Pumpkin Beers

Pumpkin beer: a controversial topic! Some brewers hate the idea, some love it. But the real question may be are you looking for the spice of a pumpkin desert or are you trying to taste pumpkin, the squash itself? Two of our veteran bloggers took on the task of tasting as many pumpkin beers as they can, and just in time for your Halloween night (a stormy one at that). Your choice, open your sack of candy or open a pumpkin beer and get ready to read. Here is what they say:

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
Always my number one choice, the spices of this beer are so relative to a pumpkin pie, I feel like it is pure, 100% liquid alcoholic pie coming rolling down my throat. Draft or bottle. I’ll always pick this every time.

Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale
This was my first year trying Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale. At a pumpkin ale takeover at Union Brewing Company, the barrel aged paired well with the pumpkin and still had a nice blend of spice. Generally barrel aged beers hold a smooth vanilla taste to my tongue, and I think it compliments this beer like whip cream on pie.

Southern Tier Pumking
The great PumKing! I tracked this bottle down in Chicago, and bought two bombers of it. It has been on tap locally around Indianapolis, but the bottle is still nicely spiced. A little more reserved than Schlafly’s but still wonderful. I’ll be saving my other bomber to next year.

Heavy Seas – The Great'er Pumpkin
A bomber found in Big Red Liquors in Broad Ripple, I was pleasantly surprised. It was darker, still nicely spiced. Not over powering with the nutmeg, but drinking this with food, pair well which a lot of pumpkin ales seem to overpower food with the spice.

Hoppin Frog – Double Pumpkin
Another bomber found out of state, but it is available in Indiana as well. This was very similar to The Greater Pumpkin in spice and also in color.

Jolly Pumpkin – La Parcela – No 1. Pumpkin Ale
This one was interesting because it wasn’t spiced , it was a normal ale, it was more of a sour ale. I’m not sure if it is normally none spiced or sour being this was my first time having a bottle of this beer.

New Belgium – Pumpkick
A new one not only to me, but to the pumpkin ale world. This beer not only has pumpkin spice but also a cranberry splash for a whole thanksgiving meal in each sip. I had a bottle of this at a friend’s house and honestly I think it was too much of a spice and then a tart contrast to really enjoy but I applaud New Belgium for another interesting beer. If I could find it on draft somewhere I’d probably try it again.

Smuttynose - Pumpkin Ale
A newly distributed ale to Indiana, I had this on tap and in the bottle and unfortunately didn’t taste anything relating pumpkin or pumpkin spice. It did have a nice color and pumpkin aroma in the nose.

Blue Moon – Pumpkin Ale or Samuel Adams – Double Pumpkin
Both of these are not complex, simple lightly spiced pumpkin ales. Both from the bottle, both available mostly anywhere, if you like a touch of pumpkin spice, or are curious about pumpkin ales these are a good option to start with.

Local Indiana Beer–

#1 – Bier Pumpkin Ale
Another spiced liquid pumpkin pie, only available draft and it is amazing. Thankfully as Bier grows it is available on draft many places. Anyone in Indianapolis, needs to try this beer.

People’s Brewing Company – Gourdon Pumpkin Ale
up from Lafayette, I had this beer back at UBC for the Pumpkin Tap takeover. It really is incomparable with Bier, both are great spiced, lightly smooth pumpkin beers.

Flat 12 – Flat Jack
I remembered when this was draft only at the brewery and it is now the bottled seasonal available many places. Heavy on the spice, I think the draft is much better than the bottle, because the bottle doesn’t do all the levels of flavor justice.

Cutter’s Brewing Company – Pumpkin Porter
This is my first pumpkin porter, I love Cutter’s Brewing Company but I was expecting a little more of the nutmeg or cinnamon and it was more of just the pumpkin itself in a lightly malted porter.

UBC Infinite Happiness Pumpkin Ale
This was a great flavored pumpkin ale, albeit slightly timid on the spice. Only available on draft at UBC.

It was quite a challenge tasting more than 2 dozen pumpkin beers on tap and a few in bottles but an enjoyable task. The first pumpkin spiced beer I ever had I made fun of and the bartender put whipped cream on the top! Somehow, many of us have grown accustomed to this rather American flair. It is something to look forward to and savor like Oktoberfest beers or Maifest! Here’s my list and comments.

