my list was Mother Earth, a short hour and a half down 70 East in Kinston.  Heading down 70 East not only gets you to an awesome brewery, but it also has the added benefit of some awesome Eastern NC barbecue, which makes the road trip that much better.

With so many good barbecue options it was hard to decide where to stop for lunch on our way to Kinston, but we settled on Ken’s Grill in La Grange thanks to a helpful Twitter tip from @beerandracing.  Ken’s only does barbecue on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and dear god do they do it right.  The pork was tender and delicious, some of the best I’ve had in NC.  The hushpuppies were fantastic too.  And you know you’re in the right kind of place when there’s just a pitcher of sweet tea sitting on the table at all times.  All around, excellent barbecue at a great place.  If you’re ever in the area on a Wednesday or Saturday, do yourself a favor and make the stop.

Ken's Grill in La Grange

Happy and well fed, we continued down 70 East for another 10 miles or so to Kinston, a quiet little town on the Neuse River and home to Mother Earth Brewing.  Living in Raleigh I’m used to the tap rooms at Big Boss, LoneRider and Fullsteam, but Mother Earth’s has a completely different feel.  It’s quiet, almost serene, with black leather couches and metal stools/tables and white drapes covering half the walls.  Centered in this beautiful room is a big horseshoe bar serving the freshest Mother Earth brews you can find, and I grabbed a pint of their Jebediah English Pale Ale before the tour started.

All brewery tours cover the same basic information, but I always enjoy seeing each brewery’s different setup and peaking behind the curtain to see where their beer is made.  The Mother Earth tour started in the barrel aging room, where I was immediately salivating over all the bourbon barrels with “SN” written on them.  We also took a look in their eco-friendly cooler and got to dig around in and smell some of the hops used in their beers.  It was cool to see their canning line too, something you don’t see at the majority of NC breweries.  Mother Earth even has a slide from the upstairs to brewhouse floor for the times when stairs are just too boring, but sadly we weren’t allowed to give it a try.  They keep all of that fun for themselves.

Inside the brewery

Once the tour ended we retired back to the tap room for a couple more beers before the drive back to Raleigh.  Sadly, there was no Silent Night on tap, but I did finally try their Sisters of the Moon IPA and had a pint of their Dark Cloud dunkel — one of my favorite NC beers.  Both delicious.  So far I’ve enjoyed every one of their beers I’ve tasted.  The tap room has a nice patio too, but probably better enjoyed in April instead of December.

I thought the Mother Earth brewery was more than worth the trip down from Raleigh.  The brewery itself is beautiful, occupying almost an entire block in downtown Kinston, and the tap room and tour are welcoming as well.  One of the best things about making the trip is that the brewery is just so different from most of the Triangle breweries and it’s really cool to see how they operate down in Kinston.

One of the old warehouse walls bearing the logo

Do yourself a favor and make the trip.  And be sure to stop for barbecue along the way.

Heavy Seas Great'er Pumpkin

The Heavy Seas Great’er Pumpkin is a beer I really wanted to try last year, but couldn’t find around Raleigh.  The beer seemed tailor made for me on paper since I love pumpkin beers and I love bourbon barrel aged beers.  So it stands to reason that combining the two could only result in a delicious brew.  Fortunately, the Great’er Pumpkin was not hard to come by this year in Raleigh and I scooped one up from Tasty Beverage as soon as I could.

Great’er Pumpkin pours a little cloudy and a pretty, deep orange color.  Out of the bottle there wasn’t much head and it faded pretty fast.  The beer smells fantastic with both the pumpkin and bourbon coming through, but not much spice.  With the first sip it’s plenty clear that this beer has been aged in bourbon barrels.  The bourbon hits you pretty strong on the front, but then gives way to a smooth, delicious pumpkin flavor.  I love bourbon barrel beers, but the Great’er Pumpkin is a little too heavy on the bourbon in my opinion.  I didn’t really taste any spices in the beer either.  The beer is really good, but if I had my way I would ease off the bourbon just a bit.

