Each year, Saint Arnold Brewing Co. in Houston releases a Divine Reserve beer: single-batch beer brewed differently each time. Most of the Divine Reserve beers have been heavier, stronger recipes. From double IPAs to barleywines to Belgian strong ales, the variance has been successful, with beer snobs seeking it out each year to see what Saint Arnold will come up with. In 2009, Divine Reserve #9 seemed to win over quite a few with a recipe for a pumpkin imperial stout. Because of its popularity, Saint Arnold released it in 2011 for the first time under its current name: Pumpkinator. Released in mid-October each year, Pumpkinator has been wildly successful and highly sought out. Customers in Houston were lining up before 10 a.m. Monday to purchase a bottle when some stores opened.
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What does that matter to the beer snobs living in Dallas? Customers calling the Central Market off Lovers Lane on Monday were told they would be allowed to purchase only one bottler per person, and the store wasn't even putting bottles on the shelves. Customers had to have their bottle retrieved by an employee from the store's stockroom. The Kroger located on Mockingbird Lane asked customers to sign up on a list to reserve their bottle for its arrival this week. The maddening part for many beer snobs seeking out their fall ambrosia is the lack of consistency in when it arrives at various stores. Calling the Spec's on Walnut Hill Lane at Central Expressway, customers were told the brew would arrive Wednesday, while Central Market was selling bottles Monday.
To evoke Seinfeld, what's the deal with Pumpkinator? Why does this feel like the Tickle Me Elmo craze of 1996, but with more alcohol and less violence? Some readers are probably thinking it can't be that good. The truth is that Pumpkinator's release is Christmas morning for Texas beer snobs.
For those considering hunting down a bottle (though it might be too late), Pumpkinator's aroma is spiced and conjures up images of fall: nutmeg and clove come through. The mouthfeel of the beer is exactly what one might expect from an imperial stout, thick but not syrupy. What is impressive about Pumpkinator is that its taste is much like its spiced aroma, with the addition of pumpkin flavor thanks to the hundreds of pounds of pumpkin purée added to the brewing process. At about 10 percent ABV, a boozy flavor comes through in the aftertaste, but not enough to overpower the other flavors. For those expecting a beer that tastes like liquid pumpkin pie, this is a stout through and through, but that's certainly not a negative. In short, Pumpkinator tastes like fall feels.
For those who have not sampled Saint Arnold's Pumpkinator, hunt down a bottle if possible. The Ginger Man in Uptown is tapping a Pumpkinator cask on Thursday, and at their Plano location on Friday. There may be other bars with kegs (The Rustic had one last year), so keep an eye out at your favorite craft beer bar or wait until next year.