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General Category => General Homebrew Discussion => Topic started by: kgs on November 06, 2010, 05:42:43 PM

Title: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 06, 2010, 05:42:43 PM
So I made a small-batch all-grain pumpkin brew a couple of weeks ago and at this tasting it's meh. The mouthfeel is nice, the color good, and it's very clear... but very bland. I used Brewing Classic Styles' recipe and I don't fault it; I think two things may be at work here:

* Under-spicing... I tipped in just a tiny bit more spice last night and will do this successively until I get a hint of spice (better under than over). My spices are fresh enough and my cinnamon is really excellent, so this surprised me, especially since I am sensitive to over-spicy beers.

* Possibly under-hopping? This is where my question really comes in. I know this is a low-hop beer, but it just tastes really, really unhoppy. I used East Kent Goldings and went by AAUs (which are one of those things that we go on by faith anyway).  I'm wondering, would it make sense to dry-hop a little more in the beer or would that be all wrong? I have EKG as well as some other miscellaneous hops sitting in the freezer (Columbus, Chinook, etc.) though I suspect those would be misplaced in this beer... but suggestions welcome.

I guess I also expected this beer to be a little sweeter. It went from 1.070 to 1.020, btw, and everything about its fermentation looked normal. Its mash numbers were spot-on too (and I calibrated my thermometer that day as well).
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: Joe Sr. on November 06, 2010, 06:04:43 PM
I had to "spice up" my pumpkin beers the last two years.

What I've done is soak the spices in vodka and add it a bit at a time until the flavor is where I want it.

You want the hops low, so that the spices are at the forefront.

My feeling is that adding the spices in the boil drives off flavor as does fermentation. 

You'd probably have to jack up the spices in the boil to compensate, but you don't want to over spice, so correcting post-fermentation is the way to go.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 06, 2010, 06:19:27 PM
I had to "spice up" my pumpkin beers the last two years.

What I've done is soak the spices in vodka and add it a bit at a time until the flavor is where I want it.


Thanks; I will make a vodka potion. I've seen that referenced. I imagine the leftovers make a pretty interesting martini :)
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: beveragebob on November 06, 2010, 11:15:51 PM
IMO I think Trader Joes Pumpkin pie spice is the best going on and quite affordable. I put 4-6 teaspoons in the last thirty minutes of the boil then 2-3 tsps right in the keg and it comes out perfectly. I always hop below 20 IBU's for this beer. I modeled my beer after Shipyard's Pumpkin Head Ale.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: gordonstrong on November 07, 2010, 06:22:14 AM
When you say "unhoppy", do you mean not enough hop aroma/flavor or not enough bitterness?  Dry hopping won't help the latter.

I'd be wary of fiddling with hops and spices at the same time.  In beers with a spice presence (even if provided by yeast, like in a hefeweizen), the hop character is kept intentionally low so as to not clash with the spices.  Adjust the spices first and then decide if you need to tweak the hops.

If you meant late hops, again, do the spices first and see if it needs it.  I prefer to have the spices come through cleanly and not try to mix in with hop aroma.  It's a tough balance to get right since clashes and muddy character is always a possibility.

Some "warmer" spices (like cinnamon) can provide some heat that can balance malty sweetness (as in food).  Consider this if adjusting the bitterness.  Cinnamon oil can be used, but beware that a little goes a long way and it tastes like atomic fireballs.

You can use vodka to soak spices or make a tea with them.  Wrap them in cheesecloth and pour boiling water over them and let steep for 5 minutes, then drain.  Either way, blend in the liquid to taste.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 07, 2010, 02:48:31 PM
When you say "unhoppy", do you mean not enough hop aroma/flavor or not enough bitterness?  Dry hopping won't help the latter.


I meant not quite enough hop aroma and flavor. Thanks for your advice... I made a spice "tea" with vodka and ground spices and will delicately tweak the ale every day until it has the spice depth I'm looking for.

By the way, I enjoyed the photo of you in the latest Zymurgy (33:6, Nov/Dec 2010)--Scaldis is my favorite beer of all time and I love the idea of actually getting to drink it in Belgium!
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: gordonstrong on November 07, 2010, 04:17:34 PM
By the way, I enjoyed the photo of you in the latest Zymurgy (33:6, Nov/Dec 2010)--Scaldis is my favorite beer of all time and I love the idea of actually getting to drink it in Belgium!

Thanks.  I like it too, and it's better by the boot!

Getting to try the Scaldis Prestige straight from the barrel didn't suck either.

And while several breweries sell their own cheese, this one also sold its own sausage (saucisson, the dried kind).

I love Belgium.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 08, 2010, 03:41:07 AM
I loved Belgium back in the 1980s, when Uncle Sam sent me to the western border of Germany for a free 2-year trip. I drank the beer but didn't pay attention.

Meanwhile, doctoring the brew day by day seems to be working. It's still a little under-spiced. I adjusted my potion to emphasize the nutmeg and allspice over the cinnamon, which seemed to predominate, and tomorrow I'll add another dose of spicing, then leave it be until next weekend, when I bottle.