For being a barrel aged imperial I thought the beer was really drinkable.  At 9% ABV you’ll get pretty drunk if you drink Great’er Pumpkin all night, but I didn’t think it was too much for me.  Definitely not an every night beer, but if the season wasn’t already over I would definitely drink this beer again.

Overall, I thought this was a really tasty beer.  It wasn’t the ideal beer I thought it had the potential to be, but it was amazing and one I will certainly be tracking down again in 2012 (and buying more than one bomber next time).

4.5 out of 5

Great Pumpkin Beer Quest Standings:

1. Harvest Time

2. Great’er Pumpkin

3. Pumpkinfest

4. Boxcar Pumpkin Porter

5. Pumking

6. Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale

7. Kick

8. Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

9. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

10. Post Road

11. Punk’n

12. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale

Southern Tier Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Well, I finally got around to drinking the Southern Tier Pumking.  Pumking is another beer I drank last year and remember really liking, so I was curious to see if I would like it again and how it would rank among all the other pumpkins I’ve tried this year.  As expected, it was delicious.  It even won a seal of approval from the wife.

Pumking pours a very clear, very pretty orange color with little to no head on it.  The smell is fantastic.  I got a pie crust, toasty smell from it without a ton of pumpkin.  The spices come through a little in the smell as well, notably cinnamon.  Of course, what seems to set Pumking apart from other pumpkin beers is that it almost tastes like a pumpkin pie.  I don’t think it’s overly sweet though and I really got the toasty, crust taste when I drank it, which adds some nice character to the beer.  I didn’t really taste much spice with the pumpkin pie flavor.

I thought Pumking was a very smooth beer with a slight taste of its 8% plus ABV on the back end.  A really good imperial pumpkin ale, but not sure if I’d want to sit around and drink it all night.  Tastes great on a cold fall evening though.

Overall, I really enjoyed Pumking.  It definitely stands out among the pack of pumpkin beers with a very distinct taste that is also very delicious.

4 Out of 5

Great Pumpkin Beer Quest Standings:

1. Harvest Time

2a. Pumking

2b. Pumpkinfest

3. Boxcar Pumpkin Porter

4. Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale

5. Kick

6. Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

7. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

8. Post Road

9. Punk’n

10. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale

Terrapin Pumpkinfest

I finally got around to Terrapin’s Pumpkinfest last night in the 2011 Great Pumpkin Beer Quest.  Pumpkinfest was a beer I really enjoyed last year and, not surprisingly, one I really enjoyed again this year.  I’ve always thought pretty highly of Terrapin’s beers and Pumpkinfest is no exception.  Pumpkinfest is different than other, more traditional pumpkin ales though since it is technically “a traditional Octoberfest brewed with over 1 pound of pumpkin per barrel along with pumpkin spices” according to Terrapin.

The first thing I noticed was that Pumpkinfest definitely pours a different color than other pumpkin beers.  It has a little more red to it and almost comes across as a deep amber instead of orange.  There wasn’t much head on it, but the smell was fantastic.  Pumpkinfest is probably the best smelling pumpkin beer of the quest so far with a good balance of pumpkin and spices.  Fortunately, that balance comes through with the taste as well.  The beer has a very nice balance of pumpkin, spices and malt to create a really good beer.  For me a good pumpkin beer is all about the right balance of flavors, and Pumpkinfest definitely strikes the right tone.

Pumpkinfest is a very smooth and very tasty pumpkin beer.  I remember liking it last year and was pleasantly surprised to find it just as delicious this year.  I’m already regretting that I only bought one for the taste test.

Overall, I think it’s definitely a top tier pumpkin beer, but probably comes up a little bit short against Harvest Time.

