In words of the great Ladies Love Cool James, "Don't call it a comeback."
It's time for me to start writing again. I want to start by saying thank you to all the loyal readers. I've received countless emails and comments(yes, I'm definitely still alive) over the past year with nothing but nice things; you guys rock. I have to admit, I underestimated the ebbs and flows of writing(or any long term hobby) until I hit a bit of a lull. If anything it's a testament to some of those blogs that have been going consistently for the better part of a decade; it's not easy. With that said, the keys are clicking again.
I've spent the past couple weeks thinking about how to get the gears in motion, and finally I decided to just document the past few brew days, and start moving forward again. Truthfully, the details about brew days from 6 months ago, and how those beers tasted are getting a bit fuzzy. I take detailed brew day notes, but not detailed enough to write about them here.
In terms of what's new with me: The wife and I had two awesome weeks in Europe, I started a new job, the storage tank on my RO system took a crap, Summer sucked, the Sun Devils and Cardinals are KILLING it, and it's finally Fall here in Phoenix. With that out of the way, let's get back to what we all care about: the beer.
Pumpkin beers are pretty ubiquitous these days, and not to sound pretentious, but most suck. First, the seasonal creep is past the point of ridiculous now. I dont want pumpkin flavored things in August. It's still an oven in Arizona in August, and a humid oven at that. I'm not thinking about pumpkins or pumpkin flavored things. Secondly, most pumpkin beers are entirely overspiced, over sweet, and just not that good. (Don't even start with Southern Tier Pumpking. That fake, cloying marshmallow/vanilla flavor is disgusting.) As I step off my soap box, I will say there are some breweries that make some amazing pumpkin beers. Four Peaks here in Tempe has a Pumpkin Porter that's fantastic. They've made it for years, and while some years are a little better than others(it's hard to dial in those spices), they tend to always get it right.
I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me sooner, but a robust porter just makes a better base for a pumpkin beer than an Amber-ish beer does. The roasty notes blend well with the pumpkin flavors, and the creaminess that pumpkin meat adds makes the porter that much better.
In terms of developing a recipe, I started with a Porter that I brewed a few years ago. I like to spread the roasty flavors between a couple different malts, so I kept that theme going. I've been using Carafa III quite a bit in my dark beers lately, and I also cut out all hop additions except for the bittering. I'm making a 10 gallon batch this year, as it's nice to have on-tap throughout the Halloween/Thanksgiving season.
The brew day itself was kind of a mess. I forgot to buy rice hulls this year, and I don't think I need to remind anyone that canned pumpkin makes for a sticky mash. I had to stop the pump and stir the mash probably about 15 times during the hour-long mash. With that said, I was able to hold the mash at at least 150* for the length of the mash. After that, things proceeded normally. A 60 minute boil was followed by a quick chill down to pitching temps. I pitched WLP090 yeast from a Coffee Milk stout brewed the week before (we'll talk about that in an upcoming post), and both fermenters fermented out pretty quickly.
10oz Black Patent
10oz Chocolate Malt
8oz Carafa III
90oz Pumpkin (canned)
Mash @ 151*
32g Apollo @ 60
1tsp Vanilla @ Flameout
Spice Blend (1tsp Pumpkin Spice, 3/4tsp All-spice, 1/4tsp cinnamon) @ Flameout
WLP090 - Super San Diego
During Kegging/Bottling(per keg): 1/4tsp Pumpkin spice, + 1/8tsp cinnamon, 1/8tsp All-spice
Once fermentation was complete, I kegged both fermenters, and added the additional spices. These carbed up for a couple weeks before the first one went on tap.
Let's quickly take a minute to talk about spices, as they are probably the most critical part of getting a pumpkin beer right. I use a Pumpkin spice blend that doesn't have all-spice in it, hence the added all-spice. The spice blend is also about 2 years old. Keep in mind the spice additions listed are for a 10 gallon batch, and you might consider going a little light on spices. Mine are a little old, and you can always add more at kegging/bottling. It's very easy to add too much spice, and getting that right is definitely the most important part of this beer. Exercise some caution.
As for the how the beer turned out: pretty awesome. This is definitely the best pumpkin beer I've yet to make. The beer is black with ruby highlights with a light tan head. The aroma is chocolatey malts first, followed by some soft pumpkin spices. The flavor is pretty similar to the aroma. Smooth chocolate/roasty notes followed by pumpkin spices. The canned pumpkin, while adding little to no flavor, adds quite a bit of body and creaminess to the beer. Overall the beer is well balanced, and very drinkable. I had no intent to clone Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter, this beer compares quite well. My beer has significantly more body, which makes me wonder how much pumpkin they use. Nonetheless, it's a pretty good idea what this recipe tastes like.
Well, that will wrap up this post. Stay tuned for a couple more posts from recent brew days, and other recent musings. Thanks again everyone. It feels good to be back.