Thanks for all the help!
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kramerog on November 08, 2010, 04:25:07 PM
Meanwhile, doctoring the brew day by day seems to be working. It's still a little under-spiced. I adjusted my potion to emphasize the nutmeg and allspice over the cinnamon, which seemed to predominate, and tomorrow I'll add another dose of spicing, then leave it be until next weekend, when I bottle.

Doctoring day by day can result in overspicing.  It often takes a few days for the spice components to fully dissolve or develop.  I usually wait about a week between spice additions. 
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 08, 2010, 04:36:17 PM
Meanwhile, doctoring the brew day by day seems to be working. It's still a little under-spiced. I adjusted my potion to emphasize the nutmeg and allspice over the cinnamon, which seemed to predominate, and tomorrow I'll add another dose of spicing, then leave it be until next weekend, when I bottle.

Doctoring day by day can result in overspicing.  It often takes a few days for the spice components to fully dissolve or develop.  I usually wait about a week between spice additions. 

I can definitely wait... thanks.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: Wheat_Brewer on November 10, 2010, 01:51:01 AM
In addition to what everybody else has already suggested, I've found that Vietnamese ground cinnamon and some freshly ground nutmeg will go a long long ways in tweeking that flavor you might be looking for.  I suggest staying away from any ground cinnamon found in your common grocery store...pay a few extra cents per bottle and get the highly aromatic and powerful stuff found at a specialty store. 

Out of curiosity, did you use can or whole pumpkin?  I've found that only a rare few (and congrats to those of you who are those rare few) can get a strong pumpkin taste from whole pumpkin. 
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 11, 2010, 12:26:35 AM
In addition to what everybody else has already suggested, I've found that Vietnamese ground cinnamon and some freshly ground nutmeg will go a long long ways in tweeking that flavor you might be looking for.  I suggest staying away from any ground cinnamon found in your common grocery store...pay a few extra cents per bottle and get the highly aromatic and powerful stuff found at a specialty store. 

Out of curiosity, did you use can or whole pumpkin?  I've found that only a rare few (and congrats to those of you who are those rare few) can get a strong pumpkin taste from whole pumpkin. 

It's Vietnamese cinnamon--a recent gift from a friend--really nice. I was thinking about grating some fresh nutmeg since what I used was probably a year old. My allspice is very fresh.

I used organic pie pumpkins bought that morning at the farmers' market. I quartered them, microwaved them, scooped out the flesh, then put the flesh in the kettle, not the mash, and I also simmered the skins to make a gallon or so of "pumpkin tea" to add to the sparge water. The pumpkin flavor is elusive but there, but the ale definitely has that nice mouthfeel I associate with pumpkin beer. (I may be the only one who detects this, but I pick it up in every pumpkin ale I've tried.) I'm assuming my SG was a little higher than expected because of the natural sugar and carbs in the pumpkin.

I agree that canned pumpkin can taste more pumpkin-y...some people take mashed pumpkin and cook it down again to get a more condensed flavor. If I were to do that, I'd put it in a baking pan and bake it at 250 degrees for a while, stirring now and then (sorta like making baked apple-butter, for anyone who's done that--my grandmother made apple butter that way). I cooked and froze more pumpkin this past weekend, so who knows, I might do that... perhaps a Thanksgiving morning brew, since I'm not cooking this year. Or I could use canned pumpkin... only my brew friends would know. :-p
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 12, 2010, 04:04:48 AM
Update: the spicing is almost there, and the beer tastes sweeter, which is interesting. I am guessing the spices bring out any sweetness. It also has that really nice mouthfeel (slick? full?) I really like in pumpkin ales. I also tipped in a tiny bit of fresh(er) nutmeg I purchased yesterday that was very fragrant.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: gordonstrong on November 12, 2010, 04:08:09 PM
Sounds great.  So you're happy with how it's been tweaked?  No need to revisit hopping?

Just for fun, try a drop of vanilla extract in a pint and see if you like it.  Penzey's or some other good extract, not artificial stuff.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: richardt on November 12, 2010, 04:24:30 PM
Is cold steeping effective at extracting spice flavors and aromas?

I recall other threads that debated the merits of cold steeping versus hot steeping or mashing darker/roasted grains (e.g., barley malts).  Does the same apply to spices?

This thread has a lot of good tips that may also apply to holiday beers/winter warmers. 
I see GS has an article in BYO this month about it.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: Joe Sr. on November 12, 2010, 04:29:27 PM
I've got my little jar of vodka and spices for my Christmas ale sitting in the fridge.

I don't think I've ever done them at room temp, but it probably doesn't hurt.

I leave the spices in vodka for a couple weeks or so to extract the flavors.  I don't think it's an immediate thing but something that takes some time.

