Fall is here! The weather is crisp and cool! It's time for a pumpkin beer!
While the commercial world has had its pumpkins out for months -- this year we picked some up in early September -- the homebrew world is not so constrained. As a brewer, I delight in turning seasonals on their heads, brewing farmhouse beers in winter by opening the appropriate heading duct; making Maerzens that come out in October; and flooding the world with pumpkin beer well after the prime pumpkin season.
So it is with no regrets, qualms, or reservations that I will be brewing a pumpkin beer this week. Alas, the local brew shop is closed on Mondays, or I'd be starting tonight, but my random assortment of grains isn't up to the task the way it was last time. (I'd consider the amazing Oktoberfest brewed two months ago to be a triumph of grain remainders, as I pulled together 16 gallons by buying just 2.5 pounds of grain.)
Pumpkin beer apparently has quite the history in the US, and I'm only happy to add to that history by producing Yet Another Pumpkin Ale. It is, after all, my wife's favorite, and the spices let me tinker with the base recipe without significantly affecting the final flavor.
That having been said, this year will be something of a departure. Where previously I had used a "standard" ale recipe -- mostly 2-row with a small amount of caramel and cara-vienna for some texture and color to back up the pumpkin -- this year it's going to be the Winter Warmer recipe.
In the commercial world, this is a mortal sin. I'm not only changing the recipe, I'm shifting it dramatically from a purpose-built pumpkin ale to simply a winter ale with some pumpkin and pumpkin spice in it. Seems like quite the change.
But I have good reason for doing this. And besides, this is homebrew, where experimentation is one of the delightful benefits.
So why the shift? This is predicated on two very simple, but very compelling, arguments.
First, the pumpkin beer is so heavily doctored that the base ale simply needs to provide a backbone. There's nothing fancy about this, and indeed the more complex the base flavor, the worse off you are, because ultimately the pumpkin spice and pumpkin will overwhelm it. This is even true in he small spice volumes I stick to (~1-2 tsp of spice total per 5 gallons; this is about 1/6 of what many online recipes call for).
But why the winter? Because that's my favorite of the season. And since it's relatively high-alcohol, I can make a mini-mash with pumpkin only, add it to a part of the winter mash, and have a full 2-batch brew in a single go. The only problem, then, will be partitioning the wort appropriately, either before or after the boil.
All that having been said, though, Thanksgiving is still pumpkin time. So shut your pie hole!
Mash out. Spin on.