Schlafly Pumpkin: (draft) After enough 12 oz. samples and 2 “taste offs” with other beers, even after chatting with one of the brewers, Schlafly pumpkin beer is my favorite. This offering provides full body, a complex flavor profile with spice, pumpkin itself providing a great malt along with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. At 8% it delivers a pumpkin punch. My short survey of bar owners and bartenders, plus my friend that is a certified cicerone I find many that agree this is a great beer. This Schalfly beer also has the highest rating of any locally available pumpkin beer on Beer Advocate with over 1000 reviews!
Southern Tier Pumpking: (draft) This is the one I twice did a direct comparison with Schalfly finding this less complex and slightly sweeter, rather than just ‘maltier.’ It is a very good pumpkin beer and also an imperial at 8.6%. I can always tell this from Schlafly because it is much lighter in color.

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin: (draft) This coppery orange beer also delivers a wallop with pumpkin and nutmeg. Maybe I like the use of light Munich malt and Hallertau hops along with Willamette or maybe I just like 9% but I do like this and, like those above, I had this more than once.

Shipyard Pumpkin Head: (draft) In comparison to the big brother mentioned above, this one is less flavorful. Having another sample just yesterday, my opinion increased a bit is has low spice level is light in alcohol and also seemed sweet. Both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer raters seem to agree. I only put it in this order for comparison to the Smashed!

Heavy Seas Bourbon Barrel Great' ER Pumpkin: (draft). I got a lot of vanilla before I realized this was the Bourbon Barrel expression of this beer. The bourbon barrel notes with cinnamon, ginger, allspice and clove along with brown sugar. A lot going on in this beer! And at 10%, well you can see I like big beers.

New Holland Ichabod: (draft and bottle) Notes of cinnamon and nutmeg combine with the pumpkin for a fairly good version. It is a bit lighter on the spice than many but was still enjoyable enough that when I saw a 6-pack at a grocery store after having it on draught I used it as one of my nightcaps at home.
Southern Tier Warlock: (draft) this imperial stout brewed with pumpkins as they say is another deep complex beer at 8.6% and reminds you of pumpkin pie and strong coffee!

Jack-o-Traveler Pumpkin Shandy: (draft) So I think it is cool that Boston Brewing, brewers of Sam Adams, funded a new brewery to brew (for now) shandy. I think it is cool that the co-founder of Magic Hat teamed up to run this experimental firm. I think it is great that they pack so much flavor in a 4.4% alcohol shandy with real pumpkin. A friend of mine who loves fruit beer also picked this as a favorite!

Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale: (draft) Yet another big beer, at 10%, this one falls in line with other Alltech Kentucky beer labels being a bit too sweet for me. This is the first seasonal beer ever for them and the first year they’ve produced it and I applaud their effort. It has rich flavor.

Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale: (draft) the newest addition to Rogue beers using pumpkins grown on their hop farm and then immediately roasted for the mash. Spiced with …. Ginger, cloves, vanilla beans, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg this is another complex offering. I am not certain all of that flavor comes through but I love the “no chemicals or preservatives” and the “locally grown” nature of this.

Lakefront Pumpkin Lager: (draft): The only pumpkin lager (so they claim, and the only one I’ve seen) this provides a smoothness. They have a proprietary blend of spices from a local firm and they use real pumpkin.

Red Hook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Stout: (bottle) Read my comments on Cutter’s pumpkin porter below, because it was my opinion of both Warlock and Cutter’s that led me to buy this and have it at home. Complex with maple syrup along with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, this made nice beer to sip on a chilly night at my house! It is in its second year and I hope they keep it around each season.

Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale: (bottle) I like the spice in this beer and, heck, if it really was the first (the Hayward , CA, brewery opened back in 1983) hats off to them for starting a trend. A good one to have at home!

Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin: (draft) so this is really pumpkin beer, NOT spiced beer and is a tribute to the beers brewed by the American colonists. Okay…. Have you scooped out some pumpkin and eaten it? Bland. Post Road Pumpkin reflects that. Brooklyn brews quality beer and this is good beer. Just don’t expect anything like pumpkin pie.

Fat Head Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin: (draft) A big beer at 9% and richly spiced with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, mace, and brown sugar along with pumpkin. This one does well on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate and I enjoyed it.

