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Pumpkin Beer to the Rescue

Thanksgiving feast was laid out in all its delicious magnificence.  Days of culinary dabbling had finally culminated to this moment.   After hours of toiling and waiting…were all quite hungry.  It was at that moment, we realized that something was missing…

Pumpkin!

Pumpkin!

Where is the Pumpkin!

We remembered that cute little rouge-ish pumpkin from the CSA.  The one we had kind of been saving for such an occasion as this.  It was still sitting there.  Not anywhere near cooked to perfection.  So there it was: We had made nothing with pumpkin.  No pumpkin pie, no pumpkin breads.  Not even a squash (or sweet potato for that matter.)  It didn’t seem right to have Thanksgiving without pumpkin and just as it seemed all hope was lost…  Pumpkin beers to the rescue!

In honor of their late arrival to our holiday menu, we’ve put together another round-up of the sometimes awful and sometimes marvelous, celebrated and/or maligned seasonal beverage.

(Previously on pumpkin beers we tasted these, click here to revisit.)

For 2014, we have 13 new beers to try!  Well technically, we’ve had a couple of these before, but whatever.  Let’s start at the bottom and work up.

Long Trail Pumpkin Ale

Long Trail Pumpkin Ale

#13 Long Trail Brewing Pumpkin Ale  – Score 1.5

I can only imagine that this beer was tainted somehow.  Sour, musty aromas lead to astringent bitter flavors, heavy on the spice.  The body and carbonation were nice, but the flavor was just not pleasant.

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream

#12 Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream – Score 2

This was at least one of the most unique renditions.  The aroma was very earthy and vegetal.  It tasted like raw squash with hints of baking spice and a touch of demerara sugar.  Finishing lightly astringent with a fresh grind of black pepper.  We just couldn’t get into that vegetal assault.  Not really into drinking raw pumpkins, I guess.

Pumple Drumkin

Pumple Drumkin

#11 Cisco Brewers Pumple Drumkin – Score 3

It’s too bad it doesn’t taste as cute as the little pumpkin critter on the can.  There just isn’t that much going on here.  Lots of carbonation and a creamy mouth-filling body, but there is also too much bitterness.  Some light sour notes and a biscuity finish pretty mush wraps it up.  The faint spice and pumpkin notes are almost totally lost.

Traveler Jack-O-Shandy

Traveler Jack-O-Shandy

#10 The Traveler Beer Co. Jack-O-Shandy – Score 3.5

So this could arguably, not qualify for a pumpkin beer since it is really a shandy. A shandy is half beer and half lemonade.  The Jack-O-Shandy tasted like an Arnold Palmer with a sprinkle of cinnamon, ginger, and raisin.  Fuzzy carbonation, light pumpkin essence, and a bit of malt flavor on the dry finish.  The cloudy, brownish appearance was not very appealing.  Over all, the lemon tea flavors were somewhat refreshing, but this is definitely not something I’d buy again.

Red Hook Out of Your Gourd

Red Hook Out of Your Gourd

#9 Red Hook Out of Your Gourd – Score 3.75

I really like the idea of a pumpkin porter and still hold out hope that there is a truly rockin’ version of it.  I will try to seek one out for next year…  This wasn’t a bad beer, just not very good one.  The porter characteristics dominated with roasty flavors of coffee, dark brown sugar, and black pepper.  The finish was bitter, dry, roasty, and lightly sour.  The pumpkin and spice notes were very subtle, which for some might be preferable, but when evaluating pumpkin beers, those attributes should be more noticeable.  Admittedly, had it been a better porter underneath, I would have put less emphasis on that short coming.  There were slight hints of cinnamon, clove, but no pumpkin.  The body was lighter than I would have liked.  All in all, it didn’t start with a particularly stellar porter base and the “pumpkin beer” attributes were too subdued to cover that up.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale

#8 Smuttynose Brewing Co. Pumpkin Ale – Score 4

Very nice aroma: floral, bright lemon peel and spice.  Warming on the palate with cinnamon and clove spices, but bitter.  Medium body.  Unfortunately, I liked the way it smelled more than the way it tasted.  An okay beer, but nothing special.

