Plumpkin (2011) and Plumpkinstein Tasting Notes

20140726-133831-49111347.jpgThis is not going to be good. I’m pretty sure. I’ve been thinking about dumping what is left of these beers for a long time but I’ve been waiting to do these tasting notes and make a decision. I expect both to be gushers, so the two beers will probably end up being less volume than my usual one beer tasting notes. Okay, time to stop stalling and go pour these beers…

Original Post: Plumpkin Ale

Brew Date: August, 2011

Original Post: Plumpkinstein
Brew Date: September, 2011

Pleasant surprise, no gushers. The Plumpkinstein did start foaming, but I was ready with a glass and I didn’t lose anything. The two beers are almost identical amber colors but Plumpkinstein has a ton of floaties… probably pumpkin.20140726-133831-49111656.jpgTaking a whiff, the Plumpkin actually smells okay. It is a little spicy, but it seems like a nice pumpkin pie mix, no one spice sticking out too much. Plumpkinstein is all cinnamon on the nose. Oh ha… and I just noticed there is definitely some cinnamon floating on the foam. That explains that.First sip of Plumpkin and it is odd but not entirely unpleasant. The spice is still there along with some slight Crystal Malt flavor. It has a strange metallic flavor, though. I’m not sure what that is. This is not nearly as bad as I was expecting, though. It tastes like an old pumpkin ale. The age shows and the flavors are muted, but it isn’t the oxidized disaster I was expecting. Time to try the Plumpkinstein.20140726-133831-49111971.jpgThis is much spicier. It is mainly cinnamon, but I’m picking up some nutmeg as well. There is nothing behind the spice. That isn’t good, but it’s not what I was expecting. Especially after seeing all the floaters, I was afraid this would taste like a rotten pumpkin. Instead, it tastes kind of like seltzer water with cinnamon. It has extremely high carbonation, I’m surprised it didn’t gush and that prickly carbonation may be part of the reason I’m not tasting much. The bubbles almost sting when they hit the tongue.

Back to the Plumpkin. Especially after the other beer, this really isn’t too bad. As it is warming up a little bit, I am getting some of old-beer-cardboard character in the finish, but there is enough spice to keep it from getting too bland. I know my expectations were insanely low, but this shockingly drinkable.

Plumpkinstein again. This is not good. The cinnamon is so overpowering. I swear I feel it coating the back of my throat. I don’t remember this being the case originally, I don’t know why it has aged in such a way for one specific spice to completely takeover the beer.

20140726-133832-49112303.jpgBoth beers are down to a few sips left. You know what that means. Time to mix them. Pouring them together got me another big head. It looks clean, though, no pockets of cinnamon.

Despite that, it still tastes mostly of cinnamon. There is some malt backbone now that wasn’t there for the Plumpkinstein on it’s own. This is exactly what I’d expect from mixing these beers together. It is better than the Plumpkinstein on its own but not as good as the Plumpkin.

Going back to my intro, I am thinking that Plumpkin is worth holding onto. It is definitely a couple years past it’s prime, but it still works as a pumpkin ale. The Plumpkinstein, on the other hand, will likely be getting dumped. I think there about six of them in the basement, so it is not a big loss. I still have some beer left, but I don’t I have much more to say. If you have some really old homebrew in the basement, give it a chance. You may be surprised.

Plumpkin Ale Saison (2013)

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After brewing two batches of pumpkin ale in 2011 and having a ton leftover, I skipped 2012 and decided that the next time I brewed one, it would be designed to age well. By the time I got to brewing Plumpkin Ale 2.0 in 2013, it had evolved into a 9+% ABV saison with pumpkin, oats, spices, vanilla and brown sugar.

Despite calling it a saison, other than the yeast, this is closer to other pumpkin beers than farmhouse ales. The sugar and oats work for either style, but most of the rest of the fermentables are much closer to amber pumpkin ales. Right down to the base grain, a mix of American and English Pale Malt, where as a saison would normally have Pilsner for the base.

Beyond the base grains, I used a blend of Belgian specialty grains. These grains; Munich, Aromatic and Cara 8, originate from Belgium, which I used as justification for putting them in a saison, but they add up to an amber ale. They are also more plentiful than I would use in just about any beer now. Three specialty grains, two base grains plus oats all add up to too much going on in a beer that is supposed to be more about the pumpkin spice. They did create a wonderful color, though.

I added a full 64 oz can of pumpkin to the mash, which may have added to the great orange hue, but I’m not really sure how much of an effect it had. That goes not only for the color, but for the beer in general. You can supposedly get some sugar converted from pumpkin in the mash, but this was early in my all grain brewing career and I’m not sure if I actually achieved that.