New Belgium Pumpkick: (draft) I usually love beer from New Belgium as I love their employee owned, wind-powered, bicycle loving brewery. I like the fact that they tried to out-do others with cranberries and lemongrass plus cinnamon and nutmeg and… pumpkin juice. I rarely write this…. But I just do not like this very well. I kind of enjoyed one on tap in Columbus, IN, but when I had one yesterday I just was not excited.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale: (draft) I agree with the brewery statement, “it’s not an obvious pumpkin beer…” spicy, a bit hoppy, a decent beer. I’ve seen it described as a pumpkin saison.

Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale: (bottle) This has a very nice spice level. Yes, this is a big corporate brewer but I am always reminded that Keith Villa, Head Brewmaster, is a Belgian who learned to brew in Belgium. I definitely get the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in this beer and it costs about $1 per bottle in a 12-pack.

And now the LOCAL beers:

Bier Brewery Pumpkin Ale: (draft) This is also my first choice and the secret is the way they spice the beers. This is delicious if you are looking for pumpkin pie in beer! I’ve been told by my cicerone friend that they have a bourbon barrel aged pumpkin porter that is outstanding and to be tapped just before Thanksgiving at the Brewery.

Cutter’s Pumpkin Porter: (draft) the first time I had this on tap I was ready to name it the best local – and maybe it is. I had some from a different keg at a different location that did not deliver quite as much spice as my first. Still, a very nice base porter with richness of pumpkin spice. Actually, from a beer judge standpoint this is exactly what we look for in base beer + fruit.

Zwanzigz Pumpkin Ale: (draft) Columbus, Indiana’s wonderful pizzeria and great brewery produced a very solid pumpkin ale this year. If I could taste the two mentioned above in a side-by-side tasting I am not sure which would win. But the good news is that it does not matter. If you are closer to Columbus than the north side of Indianapolis this may be your best choice for a very good seasonal beer.

RAM Indianapolis Pie’d Piper Pumpkin Ale: (draft) Award winning RAM brewers Andrew and Chris held a great party for the unveiling of this very nice pumpkin beer. This one has very tasty spice levels on a nice base beer.

Rock Bottom (Downtown Indy) Pumpkin: (draft) canned pumpkin with clove, cinnamon, and ginger added to this beer as a very solid local offering from one of Indianapolis most seasoned brewers. Jerry’s tapping received a lot of excitement as people got to try this beer and give it a thumbs up.

Flat12 Flat Jack Pumpkin: (draft) this beer confused me a bit, but I always remember that Head Brewer Rob likes beers a bit different – I would write “off-centered” but that phrase is taken by a bigger brewery. They claim “Indian(a) spices” and I don’t know if there is a spice that is throwing me off. It is good beer. And it is different than others.

Learn to Homebrew Day – November 2nd

AHA-2013 Back in 1999, America was a desolate and barren wasteland due to the lack of amateur brewers. So to rectify the situation, or quite possibly to justify their existence in the universe, the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) launched the annual Learn to Homebrew Day. Now celebrating its 15th year, its safe to say their efforts to revive the country’s homebrew scene have been mildly successful. If you haven’t caught on to the hobby yet, would like to hang out with other brewers and learn a little more, or generally need an excuse to drink on a Saturday afternoon, there will be a number of events and local resources available to help you out. Seeing the actual process in action is a lot better than believing this from the AHA’s getting started page:

Brewing: 2 Hours
If “2 hours” is some type of code for all day; then yes, brewing takes about “2 hours”.
Fermentation: 2 Weeks
Reasonably accurate for most beers.
Bottle Your Beer: 1 Hour
No. Just No.

Here are some state events this Saturday where you can meet nice people who will help get you started:

Great Fermentations
7900 US 36
Beginning Brewing Class (signup required) and informal brewing demonstrations throughout the day
Quality Wine & Ale Supply (with homebrew club M.E.G.A.)
108 S Elkhart Ave.
Contact Name: Krissy (RSVP to krissy@homebrewit.com)
Liquor Locker (with Ohio Valley Homebrewers Association)
4001 E. Morgan Ave
Free brewing demonstrations start at 9:30am
Great Fermentations
5127 E 65th St
Beginning Brewing Class (signup required) and informal brewing demonstrations throughout the day
Tuxedo Park Brewers Supply
1139 Shelby Street
Free brewing demonstration starting at 11am
Valpo Brew’s Brew Out
307 E Lincolnway Blvd.
Contact Name: John Filewich (RSVP to info@valpobrew.com)
Ron Smith’s (with FBI homebrew club)
3793 Castle Rock Dr.