Uinta Punk'n

Uinta Punk’n

#7 Unita Punk’n – Score 5

Pumpkin and spice aromas and flavors are present, but not over-whelming or particularly defined.  Light musty, fermented fruit aromas.  Some additional sour (Meyer lemon) flavor with a bit of red hot and Smarties candy on the finish/aftertaste.  Easy drinking, but definitely not tradition worthy.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale

#6 Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale – Score 5.75

Cardamom is big in this beer.  Nutmeg and black pepper are also present along with fried sage, demerara sugar with a hint of roasted squash.  The cardamom intensity was a bit more than we liked.  A decent pumpkin beer, but not one that we would seek out for next year.

Waterfront Spiced Pumpkin

Waterfront Spiced Pumpkin Ale

# 5 Waterfront Spiced Pumpkin Ale – Score 6

I’m actually surprised that this beer ranked as high as it did.  It was the first one we tasted and it was brewed by Shipyard.  We are typically not big fans of Shipyard brewed beers and we certainly didn’t care for their namesake pumpkin beer.  However, this was a balanced, nicely carbonated beer with the right holiday aromas and flavors of cinnamon, pumpkin (most notably in the aroma).   There is even a little hint of pastry crust.  I wouldn’t commit to purchasing a full 12 pack… we didn’t like it that much.  However in a mixed 6-pk, I would consider adding a bottle or two.

Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin

Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin

#4 Long Trail Brewing Co. Imperial Pumpkin – Score 6.5

This beer is part of the Brush and Barrel Series.  We’ve sampled a few beers from this series and they were all pretty good.  We really enjoyed this beer last year and while we still liked it this year, we were a bit less impressed.  Circus peanuts dominated the aroma / flavor.  Along with candied yams, marshmallow cream, and Banana Runts candy, this beer seemed less like a pumpkin beer and more like a Halloween-candy-bag beer.  It had a nice creamy full body with well integrated spice notes and a dry finish.  The hops, however, were a bit much and seemed to clash with the rest of the beer.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

#3 Dogfish Head Punkin Ale – Score 8

This beer has been a regular addition to our holiday season for some time now and it continues to deliver the right balance between solid beer making and additions of pumpkin and spice.  It starts off with sweet notes of brown sugar and caramel malts.  Then comes the spice: cinnamon and allspice with hints of hops and pumpkin on a creamy, medium to full body.   It finishes pleasantly hoppy and dry.  Leaving you ready for another sip!  This is a tradition that will continue for sure.

Southern Tier Pumking

Southern Tier Pumking

#2 Southern Tier Pumking – Score 8.25

I suppose one could say that this isn’t a pumpkin beer, but rather a pie crust beer.  Either way, it’s definitely seasonal and definitely delicious.  Biscuity aromas lead to flavors of pie crust, graham cracker, gingerbread, baking spices (cinnamon and ginger), and vanilla custard.  Hints of hazelnut and pecan pie.  Pumking is the beer equivalent of a soft, warm blanket.

And for our favorite pumpkin beer of all… so far…

New Belgium Pimpkick

New Belgium Pimpkick

#1 New Belgium Pumpkick – Score 9.5

Nearing perfection, the Pumpkick delivers it all plus a little bit extra that tips it into the outstanding category.  The nose is like pumpkin pie: full of spice (allspice), biscuit, mild pumpkin, and a hint of cranberry.  It all happens again on the palate with flavors of pumpkin butter, brown sugar, allspice, and cinnamon.  It’s that juicy tart cranberry twist at the end that kicks this beer to the top.  That tart pop balances the sweetness and richness of the other flavors keeping the beer lively and engaging.  The spices and pumpkin taste fresh and are well integrated into the malty backbone of the beer.  A complex brew that evokes the season!  We only wish it was available in Maine.

Pumpkin Beer Line Up 2014

Pumpkin Beer Line Up 2014

Until next year, Happy Holidays and bring on the Winter Warmers!

