Grace Sherwood, better known as “The Witch of Pungo” was the last-known person to be convicted of witchcraft in Virginia, dating back as far as the 15th century. Relentlessly accused and prosecuted for crimes against her neighbors, Sherwood’s legacy has left a lasting imprint on the city of Virginia Beach. It’s this legacy to which Back Bay Brewing’s Farmhouse “The Witch of Pungo” pumpkin ale pays homage each year.
No matter your stance on the folklore and tales, it’s clear after drinking this craft beer that the team at Farmhouse is working with some spells of their own, brewing up a deceptively-drinkable pumpkin ale. At the time of this writing, it’s still miserably hot outside, yet I find myself drawn to the look, smell, and taste of this beer. As someone who clings on to summer as long as possible, resisting the surge of seasonal commodities, something about this craft beer pulls me in for more. Witchcraft? Maybe.
The Witch of Pungo pours a slightly hazy, but not quite opaque, burnt orange color. The head is present for only a short time, quickly dissipating entirely. To be honest, there aren’t many other beers that I’ve seen with this look - it appears thick and rich, and reminds me a lot of warm apple cider.
As I started to take in the aroma of the beer, the first thing I noticed was the sweetness, followed immediately by subtle spice notes. If you’ve read any of my other craft beer reviews, you know I’m not great at picking out specific spices, but the smell is reminiscent of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg - imagine pumpkin pie - and a hint of caramel.
The Witch of Pungo has a very welcoming aroma.
At this point, with the dark, burnt orange color and the sweet and spicy aromas, I’ve started to develop a picture of what The Witch of Pungo will taste like. But, as I alluded to at the start of this craft beer review, looks (and smells) can be deceiving. I expected a full-bodied, heavy ale with a big upfront pumpkin profile, but I got quite the opposite.
The spice characteristics carry through nicely from aroma to taste, but they remain very subtle. With the first few sips, it was harder to find that sweetness, but the light body and relatively low ABV makes this a very drinkable pumpkin beer. As the beer continued to warm up, I did start to notice the sweet caramel notes, balanced very nicely with the flavors from the Belgian yeast.
While I didn’t get what I was expecting after jumping to conclusions with the look and smell, I was still very much satisfied and impressed with how the team at Back Bay Brewing’s Farmhouse structured this seasonal brew, satisfying that craving for something with pumpkin without getting gimmicky.
Like I said, I’m not the type of person that swaps wardrobes, lines up for a pumpkin-spiced latte, and plugs in the seasonal wallflowers when the temperature falls below 80º. For me, what The Witch of Pungo does really well is present the pumpkin flavor without going way overboard.
Overall, I really enjoy this beer. While I’m not necessarily left longing for Fall, I’m more willing to accept the change of the seasons, which is an unusual sensation for me. Livestock aren’t falling out around me, and I haven’t seen any people-turned-feline, but who knows, maybe the spirit of Grace Sherwood lives on in this beer, encouraging me to think a little differently than usual, and keeping me coming back for more.