Beer Review: Fountain Square Backyard Porter

OK, so you’re probably expecting to read another Pumpkin beer review this time of year. But unlike some of my colleagues, Pumpkin beers fall firmly in the “little goes a long way” category for my taste; so I’m probably not the person to advise you on where to turn for your pumpkin pie fix. So what to review, what to review…..

Searching for the next beer to review, I discovered a single Fountain Square Backyard Porter tucked away in a side shelf on the refrigerator door. I didn’t recall being blown away by this beer initially, but figured it was a good time to revisit one of my favorite craft styles. Backyard Porter leans toward the characteristics of an English-style Brown Porter, rather than the darker, hoppier, stronger Robust Porter that became synonymous with the American craft beer revolution. But make no mistake, Brown Porters are very flavorful beers in their own right; favoring smooth notes of caramel, chocolate, and coffee over the stronger roasted malt and hop flavors of their American counterparts. I tend to gravitate toward the American styles in most situations like this, but Brown Porter is an exception to that rule and we actually have some excellent local examples of Brown Porter (Oaken Barrel Snake Pit and Iechyd Da Bit Pit Porter come to mind). It’s also one of my favorite styles to homebrew, and is very versatile for experimentation with spices and fruit.

Here is the description from Fountain Square: Our Porter is brewed in the traditional English style. It has a deep brown colour and a creamy tan head. The mouth feel is highlighted with soft notes of chocolate and slight undertones of roasted coffee. Hop bitterness is nicely balanced with the malt and hop aroma very low, typical of the English style. ABV: 5.0% IBU: 18

After pouring the Backyard Porter into a glass, you are greeted with a fairly pleasant but straightforward aroma of bitter chocolate with hints of dried fruit. While a low hop aroma would be expected, the complete absence of any aroma was the first clue I had allowed this beer to age a bit. But the flavor revealed significantly greater complexity with prominent caramel, chocolate, and coffee blended together nicely with some floral hop character still evident in this bottle. While these flavors can be a bit sharp in young beers, they had softened and matured wonderfully in this bottle. There is also a slight note of burnt sugar and bitterness from the malt. While these notes are more prominent in Robust Porters from increased utilization of black malts, there is still a little bit coming through and it distracts from the overall profile of this beer. The finish is slightly sweet, with very little hop bitterness, and a noticeable acidic quality. While the acidity isn’t necessarily expected here, it actually paired pretty well with the low bitterness to give a nice balance to the sweet malt.

Although they are not the monster Barleywines and big Stouts that people typically age for long periods, I’ve found the characteristics of Brown Porter will hold up well over a limited (4-6 months) aging period. Fountain Square Backyard Porter is a good example. This beer probably would have merited a “Worth a Try” rating when fresh, but a bit of age really improved the flavors. If I were looking for something to consume this weekend, the Snake Pit or Big Pit Porter examples would probably be better options. But with a little patience, this beer was very enjoyable and moves up a spot on the scale.

The Verdict [Avoid/Worth a Try/Recommended/Highly Recommended]: Recommended

Cheers, Nathan

Great American Beer Festival Winners

Along with one heck of a big party, the Great American Beer Festival also boasts the largest commercial beer competition in the world. With another record level of participation in 2013, a few Indiana breweries can boast some impressive wins:

Medal Brewery Brand Category
Gold (out of 117 entries) Sun King Brewing (Indianapolis) Afternoon Delight Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer
Gold (out of 89 entries) Three Floyds (Munster) Blot Out the Sun Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Silver (out of 91 entries) Ram Restaurant and Brewery (Indianapolis) Anaheim IPA Field Beer or Pumpkin Beer
Silver (out of 149 entries) Three Floyds (Munster) Permanent Funeral Imperial IPA

In addition, here is a list of winning beers from out-of-state breweries that distribute to our market. Forgive me if I skip Natural Ice and Old Style:

Medal Brewery Brand Category
Gold Boulevard Brewing (Missouri) Love Child No. 3 Wood and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Gold Fat Heads (Ohio) Hop JuJu Imperial IPA
Gold Great Divide (Colorado) Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti Chocolate Beer
Gold Jacob Leinenkugel (Wisconsin) Canoe Paddler German-Style Kolsch
Gold Left Hand (Colorado) Fade to Black Vol. 1 Foreign-Style Stout
Gold Left Hand (Colorado) Milk Stout Sweet Stout or Cream Stout
Gold Left Hand (Colorado) Sawtooth Ale Ordinary or Special Bitter
Gold New Holland (Michigan) Pilgrim’s Dole Old Ale or Strong Ale
Gold Sam Adams Cincinnati (Ohio) Double Bock German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock
Silver Fat Heads (Ohio) Black Knight German-Style Schwarzbier
Silver Fat Heads (Ohio) Trail Head Fresh Hop Ale
Silver Hoppin’ Frog (Ohio) Barrel Aged BORIS The Crusher Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Silver Jacob Leinenkugel (Wisconsin) Leinenkugel’s Creamy Dark American-Style Dark Lager
Silver Mad River Brewing (California) Steelhead Extra Pale Ale Golden or Blonde Ale
Silver New Holland (Michigan) Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Smaug’s Breath Experimental Beer
Silver Sierra Nevada (California) Barrel-Aged Narwhal Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Silver Two Brothers (Illinois) Ebel’s Weiss South German-Style Hefeweizen
Bronze Bell’s Brewery (Michigan) Sparkleberry Ale Fruit Beer
Bronze Boulevard Brewing (Missouri) ZON Belgian-Style Witbier
Bronze Brewery Ommegang (New York) Three Philosophers Belgian-Style Abbey Ale
Bronze Brooklyn Brewery (New York) Brooklyner Weisse South German-Style Hefeweizen
Bronze Flying Dog (Maryland) Dogtoberfest German-Style Marzen
Bronze Moylan’s Brewing (California) Dragoon’s Dry Irish Stout Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout

Note that some of these beers were probably subject to a very limited release, while others are routinely found around the state. Happy hunting!

Books & Brews Kickstarter

I just stumbled across (on Bob's post below) this Kickstarter for a Used Bookstore / Nanobrewery that is planning on opening up on the northeast side of Indianapolis. I have not met Jason, but from the video I'd say the idea sounds quite unique for our city. I for one am always in support of another brewery opening. It looks like the Kickstarter will be ending soon, so I thought I could help spread the word. Anyway here is the link, and here is the Facebook page as well. Go support your local breweries!


Drams and Dribs


1370530393-0“Books & Brews is the Indianapolis area's first combination used bookstore and nanobrewery.” In Indianapolis. Looking for kickstarter money to get started.

Lake Michigan Shore paper reviews “American Psycho” dinner at Three Floyds.

Yet another beer relations chart. Get out your bbbiiiggg screen and start browsing.

Sriracha Vodka?




Brewing at Home with Fresh Hops

While growing hops has not been a major commercial endeavor in Indiana (aside from the new Three Hammers Farms in Knightstown), hops can actually grow quite well for hobbyists in our state. Many homebrewers inevitably get the itch to try this out for themselves. After all, it’s just a plant and that little rhizome looks so harmless, what could possibly go wrong? Well, a little planning always helps when it comes to both growing and eventually brewing with your homegrown bounty. I have a Cascade vine that was planted about five years ago and several homegrown wet-hopped batches under my belt. So this post will offer some tips from my experiences….and maybe save you from repeating a few of my mistakes.

Let’s start with planting your hops. Hop rhizomes (fancy term for root ball) are available at some local homebrew shops like Great Fermentations and online retailers like Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies each spring. If you know another brewer who grows hops, you can also ask them to separate a rhizome from one of their established plants. If you’re looking to purchase a rhizome, plan to look into this early in the spring. You want to get them planted as early as possible, and supplies tend to dry up rather quickly. Plant your newly acquired rhizome in a spot with exposure to plenty of sun from the south. Brewers who are handy and looking for a project can construct a proper trellis for the hop vine to climb on, and equip it with a pulley system and other features. Or if you have a two story house and prefer the lazy way out like I do, a simple nylon rope run from the roofline to an anchor on the ground will get the job done. The roofline will provide a natural barrier to keep a healthy plant from spreading into unwanted areas, but try to keep it away from gutters or other structures that might allow it to venture into new territory. If your vine can find a way to continue climbing, it will (and it loves satellite dishes). Back to the rope, make sure to use pretty thick material and definitely don’t use twine. As your vine matures, it will get very heavy and can snap a piece of twine…..not that I’d know anything about that.