 

 

 

 

 

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Pumpkin Beer: A Round Up

I meant to publish this post a month ago, but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and finish it up.  However, since, pumpkin pie can be  just as at home on the Christmas dinner table as it is on the Thanksgiving one, I think I can still post this without it being awkward.

Anyhow, I’ve come to the conclusion that pumpkin pie and pumpkin beer are similar in ways beyond just the obvious.

Most people, I think, like the idea of pumpkin pie more than they actually like eating it.  After all, what is a Holiday dinner without one gleaming it’s glossy brown visage amongst the panorama of festive fare.  I like pumpkin pie, but not every pumpkin pie is created equal.  Some are over-baked, use a ready-made filling, have to much “red hot” cinnamon flavor, but really, most pumpkin pie is just kind of blah.  I have had some wonderful pumpkin pies, sweet but not too sweet, spicy  pumpkiny with great custard-like texture and amazing handmade crust holding in all that heirloom-pumpkin goodness.  Unfortunately, that is the exception.

A similar argument can be made for the drinkable version.  I look forward to the yearly release of pumpkin beers as they harold in the autumnal shift.  (But releasing some of them in August, as occurred this year, was a bit premature.)  Here’s the rub, I hesitate to actually buy them. I want to, but I don’t.  Too often they often wind up in a land of potpourri where fake flavor oils run rampant like in a misguided fruit beer.  Because of that, I take the safe route and just purchase something else like the Tumbler (one of my favorite beers) or Celebration by Sierra Nevada.

Like that great pumpkin pie, a great pumpkin beer is also possible.  Dogfish Head’s Punkin is a clear example and an automatic buy for me, when I can find it.  This year I thought to myself, what about all these other pumpkin beers…I decided to gather up a bunch of them, taste them all side by side, and find out what pumpkin beers I would be happy sitting back and drinking in the season.

069

We invited some friends to join in.  Here were the results (rated on a scale of 10).

#10  Pumpkinhead by Shipyard Brewing with averaged rating of 2

075

It was largely seen as an example of what we all did not like in a pumpkin beer.  Flavors reminiscent of “big red gum.” Potpourri and cinnamon aromas like “one of those Christmas stores that’s open year round.”  It was agreed that the flavoring mostly likely came from an extract rather than from raw ingredients.  On the plus side it had great clarity and a clean finish.

#9  Pumpkin Ale by Saranac averaged a score of 3

073

Aromas of caramel malts and vanilla.  Sweet flavors of sarsaparilla, vanilla, and caramel with a slight bitterness on the finish.  It wasn’t very pumpkiny or spiced.  Overheard comments such as “finishes like flat cola” and “would be good with ice cream.”

#8  Pumpkin Lager by Lakefront with a score of 3.75

072

The aroma on this one was heavy on the clove and cinnamon with a flavor that was decidedly of honeyed cinnamon sticks.  I liked this beer a bit more than everyone else did and thought it had a nice clean, malty finish and that the cinnamon flavor was a more pleasant flavor than the “red hot” cinnamon profile.

#7  Pumpkin Ale by Upslope  scored a 4.25

077

Sweet spice aromas.  The taste lightly touched all the basics caramel sweetness, some spice, and a little pumpkin.  However, the commonly heard comment was “not really much going on.”  A couple members of the tasting panel were tasting a “tin-y” quality (the beer was canned) and one mentioned an unpleasant bitterness at the finish.

#6  Pumpkin Ale by Buffalo Bill’s Brewery with an averaged score of 4.5

070

This was the easily the lightest beer of the tasting with a refreshing almost “summery” quality.  Light pumpkin aroma, but not much on the palate.   Malty flavors with a light undercurrent of pumpkin spices leading to a crisp, lemony finish.  “Kind of like a cider.”  “Good carbonation.”  Overall, we thought that this was a decent beer, but as for conjuring up the spirit of the season it came up short.  This is a good candidate for an Indian Summer beer.