IMG_20130813_162552The pumpkin did have definite effect of giving me my first stuck mash. It ended up taking me a couple hours to collect my wort during run off, which was huge pain, but is minor compared to some horror stories I’ve heard. In the end, my efficiency wasn’t very good, but I got my wort and got on with the brew day.

For spices, I added three cloves and two teaspoons of ginger during the boil then three more cloves and a teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg in secondary fermentation. I also added a vanilla bean during secondary. In the future, I would probably move all of the spice additions out of the boil and into the fermenter. I think the results are more predictable that way. Adding the spices before fermentation will cause you to lose a lot of their character from all of the yeast action going on. How much will depend on how crazy fermentation is. Rather than add the spices directly to the beer, I would probably make a tea with them, making it easier to sample and get the ratios right, then adding the tea. It may still be hard to figure out how much flavor you are adding, but at least you can get the balance of different spices right. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more clove flavor in this beer, despite adding more cloves than anything else.

plumpkinI decided to use Belle Saison dry yeast for this beer. It was fairly new, at least to my local shop, at the time and I was excited to try it. Ultimately, I wasn’t crazy about the results. It may have just been overwhelmed by everything else, but I didn’t get much character from it. It did dry the beer out extremely well, though. After a disappointing mash efficiency, I still ended up with more alcohol than I planned on because it finished so much drier than I expected.

I posted my tasting notes for this beer yesterday and covered some of the things I’d do differently, but I’ll collect my thoughts here and then, hopefully when I brew version 3.0 next year, you can see how much my opinion has changed again and see how it all works out.

First of all, I’d strip the grain bill down. I’d get rid of all the Pale Malt and replace it with Pilsner. I’d maybe keep the Munich and get rid of everything else. I really love the color of this beer, but it’s not worth ruining the flavor. Pilsner, Munich, Oats and brown sugar. The sugar in this was only about 6%, so I would definitely raise that. Probably double it.

I realize now that I haven’t mentioned the hops at all. I bittered with Goldings and added Willamette for flavor. I would probably sub out the Willamette for some Noble hops. You could probably skip the flavor addition all together. There is enough else going on that the balancing bitterness is all you really need from the hops.

For all the Juju that makes this a pumpkin ale, I’d move things around quite a bit. I’m not sure how much the pumpkin in the mash did other than slow things down, so I’d probably either move it to the boil to try to get some flavor or just skip it all together. I’d move all the spices to secondary fermentation. I’d mix them in a tea and then add it to the fermentor. I may even start with pre made pumpkin pie spice, which I would have thought of as lazy in the past, but the truth is, I’m not an expert in pie making and sometimes it’s best to realize where your strengths are just leave the rest to the professionals.

I’ve talked about using Saison II yeast, but I’d also consider using an Abbey style yeast. I’ve just brewed a hefeweizen and a tripel using Chimay’s yeast and I plan to experiment with more of these yeasts throughout the rest of the year, maybe a saison isn’t necessarily the best Belgian beer to emulate here. I do plan to make something else called Plumpkin next Fall, but it may end up being as different from this beer as this is from my first Pumpkin Ale.

plumpkinlabelStyle: Pumpkin Saison
Brew Date: August 13, 2013
Serve Date: September, 2013
Original Gravity: 1.073
Final Gravity: 1.002
ABV: 9.4%
IBUs: 35

Fermentables:
7 lb American Pale Malt
3 lb Maris Otter Pale Malt
3 lb Belgian Munich
1 lb Belgian Aromatic
1 lb Oats
.5 lb Belgian Cara 8
1 lb Brown Sugar

Hops:
1.5 oz East Kent Goldings @ 60 min
1 oz Willamette @15 min

Juju:
3 Cloves @ 15 min
2 teaspoons Ginger Root @15 min
1 teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg, three more cloves and one vanilla bean in secondary
64 oz of baked canned pumpkin in mash

Yeast:
Belle Saison Dry Yeast

Plumpkin Ale Saison (2013) Tasting Notes

20140724-214758-78478117.jpgI am doing this a little different this time. I haven’t written about the making of this beer yet, that will be coming tomorrow. Maybe it will be interesting to read the tasting notes before knowing how the beer was made? We’ll see. This is a hybrid between a pumpkin ale and a saison that I brewed last fall, here are my tasting notes.

