Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Punktastrophy: The Redemption!

Early this fall season I published a post about the cursed pumpkin brew that Mike Lebben and myself attempted to create on the night of the Harvest Moon.  Follow this link for a recap of our epic brewing adventures.  Though told in over-the-top style, everything in that post truly happened, and it seemed that the disgruntled pumpkin gods were against us.  Mike continued his overseeing of the 10 gallon batch of Imperial pumpkin ale over the following month. 

Mike served his spiced version of the tainted brew to thirsty parents on Halloween from a giant pumpkin with a spigot.  Take THAT disemboweled pumpkin! 

I finally had a chance to visit Mike at his Wandering Eye Brewery for an official tasting of the beer.  Let's just say I was suitably impressed with the results, especially considering how many things went wrong with our process that could have resulted in a terrible beer! 

First I had a taste of the un-carbonated and un-spiced ale my from my half of the batch.  Remarkably after as much pumpkin slurry as we had in the wort, this sample is crystal clear!  A deep orange in color to nearly brown.  In the aroma I noted an earthy or peaty smell with a hint of maple syrup.  The flavor was sweet without being cloying and had a lot of real pumpkin flavor.  I sensed a subtle maple flavor at the end of the taste.  I was very excited about the blank canvas I now had to work with! 

Mike next  poured me a sample from his kegged and spiced version for a comparison.  Here is my official review along the same lines as the other pumpkin beers I have been blogging over the past two months.

Mike's Harvest Moon Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Aroma: I get strong nutmeg and ginger in the initial whiff of this beer.  A more restrained cinnamon comes out with swirling, mixing with a bit of apple ester to give a spiced apple cider aroma.  No hop aroma noted.  Some sweet malt and very subtle maple is also gleaned from this sample.
Appearance: Very deep orange to nearly brown in color.  There is a slight haze which is most likely chill haze based on the crystal clear room temperature version I sampled prior.  Not any hazier than the other commercial pumpkin ales I've tried.  This sample had very little head when poured, but I could rouse some fine white head with swirling.
Flavor: Somewhat sweet and very malty up front, but not cloying in the least.  Some melanoidins giving a toasty flavor.  I can pick up distinct ginger, allspice and nutmeg in the flavors.  This ends somewhat dry with a slight astringency that is tempered by the maltiness.  Slight alcohol warming as it goes down, but pleasant not distracting.  Medium mouthfeel.  I do pick up true pumpkin flavor in this beer, lurking in the background behind the spices.  No hop flavors. 
Overall: A remarkably balanced beer, especially given its troubled past.  A high alcohol beer, this has a pleasantly malty mouthfeel and warming finish suitable to the cold nights in Minnesota's November.  A bit more carbonation would be welcomed, and is easily fixed by putting it on more CO2.  Mike did a great job with the spicing, (making a tincture of spices in vodka) and it really enhances the pumpkin flavor rather than overwhelming it.  This is in my top tier of pumpkin beers that I have tried this season!  4.25 out of 5 (down from 4.5 due to low carbonation.) 

Next up is my version:

Eric's Pumpacolypse Brau:  I picked up my half of the batch from Wandering Eye Brewery and took it home very carefully!  Tasting the un-spiced base beer was very interesting--I could really pick out the pumpkin flavor, as well as a hint of the dark maple syrup that had gone into the fermenter.  I made a tincture of Penzey's spices including cinnamon, allspice, clove, powdered ginger and nutmeg, soaking them in some cheap vodka that I usually use to fill my airlocks.  After 24 hours in the booze, I ran the whole mix through a coffee filter and into another sanitized jar.  I then slowly added this to the kegged (but not carbonated) beer, tasting as I went.  When the flavors seemed right I finished kegging the beer and put it on gas to carbonate.  The result was right where I wanted it, but I had reserved some of the tincture in case the flavors faded once it was carbonated.  Based on my likes and dislikes from all the commercial examples I've tried, I went for a minimal approach.

Aroma: A subtle mix of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.  Sweet malt and pumpkin flesh is strong after the initial zap of spices.  A hint of maple syrup and caramel. 
Appearance:  Just a tiny haze in this deep orange colored beer.  Carbonation was a bit light, but brought out a fine white head with swirling.
Flavor: Similar to Mike's version (obviously) in malt forward notes.  I do pick up the maple flavor, but on the back of the tongue.  The spicing is mild, but I can pick up nutmeg, clove and some ginger off the bat, with cinnamon trailing behind.  Medium bodied with some pleasant alcohol warming effect.  A mild astringency at the finish, but balanced well with the maltiness.  Carbonation is still not completely where I want it, but still higher than Mike's version.
Overall: Similar to Mike's version, but spices are a tad less prominent.  I really like this beer and managed (to my wife's chagrin) get through most of the keg at my birthday party.  4.5/5

I am very impressed with the way this beer turned out, in the face of its troubled past!  I would love to do this one again next year, with some changes in process.  First off, cut down the pumpkin a bit--just too much in there.  Increase the rice hulls to a ludicrous amount.  Cut the recipe from a 12 gallon to a 10 gallon to leave more room for additional rice hulls, water, etc.  This batch really overwhelmed the capacity of Mike's system the way we did it. 

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