Great Pumpkin Beer Festival

Posted on October 10, 2011

What should a good pumpkin beer taste like? Obviously, from the selections at Elysian’s Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, held at their new production facility in Georgetown on October 8 & 9, it can taste like anything the brewer wants it to.

Brewers started with some well-known wheats, porters, stouts and saisons, and gave them a pumpkin persona and came up with some interesting concoctions.  Some added mashed pumpkin to the boil, some added it during fermentation. Some did both. Some added traditional spices, and others . . . umm, did something else entirely.

  The Beer Advocate describes “pumpkin ale” this way:

Pumpkin Ales are quite varied. Some brewers opt to add hand-cut pumpkins and drop them in the mash, while others use puree or pumpkin flavoring. These beers also tend to be spiced with pumpkin pie spices, like: ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. Pumpkin Ales are typically mild, with little to no bitterness, a malty backbone, with some spice often taking the lead. Many will contain a starchy, slightly thick-ish, mouthfeel too. In our opinion, best versions use real pumpkin, while roasting the pumpkin can also add tremendous depth of character for even better results, though both methods are time-consuming and tend to drive brewmasters insane. Source: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/style/72

At the Great American Beer Festival, there is a category for Field Beers, which is pretty much dominated by pumpkin beers. I used this experience to base my prejudices on when evaluating the offerings at this festival.

The winners this year at the GABF in the Field Beer category were:

Gold Medal Upslope Pumpkin Ale from Upslope Brewing Co. in Boulder, Colorado. http://upslopebrewing.wordpress.com/ Silver Medal Pumpkin Ale from BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery – Chandler, AZ Bronze Medal Turnip the Beets from Bull & Bush Brewery in Denver Colorado.

I asked a couple dozen people at the event on Sunday what they thought of the beers they tried. Most made the observation that many of the beers did not have much of a pumpkin taste or aroma. None hit the mark of a beer that actually tasted like pumpkin pie – that is, combined the sweetness and the spices and smooth mouthfeel of what eating a slice of pumpkin pie (with whipped cream, please) would taste like.

Let me separate the expected experience from the actual event, so you can make a clear decision on whether to mark this on your calendar for next year. The event was dead-on good, in my opinion, for the following attributes:

  • Good selection of beers from local and out of state brewers
  • Killer snifter glass with commemorative logo (real glass!)
  • Great t-shirts
  • Plenty of room to sit and visit and compare notes
  • Awesome new production facility for the Elysian guys to show off
  • Good selection of food to help soak up the brew – also good places to eat close by for the post-event feasting
  • Generous pours to sample
  • Pumpkin carving to help keep designated drivers entertained
  • Pumpkin tapping event was a big hit (ya gotta stay for that)

It gets low marks for:

  • On-site parking availability – even on a Sunday you had to walk a good distance to the event, and the fact that Airport Way S was all torn up did not help matters.
  • Industrial setting (jets and trains came by a little too often – but a lot of people thought it was cool to see them – I especially liked it when the Dreamliner (787) came in for a landing).
  • Lack of a truly outstanding pumpkin ale.

Maybe it is just me, but I was hoping to find not just a pumpkin flavored beer, but a slice of liquid pumpkin pie. I had a couple at GABF that were really good. The Pumking from Southern Tier Brewery in New York probably came the closest to fulfilling that experience. However, my daughter, a gastronomic guru and budding chef, said that it tasted more like pumpkin flavored jelly bellies than pie.

Also, pumpkin pie is not sour – yet there were several saisons with a little spritz of pumpkin being tapped. Nor is it smoked, nor infused with bourbon (although I kind of liked those, but the pumpkin flavor actually was more of a supporting player). I am not saying there were not any good beers being served. There were many good beers there. Just not very pumpkinny ones.

Thanks Elysian for the event.  As you can see, the people looked like they were having fun, and that is what it is all about.

Here is a recipe for making your own pumpkin ale:

Ingredients for 5 gallons (19 L)

10 lb (4.54 kg) American six-row pale lager malt
1 lb (0.45 kg) Crystal/Caramel malt (20-40 Lovibond)
7 – 10 lb (3.2 – 4.5 kg) whole pumpkin
2 oz (56.8 g) Williamette whole hops (at 75-90 minutes): 10 HBU
1/2 oz (14.2 g) Cascade whole hops (at 75-90 minutes): 2.5 HBU
1 oz (28.4 g) Mt. Hood hops (at 0 minutes) (aroma)
1 tsp (4.7 g) ground cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, chopped
1/2 tsp (2.3 g) freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp (1.2 g) ground allspice
1/2 tsp (2.3 g) ground dried ginger
1/4 tsp (1.2 g) powdered Irish moss
2 packages of liquid ale yeast, or dry yeast, or an equivalent yeast starter
3.4 oz weight (96 g) corn sugar or 4.6 oz weight (130 g) dried malt extract for 2.25 volumes of CO2 (for bottling)

Details on the brewing process are available at: http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/pages/community/news/show?title=its-the-great-pumpkin-charlie-papazian

Photos by Bob Shoemaker and Kelly Shoemaker
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