This is a beautiful looking beer. It is so very orange. Clear, perfectly carbonated and… orange. Not amber, it is orange. The aroma is immediately cinnamon with a bit of nutmeg.

It doesn’t taste like a saison. This is the first thing I notice. I don’t like this yeast, although it is likely more in how I treated the yeast, I just don’t like the character I got from it. It is very dry, but it’s sort of harsh. Not alcohol harsh, just dry and wine like. Old, bad wine. Maybe some band aid flavor?

The spices come through a bit, mostly nutmeg after a brief hint of cinnamon in the front. In the back of the mouth, there is more spice, this time a pumpkin pie mix. All jumbled together, I can’t really pick out individual spices, which I guess is what you usually want. I’m not getting much clove, which I’ve said is what I liked in my first pumpkin ale. I would definitely like to up the clove in this if I did it again. Maybe cut back on the nutmeg a bit, too.

The dryness mixed with the malt flavor seems strange. There is some Marris Otter in here and I’m thinking it might be better to just stick with Pilsner Malt for the base of this beer if it’s going to get saison yeast. There is a lot of malt character here and I think that it is fighting with the fermentation character and that might be part of the problem I have.

There is just too much going on in this beer. I like the idea of a pumpkin spice saison, but I think I tried to carry over too much from other pumpkin beers. I would like to give this another try but strip it down to basically be a standard saison recipe with pumpkin spice added. This is more of a pumpkin ale with saison yeast added.

There are not a lot of hops noticeable in this beer. More hops, less malt, different yeast… This beer is definitely not a failure, it is just a rough draft. I plan to brew a new version next year and I think I can make some huge improvements.

In the mean time, I have close to a case of this version left and it is aging pretty well. At 9.4% ABV, there is not alcohol evident. The spice may have calmed down some, I don’t have a clear memory of how intense it was last year, but it is still noticeable but not intrusive now. I’m trying to get the last bit of this beer to warm up some before I finish it to see how much it will change with that.

As I’m waiting, I am looking up the band aid flavor. It looks like that may have been caused by my water, this was pre-filter. It comes from chlorine or bleach based cleaners reacting with the yeast. I don’t normally use bleach except in extreme cases, but my tap water, which I was still using at the time I brewed this does have chlorine. Maybe I’m too quick to blame the yeast, but with my current love affair with White Labs’ Saison II, I don’t think I’ll be going back to Belle Saison anyway.

Okay, it has warmed up a bit and the character has definitely changed a bit. I don’t know that it is for the better, though. It tastes even maltier. I am getting some cookie or graham cracker flavors on the front of my tongue. While this may be good in some beers, it just doesn’t work here. I’m still not getting much alcohol, though, which is slightly surprising.

I’m just about done with the beer. To summarize, this is a good first try, but the recipe still needs a lot of tuning up. The water, I think may be an even bigger problem. If I didn’t have so much of this left and I hadn’t learned my lesson in 2011, I would be very tempted to give this another shot this year, alas, though it will have to wait for 2015.

Black and Orange

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If you haven’t noticed already, yes, I went a bit overboard on the pumpkin beer in 2011. This third beer from that Fall was not actually a fully separate batch, but a blend of two other batches. I mentioned yesterday that I fit four gallons of Plumpkinstein into a hollowed out pumpkin. The other gallon was blended with a gallon of Buddy’s Stinky Dog Coffee Stout to create Black and Orange.

Coffee stout and pumpkin ale seemed like a natural combination to me. Pumpkin spiced coffee is always popular around the same time that pumpkin ale is, so this was the next logical step. I had carbonation issues with this beer, but the flavor was very nice.

I have thought about revisiting the idea multiple times, a premixed pumpkin spiced coffee stout was actually on my brew schedule for this year for a while before I decided to try a few Abbey beers instead and knocked a bunch of other stuff off my list.

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more beers with this idea. I know there are several pumpkin stouts but I think the coffee element is crucial. I’m sure there are some out there, but I haven’t tried them.BeerLabelBlackAndOrangeIf you really want a recipe for this, you can look at the two separate posts for the beers that were blended, but I’d recommend just adding pumpkin spices to a coffee stout recipe instead. I would go light on the roasted malts and heavy on the coffee, allowing most of the roast to come from that. Maybe include some Crystal Malt to give some sweetness and body. This is definitely an idea worth experimenting with.

Plumpkinstein

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For some reason, I didn’t think that one batch of pumpkin ale in 2011 would be enough. I also decided that I wanted to try my hand at coming up with my own beer recipe, but didn’t think I was ready to jump in without some guidance. Finally, I thought it would be fun to ferment beer inside a pumpkin.

