Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The best pumpkin beers...

The infamous pumpkin keg.taste like pumpkin pie - 33%
I've never had one I liked - 24%
have just a hint of spice - 24%
taste like pumpkin - 9%
are historic/colonial/sour - 7%

Pumpkin ale is a style that has some historical basis, but the cinnamon/nutmeg/ginger pie inspired creations are a relatively recent phenomenon. Colonists added pretty much anything fermentable they could get their hands on (molasses, spruce, various root vegetables) to augment or replace the malts they had. It is hard to tell what these original beers tasted like, but Randy Mosher provides his take on one in Radical Brewing.

As the poll indicates, not many people want gourd to be the primary flavor in their beer. This isn't a bad thing since it can be tough to use enough pumpkin to get that subtle earthy flavor into a beer, which is probably the reason so many brewers go heavy on the pumpkin pie spice. I'm not a fan of most of the standard, highly spiced, amber pumpkin ales that flood the market this time of year. I've had better luck with those based on dark beers like Cape Ann Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout, Midnight Sun TREAT, and St. Arnold Divine Reserve #9. The roast tends to cut the spices and provide more "beer" character. I've been meaning to re-brew the Chocolate Pumpkin Porter I made on a whim three years ago, but I missed my chance again this year (I have a chance to make another pumpkin keg either).

Talking to Ron Jeffries at Jolly Pumpkin for an article I am researching about American spontaneous fermentation for BYO he mentioned that this year he boosted the spicing in La Parcela (his sour pumpkin beer) just because he was sick of people complaining that they couldn't taste them. I don't know, when I brewed a Butternut Squash Sour Brown a few years ago I aimed for threshold levels of cinnamon and nutmeg, which seemed about right to me. Alphine's Ichabod from 2007 and 2009 was another great sour pumpkin beer, a revelation when I first tried it. The sample of Allagash's Ghoulschip (bottles of which were just sold for the first time) I had last year was good, although I was disappointed that it wasn't especially sour (while it is cooled in their coolship it is then pitched with ale yeast).

Between pumpkin ale and Oktoberfest fall seasonals aren't something I look forward to much, but happy to take suggestions in the comments if anyone has a favorite pumpkin ale.

14 comments:

convictus said...

If you can find the New Belgium lips of faith "kick" was a sour pumpkin cranberry that was fantastic. I had it on draft, but it is available in 22oz out on the west coast.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I heard Kick made it to DC, but I haven't seen it. I'll certainly grab it if I do.

Adam & Allie said...

Hey man, why post a poll and then just talk about sour pumpkin beers? Yes, I know you're a sour brewer - just wondering why you posted the poll instead of just discussing pumpkin beers, particularly sours?

Paul! said...

Heavy spicing doesn't do much for me, but dialing in a grain bill that approximates all the sweet/caramely/biscuity/pie crust type flavors you get in a pumpkin pie is what gets me excited to brew a pumpkin beer each year.

Paul! said...

have you had DFH's Punkin, or Southern Tier's Pumking, and what are your opinions on them? While not a fan of either of these breweries everyday line ups I think their pumpkin beers are the best commercial examples I can get in my area.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Most of the posts on this blog are centered around a recipe or a tasting or have a real point. These polls give me a chance to ramble about another topic in response to the general sentiment people express. I don't know what my response will be until I see the results.

I thought Pumking and Punkin' were both solid, the Southern Tier in particular had that pie crust character you mentioned. Haven't had either in years, might be worth revisiting.

Gareth said...

I had the Allagash Ghouleschip this year, and I thought it was more sour that the previous year. I'm not sure if it's just a single batch and a year older, but that'd make sense.

Cambridge Brewing Co. had their pumpkin festival this past week; for anyone who's unsure if they like pumpkin beers needs to attend that. Their sour pumpkin porter, OPP, is crazy delicious! Plus there are another 20+ pumpkin beers there.

Michael said...

If you liked Divine Reserve #9, they recently released it again as a seasonal called Pumpkinator. I've had both and it seems they really dialed it in with Pumpkinator.

Anonymous said...

youre in the DC area right? i heard theres a brewery there (DC Brau?) that just came out with a pumpkin porter, supposed to be very squashy, light on the spices

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I am in DC, haven't had Fermentation Without Representation (but DC Brau does great stuff so I'll be on the lookout).

Eighth Wonder of the World said...

I had Pumpkinator out of a cask. It was surprisingly smooth for such a high ABV beer. The flavor was well balancedl however, I heard some people thought the bottled versions were too heavily spiced.

Anonymous said...

I had two bottles of ST Pumking this season at my wife's request. Very much like liquid pumpkin pie. I wasn't that into it but she was! They did a nice job of masking the high octane nature however.

I had La Parcela last week and thought that it was a nice sour with fine Brett flavor but for me I couldn't find the pumpkin flavor.

I too liked NB Kick and bought a case. Again, no pumpkin flavor but great cranberry sour!

Matthew said...

I thought Kick was fantastic. My favorite squash beer (not technically pumpkin) is Hair of the Dog Greg. Really nice hopless beer, the squash brings an almost pilsner type quality to the beer. Try it if you can make it to the tasting room or Higgin's restaurant in PDX.

Anonymous said...

I'd be willing to trade NB Kick for another interesting sour....

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