Wednesday, September 26, 2012

One more from the pumpkin patch

Staying with the topic of pumpkin beers for a little bit ...

A very big thread that runs through craft beer finds brewers surveying the landscape and looking for ideas they can use to create a beer. (OK, yeah, that's how a lot of life works – drawing upon influences to produce something you call yours.)

Pro brewers do it; so do homebrewers. Call it homage ... call it borrowing. Call it knowing a good idea when you see it.

Sal Emma and Terry Leary, a homebrewing duo from Cape May County, fit all three.

Making a pumpkin beer and adding the usual pie spices to the rim of the glass, like salt on a margarita glass, sounded like a worthwhile technique to Sal, who encountered it when he was served a pint of pumpkin beer at Sweetwater Tavern, a Northern Virginia brewpub, a few years ago.

The idea sounded pretty good to Terry, too, and thus, their fall pumpkin ale was born last year. A couple of weeks ago, the pair went about the business of reprising it for this autumn, brewing it in their 2-barrel setup, using sweet South Jersey pumpkins in their mash and some honey in the boil.

(This past spring, the two won a homebrewer contest sponsored by the Tun Tavern and At The Shore weekly entertainment tabloid published by The Press of Atlantic City newspaper. See the accompanying video below. Terry and Sal followed up their contest-winning robust porter with a killer IPA that could give Tröegs Perpetual IPA a run for its money.)

Some background ...
Sweetwater, a restaurant-brewery in Sterling, Va. (with a couple other restaurant locations), began making the pumpkin ale a year after opening its doors in the mid-1990s.

Brewer Nick Funnell, the guy who's been in charge of Sweetwater's beers since the beginning, mashes with pumpkin and adds a blend of traditional pumpkin pie spices in the brew (the spices come from a merchant local to the brewery).

And for a garnish – the part that stuck in Sal's mind – Nick says the serving glasses are rimmed with roasted pumpkin seeds and more pie spices to, well, spice up the drinking experience.

The glass trick, as you can imagine, lets the drinker control the spice experience, either by constantly rotating the glass for more, or drinking from the same spot for less.

Because everyone's palate is different and personal preferences matter.

That's the part fresh in Terry's mind. His preference is for less spice, as in just pumpkin in the mash. The spices go on the glass.

"We grind up (salted) pumpkin seeds," Terry says, "mix the ground seeds with nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon – create a dry mixture of that – then reduce apple cider to a semi-thick roux, dip the glass to about quarter inch in, then dip it in the seeds and spice."

Notes Sal: "We grind 'em real coarse because you want to be able to chew the pumpkin seeds."

For their 2-barrel batch, they started with about 160 pounds of grain – Briess 2 Row, some biscuit malt (you want that pie crust notion), some caramel malt and special roast. To that mash, they added 30 pounds of pumpkins bought from a Cumberland County farmstand. (Last year, they used Libby's canned pumpkin.)

"The pumpkin variety is Long Island Cheese, also know as Cheese Wheel, an heirloom known for its sweetness," Sal says. "They were grown by the Bertuzzi family in Vineland. The seeds from those pumpkins will be in the glass-rimming treatment. Even the seeds are sweet."

The pumpkin adds a some color to the beer, Sal says, "a little bit of essence of pumpkin. It's not a real pumpkiny beer. Terry thinks it's more an aroma kind of thing."

In the boil, they added 15 pounds of honey (hops included Chinook, Willamette and Centennial, with a dash of homegrown Cascade at the very end for aroma) for a beer (around 6% ABV) that is shaping up fine, with that pumpkin essence in the nose.

"(The) beer smelled and tasted great at racking," Sal says, "very malty, not over the top
in hop bitterness but a nice, long hop finish."

Halloween's not far off; neither is their beer.

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