Hot extraction is not something I've tried for spices.  I would be worried about driving the alcohol out of the vodka and perhaps some of the aromatics from the spices.  The alcohol keeps the vodka sterile, of course, and is not intended to spike the ABV of the beer.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: gordonstrong on November 12, 2010, 04:30:05 PM
Is the BYO issue out?  I don't subscribe and never heard any feedback after sending the article in.

I don't like cold steeping spices in beer (adding them in the secondary like dry hops).  I find it often has a raw or dusty flavor, and can pull out tannins.  If steeping cold, I'd go the vodka route.  If hot, make a tea.

If you cook, think about how spices taste differently if they've been heated or not.  If you were making a curry, would you add your spices first and bloom them in the oil, or would you sprinkle them on at the end?  How different do you think it would taste?

Personally, I don't like the raw taste of spices, so I try to bring them out with heat.  Not too much; just enough that they give up their best aromatic and flavor qualities.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: richardt on November 12, 2010, 04:37:02 PM
The BYO mag just came yesterday or the day before.  I had a little time to kill this a.m., so I speed-read it before heading out the door.  I'll reread it later for the details.  Looked good, though.  And just in time for the holidays.

Good insights about the spices--it helps to know how to use them and why.  Thanks.

Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 12, 2010, 09:07:28 PM
Sounds great.  So you're happy with how it's been tweaked?  No need to revisit hopping?

Just for fun, try a drop of vanilla extract in a pint and see if you like it.  Penzey's or some other good extract, not artificial stuff.

Yep, no need to revisit hopping! This advice thread has been great.

I actually tried a drop of vanilla in a sample last week... not bad. (Using a high-quality vanilla paste.)  Divided on whether I want it in this beer.  However, I have been thinking that my next brew session would be an oatmeal stout with (decaf) coffee and vanilla. Or maybe cacao nibs and vanilla.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: morticaixavier on November 12, 2010, 10:02:56 PM
I have been thinking that my next brew session would be an oatmeal stout with (decaf) coffee and vanilla. Or maybe cacao nibs and vanilla.

Don't use decaf! decaf is almost always made from inferior beans so the price can be inline with the full caf and it still has caffeine, just less, about half as much. Unless you can find a decaf that is significantly more expensive than the regular from the same roaster it's just not worth it. go ahead and use regular if your going after the pure flavor.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 12, 2010, 10:55:26 PM
I have been thinking that my next brew session would be an oatmeal stout with (decaf) coffee and vanilla. Or maybe cacao nibs and vanilla.

Don't use decaf! decaf is almost always made from inferior beans so the price can be inline with the full caf and it still has caffeine, just less, about half as much. Unless you can find a decaf that is significantly more expensive than the regular from the same roaster it's just not worth it. go ahead and use regular if your going after the pure flavor.

I was planning to use Peet's: http://www.peets.com/shop/coffee_decaf.asp (http://www.peets.com/shop/coffee_decaf.asp)

Their decaf coffees are quite tasty. Due to what my doctor calls the "a-word" (aging) I cannot have more than one cup of the real thing, and Peet's decaf actually makes me think I'm drinking real coffee.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: morticaixavier on November 12, 2010, 11:26:16 PM
I have been thinking that my next brew session would be an oatmeal stout with (decaf) coffee and vanilla. Or maybe cacao nibs and vanilla.

Don't use decaf! decaf is almost always made from inferior beans so the price can be inline with the full caf and it still has caffeine, just less, about half as much. Unless you can find a decaf that is significantly more expensive than the regular from the same roaster it's just not worth it. go ahead and use regular if your going after the pure flavor.

I was planning to use Peet's: http://www.peets.com/shop/coffee_decaf.asp (http://www.peets.com/shop/coffee_decaf.asp)

Their decaf coffees are quite tasty. Due to what my doctor calls the "a-word" (aging) I cannot have more than one cup of the real thing, and Peet's decaf actually makes me think I'm drinking real coffee.


Sorry, didn't mean to sound like a coffee nazi. I love coffee and don't mind decaf at least if it's a dark roast but I prefer lighter roasts and I find that decaf in those tastes flat and cardboardy. Haven't had the peets though so perhaps. just remember if you can't have more than one cup of regular you shouldn't have more than 2 cups of decaf.
Title: Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
Post by: kgs on November 13, 2010, 12:33:44 AM
Actually, I almost never drink decaf anyway -- not that I don't like it, it's just that after I have my cup of regular Peet's at home, I then have herbal tea at work, out of habit. But you got me thinking, because the purpose of using decaf in this batch is to make it possible to enjoy coffee + beer, which I would only be able to do if I make beer my breakfast beverage (which is kinda hard-core). No doctor has put me on a caffeine-limited diet, but I have found that the second cup of coffee (or its equivalent in sodas, etc.) is what keeps me up at night.

According to Wikipedia, decaf has a lot less caffeine -- it's not caffeine-free, but in most cases it's much less than half  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decaffeination#Caffeine_content_of_decaffeinated_coffee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decaffeination#Caffeine_content_of_decaffeinated_coffee) That's what I'm going for: not completely caffeine-free, but not a jolt, either.