Quick Take: Southern Tier took a very popular and minorly flawed pumpkin beer, one that I’m quite fond of I might add, and made it better. The use of rum is an intelligent and well-considered addition that doesn’t really turn the beer into something entirely new, but enhances the flavors that are already present. For fans of Pumking, it’s a no brainer and worth trying, even at $18 a bottle. If you never understood the hype or prefer a meatier pumpkin beer experience, this might not change your mind. My personal opinion is that the rum is so well-integrated, it seems like it was always there and exactly what Pumking should be. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back to standard Pumking after trying this, but given how difficult it is to find, I might not have a choice.
Brew Facts: Southern Tier aged Pumking in 30 year old Spanish rum barrels. Creative types may wonder why this clumsy but accurately named beer wasn’t called Rumking. Well, Southern Tier tried, but the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau wouldn’t allow it (possibly because of Avery’s Rumkin, but that’s speculation on my part). If you or someone you know is in the zone of distribution (PA, NY, OH, NJ, or MI) you can try this for yourself, assuming you can find it.
Appearance: I pop off the cap and pour. The glass fills with bubbly effervescence that dissipates to a tranquil pool of Zen. In light, it takes on a glowing sheen of crystal clear amber and gold, like resin that’s been purified and melted into liquid form (sans Jurassic Park producing mosquito). A lovely looker of a beer with a heart of copper.
Aroma: I take the glass to my nose the second I set down the bottle. The potent hit of Pumking graham cracker and vanilla is intact and I let out a sigh of contentment (I’m a sucker for vanilla in beer). Those hoping for the smells of earthy gourd or pumpkin meat will find little to love here. Pumking has never been pumpkin forward and no reason a rum barrel would change that. If I’m pressed, I might be able to find vegetal hints, but they are only that, hints. Some indistinct spicing mixes in, but a much lighter dose than the standard Pumking. Slight booziness hangs under the other elements, but the rum identity is blended into the heavy graham and vanilla well enough to remain masked. Delicious aroma overall and perfect for the fall and winter months.
Taste/Mouth Feel: I take a sip and initially find some tasty elements of a familiar friend. The carbonation is lighter than Pumking, with mild aggression from an army of small bubbles. Not a huge difference from the original version, but I took note of it. What did surprise is the mouth feel. The rum adds some weight to the body, a vast improvement over standard king of pum. This luxury mouth upgrade comes at the cost of mild slickness on the tongue, but it’s a worthy trade off. Anything more would be syrupy overkill. So far, advantage Rumking.
Taste marries to aroma as the front remains largely unchanged, featuring that graham cracker and vanilla hug of love. The flavor profile starts to shift into new territory as it transitions to the middle and finish. Where Pumking has the slightly bitter grain of a pale ale, Rumking adds a much needed rich warmth via a very light malty sweetness that resembles a caramel apple soaked in booze. Some bitter grain does briefly show up as a blip in the Rumking’s transition from the graham/vanilla to the warming rum finish, but it’s the only bump in a near completely smooth experience. This blip practically vanishes at higher temperatures, so consider that when chilling.
Biscuity and subtle spiced rum flavors linger on the finish. Waiting a few moments finds a tummy warming heat, like a toasty lump of charcoal in the gut in the most pleasant way possible. While the rum is warming, it isn’t boozy and lacks any true bite. Those that like their barrel aging assertive and transformative might be disappointed at the delicate addition of the rum. In fact, the rum blends so well that it integrates seamlessly into the taste experience. The rum was allowed to give Pumking a light back scratch rather than a deep tissue massage. Perhaps it could be barreled longer to intensify the experience, but this works well enough. Rumking straddles a line between evening fire sipper and straight drinker, making for a nicely balanced beer.
Glassware: A quick note about glassware. Typically, Southern Tier recommends a glass and serving temp on their labels, but this is an exception (they do have recommendations for this on their Web site). Without their guiding hand, I took to experimenting. I had this out of a goblet, snifter, and pint glass. Of the three people that drank this beer with me, we unanimously preferred the snifter. The rum finish was stronger, but less harsh.
Final Thoughts: Southern Tier took a very popular and minorly flawed pumpkin beer, one that I’m quite fond of I might add, and made it better. The rum barreling addresses my problems, namely the too thin grain body and lighter finish, and creates a richer experience. The use of rum is an intelligent and well-considered addition that doesn’t really turn the beer into something entirely new, but enhances the flavors that are already present. While I appreciate these changes, is it enough to warrant doubling the price?
For fans of Pumking, it’s a no brainer and worth trying, even at $18 a bottle. If you never understood the hype or prefer a meatier pumpkin beer experience, this might not change your mind. I say might because of my wife. She can drink standard Pumking, but isn’t really a fan of it as she prefers dark, malty sweet pumpkin beers. After trying this, she cleared me to get a case of it, which would probably run $140 – $160 if I ever found one. My personal opinion is that the rum is so well-integrated, it seems like it was always there and exactly what Pumking should be. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back to standard Pumking after trying this, but given how difficult it is to find, I might not have a choice.
Recommendation: If you see it, buy it.