I love scotch. I'm willing to admit that a large part of that is my own personal bias regarding the wonderful country of Scotland. I used to just like Scotch. Then I spent some time in Scotland and got to drink some Scotch directly from the water of life. Now I love Scotch.
I also love scotch ales. This was the case before I went to Scotland and is the case after Scotland. Don't be confused and think that a scotch ale is produced with scotch because it isn't. A scotch ale is a stronger-type of ale first produced in Scotland. Scotch ales are known for being dark in color, heavy in malt tastes, and tend to be higher in alcohol content (usually over 7% ABV).
I love pumpkin beers. Pumpkin beers are the sign that fall is upon us and its time to put on a sweater. Pumpkin beers are as fall as the smell of a wood burning fireplace, the sight of your breath as the temperature drops, and Monday Night Football. Wrapping up a cool fall evening by sitting down in a big comfy chair with a good book and a pumpkin ale is one of the better things in life.
Since I love scotch, I love scotch ales, and I love pumpkin beers, I thought I would have a winner with Ballast Point's Pumpkin Down. Pumpkin Down is labeled as a Scottish ale brewed with pumpkin. It isn't a bad beer, but it isn't outstanding either. My first mistake was misreading the label. You see, Pumpkin Down is a Scottish ale, not a scotch ale. A Scottish ale is malty and delicious but not nearly as malty or high in alcohol content as a scotch ale. My second mistake was hoping that a pumpkin beer would be just as good in the summer as it is in the fall and it isn't. The beer is not enough Scottish ale or enough pumpkin ale. The beer is just enough of both to be not enough of either.
The fact that this pumpkin beer is out in August brings up the concept of being first to the market. It seems that holidays begin earlier and earlier every year. If you base your holiday schedule on the product availability at Target you would think that Christmas starts in October, Thanksgiving takes place in August, and Halloween takes place in mid-May. This has been the case for decorations for years and the same idea is now bleeding into the craft beer market.
It seems that craft brewers want to the be first to the market for the seasonal offerings. I suppose it makes sense from a business standpoint. If you are the only brewer with a Christmas Ale on the shelves then perhaps your customers will stock up on your beer to make sure they have it at Christmas time. I'm worried that this will cause a drop in quality in order to get an average to below average product out on the shelves. I don't know for sure if this is the case for Ballast Point, but in my opinion I think this beer was rushed out the door to be first pumpkin beer on the shelves for the upcoming fall season which resulted in an average beer instead of an outstanding seasonal.
I know I'll be drinking many more pumpkin beers as fall wraps its cool, loving arms around us. I hope that brewers (as well as other retailers) will someday learn that first doesn't always mean best.