Many brewers are finding other ways to kick up their pumpkin beers a notch or two, adding specialty malts and fermenting to alcohol levels of 7, 8 or 9 percent by volume. Imperial pumpkin ales are almost as common as normal-strength versions. A few innovators are romancing the pumpkin even further through barrel-aging and wild fermentations.
Last year, DC Brau teamed up with Epic Brewing in Salt Lake City to brew Fermentation Without Representation Imperial Pumpkin Porter. DC Brau wasn’t able to fit the brew into its schedule this year, but Epic is sending 22-ounce bottles and kegs our way, assures Mallika Filtz, Epic’s communications director. The porter is made with dehusked Carafa malt and chocolate malt, which lend a richness without an acrid aftertaste, and is spiced to be “reminiscent of freshly baked gingerbread,” says Filtz.
Boston Beer, meanwhile, has released the malt-forward Fat Jack Double Pumpkin, brewed with a pinch of beechwood-smoked malt. There’s not enough to give the beer the bacon-maple aroma of German rauchbiers — just a hint of burning leaves in the finish.
Is it better for brewers to use canned pumpkin or whole fruit? That’s a matter of contention among brewers and beer bloggers. Evolution Brewing in Salisbury, Md., gets pumpkins for its Jacques Au Lantern fresh from a local market; Evolution’s Wally Hines says that produces a “more subtle, realistic” pumpkin flavor. Evolution ferments with a Belgian yeast strain that adds a gentle fruitiness to the layers of spice.
Rogue Ales in Newport, Ore., introduced its Chatoe Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale last year. The beer, according to Rogue President Brett Joyce, will resurface in early October in a bright orange 750-mililiter bottle. Part of Rogue’s GYO (“grow your own”) series, the ale was made with organically grown pumpkins plucked from a two-acre patch next to the brewer’s hopyard in Independence, Ore., sliced, roasted in a pizza oven and plunged into the brew kettle.
“I don’t think anyone could brew on the scale we do using whole pumpkins,” says Nathan Arnone, public relations director for Southern Tier Brewing in Lakewood, N.Y. He estimates the brewery will ship about 8,000 barrels of its imperial-strength Pumking during August and September, more than 10 percent of Southern Tier’s entire output for 2012. Using drums of pureed pumpkin eliminated a lot of grunt work and enabled the brew crew to pump out beer before this year’s crop ripens, satisfying retailers who want the product on their shelves before Labor Day.
Use of puree doesn’t appear to adversely affect the flavor. Greg Engert, beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, calls Pumking his favorite example of the style, praising it for its “graham cracker” flavor and “great whiffs of vanilla that remind me of whipped cream.”