Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pumpkin Beers Invade Ann Arbor in Time for Halloween

It's the time of year when pumpkins are everywhere: by the side of the road, at supermarkets, on porches — and in your beer. Many craft breweries have enthusiastically embraced the seasonal popularity of America's favorite gourd, and local brewers have jumped on board the hay wagon, too, with creative beers aimed at capturing fall in a glass. But you'd better hurry if you want some: Most breweries make only one batch, and it's gone faster than you can say “jack-o’-lantern.”

Grizzly Peak in downtown Ann Arbor has been making a pumpkin beer since at least 2001, with the current version, Klevenkop Ale, featuring an unusual ingredient: candy corn.

“Klevenkop is Flemish for ‘severed head,’ appropriate for Halloween, and is actually our Biere d’Automne, an amber fermented with Belgian yeast, that we put in casks with roasted pumpkin and spices,” says head brewer Duncan Williams. “Candy corn is one of those ingredients that’s subtle. If it’s done properly you should not be able to pick it out until someone tells you.” He expects Klevenkop to be on tap Oct. 29.

A few blocks away, Tim Schmidt of Blue Tractor takes a more “traditional” approach by adding 50 pounds of pumpkin puree along with pie spices — nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger — to a brown ale to produce Gourd to Death.

“This is the fourth year we’ve made a pumpkin beer, but for the first two years the base beer was a porter,” says Schmidt. “People expect it now; they’re already asking for it.” He says it should be on tap Oct. 29 and anticipates it will last no longer than a week and a half.

For years beer lovers noted how funny it was that despite its name, Dexter’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales didn’t make a pumpkin beer. That all changed in 2008, when head brewer Ron Jeffries created La Parcela No. 1 Pumpkin Ale at the behest of Dick Cantwell of Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Co., which hosts a pumpkin beer festival every year.

“He really wanted to feature whatever our take on a pumpkin beer would be,” says Jeffries. “We brew with real pumpkin — a little over 5 percent of the mash by weight is pumpkin — add gentle spicing and make liberal use of cacao. The idea behind it was to create something special for a friend.”

La Parcela is a sour ale aged (with more pumpkin) in oak barrels, which makes it markedly different from other pumpkin beers. It’s available on draft and in 750 ml bottles at the Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery in Ann Arbor and also distributed nationally beginning in mid-October.

On the west side of town, Wolverine State Brewing also offers a unique take on the style with Cucurbita Smiles Pumpkin Lager, which adds vanilla into the mix. This is the second year Wolverine has put out the beer, and head brewer Oliver Roberts continues to fine tune the recipe.

“The philosophy was let’s try to get pumpkin flavor and balance it with traditional pie spices, but we’re not going for pumpkin pie,” he says. “This year we added more pumpkin puree with hot cinnamon sticks and nutmeg. We condition it for about two weeks in a tank with around 250 chopped up vanilla beans. Vanilla’s not something you find in a pumpkin pie recipe, but it’s a pretty common baking ingredient so we thought it fit.”

Roberts says he’s pleased with this year’s edition, which has some burnt candy sugar flavors from the caramel malt and a dry, crisp finish owing to the spices and use of Wolverine’s house lager yeast. It is currently on tap.

Arbor Brewing’s Night Stalker Pumpkin Cream Stout has been available around Halloween for only the last three years, but it’s been well received. Originally created by former head brewer Bill Gerds, it’s brewed with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg plus lactose to give it body and sweetness.

“We do it for Halloween every year, and it’s gotten great feedback,” says manager Dave Clark. “What sets it apart from a lot of other pumpkin beers that have a ton of spices like nutmeg is you get a little of the spice up front — there’s actually no pumpkin in it — but it definitely finishes as a stout.”

Night Stalker is also on tap now, and Clark estimates it stays on for about nine days.

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