#5  Frog Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale by Hoppin’ Frog was next with a leap up to a score of 6

079

Aromas of honey, spice and pumpkin.  “I smell pineapple and orange,” said one panelist.  The flavor was nicely balanced with notes of ginger, allspice, cinnamon, pumpkin, and bitter orange peel.  Some heat from the alcohol was met with a mixed review.  All in all, it was very drinkable, but we all agreed that a bit more carbonation and more malty flavor depth wouldn’t have hurt.

#4  Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale by Steven’s Point Brewery received a score of 6.25

Whole Hog

Very pleasant malty caramel aromas with a touch of spice.  On the palate it tasted like gingerbread with spice, caramel, and molasses flavors.  I got a little pumpkin on the finish, but I might have been the only one.  Other comments included, “definitely tastes like a [gingerbread] loaf,” “like a molasses spice beer,” and “it tastes like they used high quality ingredients.”  Most everyone enjoyed the beer, but there was some dispute over whether or not it technically fit in the pumpkin beer category.

#3  Fat Jack Double Pumpkin by Samuel Adams with a score of 7.38

Fat Jack

This was a interesting interpretation with the addition of smoked malts while that might be less appealing to some, we all found it to be quite enjoyable.  Smoky caramel malt aromas which carried onto the palate along with rich, sweet spice and pumpkin flavors.  The finish was dry with a hint of smoked cheddar.  All agreed that it would be a good choice to serve alongside the venerable pumpkin pie.  Bonus: The label art was pretty cool.

#2  Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin by Uinta scored a 7.5

Oak Jacked

This was a barrel aged imperial pumpkin ale and a rather big boozy affair clocking in a 10.3% ABV.  Aromas and flavors borrowed a lot from the oak: “tastes like pineapple upside cake.”  Pineapple and brown sugar aromas with additional flavors of coconut and caramel.  The requisite spice and pumpkin was either real light or very well integrated depending on who you asked.  In the end, though everyone was able to find enough pumpkin pie flavors to make it a legit pumpkin beer and it was quite tasty.

#1  The Night Owl by Elysian Brewing ranked our favorite pumpkin beer with a score of 8.75

The Night Owl

Fruity aromas with some pumpkin and cinnamon.  Light fresh pumpkin flavors with some fruity hop notes and maybe a bit of banana coming from the yeast.  The spice flavors were well integrated with a little zippy ginger quality balancing some of the sweeter fruit flavors.  I thought the finish was a bit bitter, but the pumpkin and spice lingered on nicely.  It was a solid beer and one of several pumpkin efforts that Elysian brews up every year.

A couple parting observations.  Majority of the pumpkin beers did not have sparkling clarity, likely due to the inclusion of real pumpkin, and ranged from light orange to a redish brown in color.  Carbonation levels with the exception of Buffalo Bill’s, which was rather lively, were all very moderate and the heads of foam dissipated very quickly, if they were present at all.

Pumpkin Beers

So there it is.  Now next year when the pumpkin beers start rolling out I know what I’ll be buying, confident that I will be very happy with my purchase.  Unfortunately, by this point, the abundance of pumpkin beers that were have pretty much evaporated and been replaced with the malty richness of the winter warmers.  Maybe another sampler is in order…


National Learn to Homebrew Day

Most of you probably do not know this, but last Saturday was National Learn to Homebrew Day.  It’s true.  Since 1999, it has been a day set aside by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) for the express purpose of teaching and encouraging others to take up the noble hobby of homebrewing beer.  I’ve been a homebrewer for about almost 6 years now and for at least the last couple of years have wanted to brew an instructional batch of beer for some friends who were interested, but everytime the day rolled around, I wasn’t really able to participate…until this year that is.

In honor of the (then) upcoming election, we were feeling presidential and decided to brew one of the White House’s own homebrew recipes.  We set up an evite for the Saturday brewfest where we asked the attendees to vote on which beer they wanted to brew: a Honey Pale Ale or a Honey Porter.

The final vote was Honey Porter 5 and Honey Pale 1.  Porter it is.

