(posted by Chris Devlin)
I haven’t been to Elysian’s Great Pumpkin Beer Festival for a few years, but I returned last Saturday because I was “on assignment” for this blog. Along with the Washington Beer Commission-sponsored fests, Brouwer’s Hard Liver Barleywine Fest and the Seattle International Beerfest, it’s one of Seattle’s biggest beer events. It also attracts a larger percentage of women and casual craft-beer drinkers than most festivals. I guess pumpkin has mass appeal.
Of the 30 beers at the five keg stations in Elysian’s parking lot, I tasted 10-12. They fell into three categories: subtly-flavored, heavily-spiced or sour.
Pumpkin by itself doesn’t have much flavor and often barely comes across in beer. Beers like the Naked City Boo Radley, Diamond Knot Stingy Jack, Beer Valley Jackalope and Laurelwood Stingy Jack had minimal spicing and not much pumpkin flavor. A couple of these were okay, but I wouldn’t have known they were pumpkin beers if I were tasting them blind.
Considering that I’m not a huge fan of heavily-spiced beers, I was surprised that two of these were among my favorites. Fremont’s Saison Ely’Potiron had big flavors of pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon and clove, but still carried the usual flavors of a saison underneath. Cambridge’s Punjabi Pumpkin used black pepper, cumin and curry leaf to approximate the flavors of a pumpkin curry soup. Some thought the spicing in this was too strong, but I liked it. I may not have wanted to down a whole pint of either beer, but I really enjoyed four ounces of each. I also had sips of Elysian’s Great Pumpkin and Dark ‘o The Moon, and they were both successful—strongly-spiced but still solidly-made, satisfying beers.
Finally, there were a handful of sour beers that had little or no pumpkin flavor but were still very tasty. Russian River, Jolly Pumpkin, Elysian and Snipes Mountain all had sours pouring and they were all worth a ticket if sours are your thing.
Other than the beer, many of us at the fest discussed the lines. I showed up around noon and there was about a ten-minute line to get in. Not too bad, but I was surprised at how many people showed up so early. The fest was pretty manageable for about two hours and then, all of a sudden, lines at the five keg stations got out of control. The wait (about 5-10 minutes at most) kinda sucked, but the worst part was that with the limited space outside Elysian, the lines snaked around all over the place and it got damn confusing. The lack of sobriety of some festival-goers didn’t help. To Elysian’s credit, they did the best they could. To speed up the lines, they sent out more pourers, and I think they temporarily stopped letting people in when things were at their craziest.
I left before the tapping of the Great Pumpkin at 4. Three hours spent around the masses of humanity were about all I could take. It was a fun event, but it’s obviously outgrown Elysian’s space. If they can find a way, maybe next year they could take over an entire block somewhere in Capitol Hill. Area restaurants could get involved serving food and have something similar to the 12th Street Festival. Either that or move the event to a different location. Something needs to be done, ‘cause I have a feeling the crowds will be even bigger next year.