Shipyard Brewing Co. is based out of beer friendly Portland, Maine, and has been a staple of New England beers since the mid 1990’s. They are actually the 15th largest microbrewery in the US, and remarkably the third largest in New England, behind Boston Beer Company and Harpoon. They brew beer under the Shipyard name, and also handle production for the Sea Dog Brewing Company and the Casco Bay Brewing Company. Their new seasonal is called Applehead, and is a 4.5% ABV ale.
Living in Portland, I get to drink a lot of Shipyard beer. In fact, their brewery is next to the parking garage that I use daily. Their flagship (pun most definitely intended) and original beer is the famous (at least in Maine) Shipyard Export Ale. They make several seasonal beers that I would consider above average, most notably the dark winter warmer Prelude and the limited fall release Smashed Pumpkin.
One of the things that people in the area go crazy for is their autumn seasonal called Pumpkinhead. I was optimistic when I heard that they were going to be releasing a similar style beer for winter, called Applehead.
I grabbed a 6 pack as soon as it was available and sat down for a tasting.
Apparently the flavor of this new seasonal was chosen by fans and beer drinkers, although I’m not sure how much they had to do with the design. It is marketed as a refreshing wheat ale with a delightful apple aroma and subtle cinnamon flavor. First thing that I noticed was the frothy 1 inch head that had accumulated after the pour. Then I blinked and it disappeared.
I’m not exactly sane, but I’m also not insane, so when I poured another, I watched it like a hawk. Sure enough there was a head, but within about 25 seconds it faded away. Not a problem, as I wasn’t about to judge this golden colored ale simply for the way it looked!
The aroma was sweet with hints of cinnamon and possibly all spice, with a faint hint of apple. The taste was initially very sweet and heavy on the spices. While I thought it looked heavy, it was actually fairly light in body, however the spice flavor is what I really noticed.
My initial reaction was one of surprise, as it didn’t taste like apples at all, and it was not carbonated nearly as much as I was expecting. The aftertaste is where the apple flavor kicks into action. It’s very easy to drink due to its lack of carbonation, and lack of bitterness, however it is very sweet, and I wouldn’t be able to drink a lot of it.
I drank two, for science, and by the time the second one was gone, I had had my fill and then some. Something about this beer did not work for me. I felt that the apple flavor is almost like a forced after thought, as spices really dominate the taste. Maybe it would be better hot and not sold as an apple beer?
While I think that Applehead was a good idea in theory, the execution here didn’t work. To me, it was far too similar to Pumpkinhead with apple extract and extra spices added.
Pumpkinhead is not my favorite Shipyard beer, but one of the things I like about it is the fact that it’s one of the most accessible craft brews on the market. It’s a great way to introduce craft ales to someone who may not otherwise be interested in spending a little more money on a 6-pack. It has reached an almost mythical level of existence (at least in Maine), and people seek it out obsessively.
I was hoping Applehead would be the next step in this process, but I don’t see it happening unless they do fairly major change on the recipe. My final thought is that it’s the first apple ale I’ve tried, and therefore the best. Judging by the popularity of it, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t around next year. If this is your first experience with Shipyard, do yourself a favor and pick up some Prelude.
Hans Ericsson is a travel writer and beer enthusiast based out of Portland, Maine. When not drinking, he enjoys touring around he enjoys touring around overseas in a UK car rental.