It's October and that means one thing: Pumpkin Beer! Ok actually it means several things, some also having to do with pumpkins. But it's time for this year's pumpkin ale. But first, I finally was able to make it to the Elysian's Annual (5th in this case) Great Pumpkin Beer Festival. It is one of the premier pumpkin beer festivals in America. "And by America, I mean the World." (100 points if you can place that one). Elysian's Brewer Dick Cantwell is a sort of pumpkin evangelist, and Elysian's Night Owl is my favorite readily available pumpkin beer (Sorry Dogfish Punkin! You're still good though.). Thanks to Dick's reputation, connections and generous personality, breweries from all over send their pumpkin beers to the festival. And of course the Elysian brewed nine pumpkin beers itself…
The capstone of the festival is the tapping of the pumpkin. Dick and crew clean out a large pumpkin, then they use a glassblowing torch to caramelize/sanitize the inside. Then in goes some Night Owl pumpkin ale with a bit of Dragonstooth Stout wort to induce a secondary fermentation. The annual goal is to get it to carbonate without, obviously, exploding the pumpkin. So it's sealed with wax and a pressure valve is sealed in to monitor it. The pumpkin is tapped at 4:00 and everyone gets a sip. It was like a pumpkiny cider, and pretty flat this year. Still, A+ for effort.
When I started this blog I swore up and down that it wouldn't be one of those beer-snobbery tasting-note laden exercises in BJCP judging wankery (just spend some time reading reviews on Beer Advocate), so I try not to wax nostaligic about beer. A beer is good or bad, to each his own, and talking about mouthfeel or astringency is for competitions and advice on improving the beer, not conversation over a pint at the pub. And yes, there were those people there, taking little (I hope increasingly slurred) notes on their beer sheets. But I do feel that some of these were worth mentioning, purely for their uniqueness, originality and quality.
First of all, the thing that most struck me about the festival was the variety of styles of pumpkin beer. Normally the pumpkin beer style, such as it is, is based on British Bitters or Pales, occasionally a Brown here and there. They're almost always spiced and in some cases, no pumpkin is used, just pumpkin pie spices. Historically the beers were part of the privations endured by early Colonials. When wheat and barley were scarce (often imported from Europe) pumpkins made due. The settlers would use dried pumpkin (leathery strips of it) and reconstitute it in the mash. This made a low alcohol, undoubtedly terrible beer that only poor people drank.
Eventually Pumpkin beer went away entirely, until the microbrewery movement dusted it off, polished it up, and made something drinkable. At the festival there was a pumpkin version of nearly every kind of beer, and my hat goes off to the brewers for taking those risks. Nothing ventured nothing gained, and some of these were just outstanding.
Here's a few of my favorites:
- Very well done all around, but The Ram (Northgate) gets serious credit for how they served it. A hollowed out pumpkin used as a jocky box. They then served the beer on nitro through a faucet in the pumpkin. Thanks to this beer I'm putting my own Punk! on nitro this year.
Anything by Cambridge
- Cambridge Brewing (of Cambridge, MA) showed up with several beers and they were all great: Biere de Gourde (a pumpkin Biere de Garde), Great Pumpkin Ale (standard pumpkin ale with local organic pumpkins), and the amazing OPP (Olde Pumpkin Porter - an attempt at the old colonial pumpkin beers, except delicious. Spent a year in bourbon barrels, with cinnamon and ginger, and chewed on by Brett and Lactobacillus, finished in new oak. Outstanding! We were all down with OPP. I've never had any of their beers before but will certainly stop by if I'm in MA any time soon.
- This year's beers were: their standards Night Owl (pumpkin ale) and The Great Pumpkin (Imperial Pumpkin Ale), plus Hansel & Gretel (Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner), Kaiser Kuerbis (Pumpkin Hefeweisen), Jackobite (Barrel-Aged Scottish Pumpkin Ale), Mr. Yuck (Sour Pumpkin Ale - 10 months on Elysian's sour ale blend), 8472 (Dark Sour Pumpkin Ale - wow. Just wow.), Bete N' Owl (A sortof spicy hybrid of Night Owl and Bete Blanche Tripel), Dark O' The Moon (Pumpkin Stout). And of course, the big pumpkin.