I made a few modifications to the White House’s recipe.  I converted it to an all grain mash rather than using extract with steeping grains and increased the batch size from 5 gallons to 5.5 gallons.  The 60 and 30 minute hops are not specified in the recipe so I decided to use up to stray hops that I had in my freezer and ended up using two different hops.

I integrated the recipe into BeerSmith (a brewing software), the black malt I ended up selecting was a darker roasted malt than the one at the homebrew shop; so, on the fly, I added a bit of dark roasted (550 SRM) Debittered Black Malt, mostly to boost the color rather than add flavor.   Another last minute adjustment, my homebrew shop does not carry Caramel/Crystal 20 (the 20 refers to the level of roast – higher the number, darker the malt) so I used Caramel 30 instead.

Also, worth noting, there is a beehive on the South Lawn of the White House that produces the honey for their homebrewed beer.  How cool is that, right.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to this particular honey, so I used a honey locally sourced here in Northern Colorado.

Here is our final recipe:

White House Honey Porter

5.25 lbs  Pale Malt (2 Row)

1.1 lbs  Caramel / Crystal 30

.83 lbs  Munich Malt (20 SRM)

.5 lbs  Black Malt (350 SRM)

.28 lbs  Chocolate Malt (350 SRM)

.15 lbs  Debittered Black Malt (550 SRM)

.25 oz  Warrior Hops (Boil 60 Mins)

.50 oz  Nothern Brewer Hops (Boil 30 Mins)

1 tsp  Irish Moss (Boil 15 Mins)

.60 oz  Hallertauer Hops (Boil 5 Mins)

1.1 lbs  Honey (Flameout – after the burner is turned off)

Nottingham Yeast (1 pkg – Rehydrated)

Original Gravity = 1.043 SG

First, we must clean everything.  Brewing beer is 3 parts washing /sanitizing dishes, 2 parts standing around drinking beer, and 1 part brewing.

We mashed the grains in 10 quarts of 152 degree water for 60 minutes.  This processes is converting starches in the grains into fermentable sugars via an enzymatic reaction.

Next we strain out the liquid into our boil kettle.  Then we batch sparged in three steps:   we heated water to 170 F in and poured it onto the grains, stirred, and allowed it to sit for a minute before straining out the liquid again into the boil kettle.  We repeated this twice more until we had accumulated roughly 7 gallons of liquid in our boil kettle.

That pot-full-of-liquid (which is known as the wort aka unfermented barely juice) is brought up to a boil.  We used a propane burner.  We’ll boil this one for 60 minutes.  Once a boil is reached, we start adding the hops, etc.

After the boil, we turned off the heat and stirred in the honey and then put the whole pot into a tub full of ice water.  There are indeed better, more efficient ways of quickly chilling down the wort such as using an immersion chiller, but I have yet to purchase one of those.  

While it’s cooling we rehydrated the yeast, by bringing some  water to a boil, pouring 4oz into a sanitized measuring cup and waiting until the temperature of the water reached 90 F, then we sprinkled on the dried yeast.  Fifteen minutes later, we gave it a clockwise stir to fully dissolve the yeast and break up some of the yeast foam.  We let the yeast cool to 70 F.

When the wort and the yeast are at about the same temperature and the both have cooled below 75 F, you are ready to proceed.  We pull the kettle out of the ice bath and pour it through a sanitized strainer into a sanitized fermenter bucket.  Knock out the solids that are in the strainer, re-sanitize if you need to.  It is quite important from here on out that we are not introducing any unwanted bacteria into our beer.  Pour the wort through the strainer back into the kettle.  Then pour the wort back into the fermenter.  We did this about 5 or six times.  The goal is to get oxygen into wort so that the yeast have a welcoming environment in which to work their magic.

Once that’s finished we put a lid on it and affix an airlock.  It’s just that simple.

Bonus pics:

To Kari, Matt, Chris, Jay, Damien, Heather, Chris, Beth, and Nathan: Thanks for all your help.  I hope you all had a fun time.  Until next year, Cheers!


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