4 out of 5

2011 Great Pumpkin Beer Quest Standings:

1. Harvest Time

2. Pumpkinfest

3. Boxcar Pumpkin Porter

4. Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale

5. Kick

6. Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

7. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

8. Post Road

9. Punk’n

10. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale

Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale

October is more than halfway over, which means the Great Pumpkin Beer Quest will be coming to an end soon.  So far, I think I’ve been a little too hard on some of the pumpkin beers, but I guess that happens when you’re trying to decide which is the best.  Last night I tried another new one, Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale.  It’s an organic pumpkin ale from Vermont made with actual Vermont pumpkins.

The first thing I noticed about this pumpkin ale was the head.  It poured a light orange color and was topped with a thick, white head.  The head was noticeably thicker than any of the other pumpkin beers I’ve tried to date.  Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale also has a really nice smell to it, very fresh and you can definitely smell the spices.  The spices really come through in the taste as well, and they overpower the pumpkin a little.  I think they could have balanced the two flavors a little better to allow the fresh pumpkin to be more prominent.

I thought it was a smooth, drinkable pumpkin ale though.  It has a good flavor even if it leans a little heavily on the spices.  One thing I noticed was that it tastes a little like a homebrew, but in a good way.  I would definitely have this beer again.

Overall, it’s a pretty solid pumpkin beer.  I wouldn’t rank it in the top tier, but it’s certainly near the top of the second tier pumpkin ales.  I’ll be really curious to see what next year’s batch tastes like since they use organic, local ingredients.

3 Out of 5

2011 Great Pumpkin Beer Quest Standings:

1. Harvest Time

2. Boxcar Pumpkin Porter

3. Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale

4. Kick

5. Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

6. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

7. Post Road

8. Punk’n

9. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale

I was intrigued when I saw the Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat on the shelf at Bottle Revolution as I was picking up pumpkin beers for the Great Pumpkin Beer Quest.  Sure, it’s a cleverly disguised Anheuser-Busch beer, but it was also a wheat pumpkin beer and something I had never tried before.

The Pumpkin Wheat pours a deep orange color with a little bit of cloudiness.  It has a pretty nice smell with a hint of pumpkin, but not much, if any, spice flavor.  The beer tastes pretty decent too.  It’s pretty light on the spice, but you get a nice pumpkin flavor up front and a smooth finish.  It seemed to me there was a little more sweetness to this beer as well, possibly owing to it being a wheat beer.

I thought the beer had a clean finish like you would expect from an A-B beer, but it was also pretty refreshing for a pumpkin beer.  I don’t usually associate a fall weather beer with refreshing, but that was my impression drinking it.  You can tell it’s a wheat beer if you really pay attention while you’re drinking it, though it certainly doesn’t beat you over the head with it.  In the end, it probably tastes a little like Bud Light Wheat with some pumpkin flavoring.

Overall the Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat was pretty tasty.  If offered, I could definitely drink a few of these in a sitting.

2.5 Out of 5

2011 Great Pumpkin Beer Quest Standings:

1. Harvest Time

2. Boxcar Pumpkin Porter

3. Kick

4. Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

5. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

6. Post Road

7. Punk’n

8. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale

Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

There isn’t a whole lot to say about the New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale.  It isn’t the best pumpkin beer I’ve ever had, but certainly not the worst either.  Ichabod pours a deep orange color, a little darker than others I thought, and has a decent smell that is a little lacking in flavor and spice.

Much like everything else about Ichabod, the beer tastes very average too.  Again, not a ton of pumpkin taste to the beer and just a hint of spice, which doesn’t make for a bad beer at all.

Ichabod is a perfectly drinkable pumpkin ale and I could definitely see myself drinking more than one in a sitting if it was offered.  But it’s just a very middle-of-the-road pumpkin ale with nothing unique or special to offer.  It doesn’t taste bad, but there’s nothing that great about it either.  However, it is the “best of the rest” of the pumpkin beers I’ve tried so far this year with a respectable fourth place ranking.

2.5 Out of 5

2011 Great Pumpkin Beer Quest Standings:

1. Harvest Time

2. Boxcar Pumpkin Porter

3. Kick

4. Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

5. Post Road

6. Punk’n

7. Smuttynose pumpkin ale

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