- Allagash sent over a single keg of their Ghoulship that was tapped after the big pumpkin at 5:00 on Saturday of the festival. In a 15 bbl brew: 300 lbs of pumpkin and 200 lbs of pumpkin seeds. No spices. They cooled it on Halloween night 2008 in their cool ship (a big shallow metal trough used to allow traditional beers to cool using cold night air and often to allow critters to land in the cooling beer, as in a traditional lambic.). Inoculated with All Hallows Critters it then got Allagash's house strain and was aged in used Chardonnay barrels. Out. Of. This. World.
- Iron Hill Brewery (DE) Bruce Camp-Ale. For making a beer in tribute to The Chin.
- Nodding Head Brewery (PA) Ich Bin Ein Pumpkiner. For having the balls to make a Pumpkin Berliner Weisse.
- Silver City (Silverdale, WA) Punk Rauchin'. For having a humorous name and the balls to make a Pumpkin Rauchbeer (and making it actually good...). Almost all the beers had excellent names.
- Big Time (Seattle) Sasquash. For being a great blend of a pumpkin ale and a barrel aged strong ale, and being in the bullpen when Pie Hole ran out.
I should stress that throughout the day I didn't have a bad beer, and even my least favorites were quite drinkable.
BREWDAY: Punk! 2009
So here's this years' version of my annual pumpkin beer. I change it a bit each year but I'm pretty happy with the current incarnation. It begins with pumpkins. Pie pumpkins. Four of them. Or, if you're me and you run out of space on your cookie sheet you can go ahead and use three. Split them, seed them, place them in the oven (on a silpat or foil) at 350 for an hour and a half or so until they're squishy. Scoop the goo out and mash it up. You're shooting for 4lbs. You can use canned pumpkin instead if you're lazy.
This year I did something different too. Based on a conversation with Dick Cantwell about how the Elysian does Night Owl, I used the pumpkin seeds as well. While the pumpkins were roasting I cleaned the goo off all the seeds, then roasted them until toasty brown. Also remember: no oil anywhere, it will kill the head retention. On brewday I ground the seeds up a bit (they're hollow and will float, irritatingly, if you don't) and used them in place of rice hulls to help the sparging of the pumpkin. Also, I am trying to use up my grain stockpile, so I had to sub some things out at the last minute. Hence three base malts, pale would be fine.
Finally, pumpkin is a bitch to brew with and I hate it. Sorry, but that's the truth. You get almost no sugar from it, Randy Mosher lists it as 1.005 gravity points per pound in Radical Brewing, and it is full of water. And it turns to goo and can be difficult to sparge. So basically I underestimated the water content of the pumpkin this year and it really messed up the mash, making it way too thin and seriously hurting my efficiency. Oh well, c'est la vie.
5.25 Gallons, All Grain. 90 minute boil.
Est OG 1.065. Actual OG 1.056. Stupid Pumpkin.
Est ABV 6.3%. Actual ABV 5.5%. Stupid Pumpkin.
- 3 ½ lbs roasted pumpkin goo
- 4 oz rice hulls or pumpkin seeds
- 4 lbs Maris Otter malt
- 2.5 lbs Weyermann Pale malt
- 2.5 lbs Vienna malt
- 8 oz Special Roast
- 4 oz Caravienna
- 4 oz Crystal 60
- 4 oz Melanoidin malt
- 1.25 oz Yakima Goldings (leaf, 4.2%AA) at 90 minutes
- .75 oz Yakima Goldings (leaf, 4.2%) at 30 minutes
- Whirlfloc tablet at 15 minutes
- 1 lb Brown Sugar (preferably dark) at 15.
- Yeast was repitched slurry of Wyeast London Ale III (Boddington's yeast) fermented cool, 64-66 as my basement is staying right now.
Mashed at 152 for an hour. Wouldn't skip the knock-out step on this one, pumpkin goo, so bring it to 168 before sparging.
Water Modification: ½ t gypsum, ½ t salt, 2 t chalk, 1/4 t Epsom salts.
Now on to the spicing. I've tried putting spices in the boil. I've tried it in the secondary. The best way I have found to add pumpkin pie spice to a pumpkin ale is to soak it in alcohol while the beer ferments. So I picked up some Pumpkin Pie Spice from World Spice Merchants and soaked it in some Buffalo Trace bourbon for a couple weeks. When this goes into the keg tomorrow I'll add the spiced bourbon to taste. Add just a bit more than you think you'll need, it will be muted when the beer is colder. Then nitro!
Here's the post for Punk! 08 as well if anyone is interested.
On nitro this beer is AMAZING. Add a grate of fresh nutmeg on top of the foam...