I took those three ideas and came up with Plumpkinstein. The recipe is only slightly altered from Plumpkin Ale (aka Midwest Supplies’ Pumpkin Ale kit). The biggest change being that I opted to use all Mount Hood hops instead of using Cascade for aroma. I didn’t have a good grip on many hop varieties, but I knew that Cascades were associated with Pale Ales and IPAs and I didn’t think I wanted any of that character in this beer.

But yes, the major excitement for this beer was the fact that it went through secondary fermentation inside of a pumpkin. I cut off the top of the pumpkin, scraped out the guts as best as I could and then filled it with boiling water. This sanitized it and also gave me an idea of how much liquid I could fit inside. It turned out to hold about four gallons. The other rest of this five gallon batch went into another project, Black and Orange, which I’ll cover tomorrow.

IMG_20110919_165840I brewed the beer in the same manner as Pumpkin Ale, with an indeterminate amount of spices and pumpkin, then gave it a normal primary fermentation. After about a week in the bucket, I prepared the pumpkin as described above and racked the beer into it. The top of the pumpkin was replaced, along with an airlock stuck into it and the pumpkin and beer sat undisturbed for just under two weeks. I noticed that the pumpkin was starting to show signs of aging at that point and I decided it was probably time to get the beer out of there, so I racked to my bottling bucket and bottled it.

This beer had a great, fresh, vegetal pumpkin flavor. It was less pumpkin pie and more pumpkin patch. The aroma of a fall day in a beer. Fresh, it was fantastic. It did not age well at all, though. There are definitely hunks of pumpkin in this beer and the alcohol does not seem have been enough to keep them preserved. After a couple months, it was already showing serious signs of aging.

IMG_20110929_171330That said, yes, of course I still have some and of course I will be doing some tasting notes on three year old bottles soon. My recipe is below. I think the recipe could use some serious updating, but I think the idea of fermenting in a pumpkin is a good one, given that you are going to be drinking the beer pretty quickly. I would like to try it again some day, maybe next year.

BeerLabelPlumpkinsteinStyle: Pumpkin Ale
Brew Date: August, 2011
Serve Date: September, 2011

Fermentables:
6 lb. Gold liquid malt extract
8 oz. Caramel 10L

Hops:
1 oz. Mount Hood @ 60 min
1 oz. Mount Hood @ 2 min

Juju:
1 lb brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, cloves and canned pumpkin all added to end of boil.

Yeast:
Nottingham Ale Dry Yeast

Plumpkin Ale (2011)

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My first pumpkin ale came very early in my homebrewing career. It was my fourth overall batch. At the time, I had only brewed from kits I ordered from Midwest Supplies and that continued with this batch. The kit, though, did not come with pumpkin and reviews advised that the spices provided were not enough for a very distinct character, so it this was the first time I added any of my own twists to a kit.

I bought canned pumpkin and added extra cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. My notes were not good (okay, I wasn’t really taking notes…), so I’m not sure how much of each, I do remember the cloves came through the most, which I liked at the time. I added the spices and the pumpkin to the to the end of the boil.

There was a small issue with the pumpkin. I ordered it online. 100% pure organic canned pumpkin… for dogs. I didn’t notice that last part until it arrived. On brew day. It was pure pumpkin and it tasted fine. I’m not sure what is different to make it specifically for dogs, but knowing the way people treat their pets, my guess is that if anything, it was of a higher quality and more pure than pumpkin for people.IMG_20110902_115259

Other than that, I used the ingredients provided in the manner described in the instructions. This is your basic, standard amber pumpkin ale and it turned out pretty well. The cloves come through the strongest, as I mentioned. I think this gave it a bit of distinctness that was welcome. In 2010, I got the pumpkin beer bug and went through a ton of several different breweries’ offerings. I expected to do the same in 2011 with my homebrew, so I made another batch shortly after this first one with some key differences. I will post about Pumpkinstein tomorrow. For now, the recipe (minus key details about spice and pumpkin additions) is below.

BeerLabelPlumpkinAle2Style: Pumpkin Ale
Brew Date: August, 2011
Serve Date: September, 2011

Fermentables:
6 lb. Gold liquid malt extract
8 oz. Carapils
8 oz. Caramel 10L

Hops:
1 oz. Mt. Hood @ 60 min
1 oz. Cascade @ 2 min

Juju:
1 lb brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, cloves and canned pumpkin all added to end of boil.

Yeast:
Munton’s and Fision Ale Dry Yeast