Author Topic: Perking up a pumpkin brew  (Read 1300 times)

Offline kgs

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Perking up a pumpkin brew
« on: November 06, 2010, 10:42:43 AM »
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).
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Offline Joe Sr.

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2010, 11:04:43 AM »
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.
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Offline kgs

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2010, 11:19:27 AM »
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 :)
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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2010, 04:15:51 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.

Offline gordonstrong

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2010, 11:22:14 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'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.
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Offline kgs

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2010, 07:48:31 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 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!
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Offline gordonstrong

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2010, 09:17:34 AM »
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.
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Offline kgs

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2010, 08:41:07 PM »
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!
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Offline kramerog

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #8 on: November 08, 2010, 09:25:07 AM »
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. 
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Offline kgs

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #9 on: November 08, 2010, 09:36:17 AM »
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.
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Offline Wheat_Brewer

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #10 on: November 09, 2010, 06:51:01 PM »
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. 
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Offline kgs

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2010, 05:26:35 PM »
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
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Offline kgs

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #12 on: November 11, 2010, 09:04:48 PM »
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.
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Offline gordonstrong

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #13 on: November 12, 2010, 09:08:09 AM »
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.
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Offline richardt

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Re: Perking up a pumpkin brew
« Reply #14 on: November 12, 2010, 09:24:30 AM »
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.