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.
The 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.
I 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.
Style: Pumpkin Saison
Brew Date: August 13, 2013
Serve Date: September, 2013
Original Gravity: 1.073
Final Gravity: 1.002
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
1.5 oz East Kent Goldings @ 60 min
1 oz Willamette @15 min
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
Belle Saison Dry Yeast