Several inches of mulch around the base of the plant will help retain some moisture during the dryer summer months. Hops will thrive with plenty of rain, but I’ve also found my plant to be surprisingly hearty in dry conditions. The last two summers have brought significant stretches of dry weather, and my vine has required very little watering to continue producing. The first year of growth will produce few, if any, usable hop cones at harvest time, but you can expect incremental increases for the next several years as your plant matures. If you are successful in establishing the initial rhizome, it will take on a weed-like quality and attempt to spread its glory beyond the radius you intended. Keep an eye on this early in the growing season and separate the root wherever you see an unwanted sprout emerging from the ground. The chunk you separate can be discarded, or given to another sucker so they can plant it and learn the joys of trying to control it in a few years.

One of the most common questions is how to know when a hop cone is ready to be picked. I look for cones that have developed a pure green color (immature cones will often have lighter sections), have a papery outside feel, and spring back easily when you squeeze them between your thumb and index finger. Hops past their prime will begin to turn brown, feel dry, and have little resilience when you squeeze them. Hops that are too young will still feel moist on the outside and may have sections of lighter color. When in doubt, smell the hop and use your best judgment. If it smells good in your hand, chances are it will smell and taste good in your beer. Deciding when to harvest your hops can be a bit more art than science. The Cascade plant seems to reach its peak in late August, but I’ve heard other varieties need to be picked a little earlier for best results. New buds form throughout the growing season, so whenever you decide to pick there will probably be some that are too young and some that are too old. Unless you have time to be out constantly picking, letting some hop cones go to waste is just a fact of life. One final note on picking hops – wear long sleeves no matter how warm it is. Without protection, the hop vine will subtly scratch and irritate your arms like death by a thousand paper cuts.

To use your hops conventionally, you will need to dry them and then store them in a vacuum-sealed bag to maintain freshness. Or you can just skip the time and equipment needed for this part and make a homegrown wet-hopped Harvest Ale (or two). Taking this route just requires you to pick the hops and use them in a batch of homebrew within 24 hours. When planning your recipe, keep a few things in mind:

    • The weight of wet hops is mostly water and not comparable to the dried and packaged hops you normally use. I generally use a rule that 5 ounces of wet hops are the equivalent of 1 ounce of dried hops (based on an assumption of 80% weight from water), but I’ve heard and read other suggestions this ratio should be figured as high as 8 to 1 or even 10 to 1.
    • The mass of hops you are about to use will soak up a lot of wort. Upsize your recipe to make sure you end up with the desired final volume. This can be a bit challenging if your equipment is optimally sized for 5 or 10 gallon batches.
    • If you don’t normally bag your hops, I would strongly recommend it in this case. Unless you enjoy massive clogging issues when attempting to siphon out the finished wort to your ferementer. Learn from my mistakes.

For the 2013 Harvest Ale, I solicited a little assistance from Tim Palmer….which conveniently came with access to Tim’s Columbus vine (and 20 gallon Blichmann brew kettle). We combined our resources for a full 2 pounds of fresh Cascade and Columbus cones (about 4-6 ounces of regular hops depending on the ratio you go by). Since the Columbus plant is still fairly young, nature dictated about a 3 to 1 ratio of Cascade to Columbus, so this batch was pretty heavy on the Cascade. We sized the recipe for 12 gallons to give plenty of leeway and ensure we’d each walk away with a full 5 gallons. When it comes to deciding how to utilize your hops, I recommend buying pellet hops for the bittering addition. You might be able to take an educated guess at the alpha acid content and use your homegrown fresh hops for the bittering addition. But using this strategy will leave you guessing on the actual IBU count, and why waste all that flavor on bittering additions? The full 2 pounds of our stash was added with 5 minutes left in the boil, a point where any miscalculation in IBUs would be negligible. Likewise, I have not attempted to use wet hops for dry hopping in these beers. While I have no concrete reason to believe there would be any sanitation issues, there is still the issue of additional wort loss and you’re already walking a fine line of overkill from green plant flavor. But I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried it and would like to share how it turned out.

I’ve experimented with wet hops in Black Rye and Amber ales, but your best bet is probably to start with a typical IPA malt base with minimal Crystal malt additions. Use the neutral malt base to get a feel for the characteristics your hop variety will lend to a beer, take good notes, and decide what modifications will fit your personal tastes in future batches. Whether kegging or bottling your wet-hopped beer, the obvious rule of the fresher you drink it the better it will be definitely holds true. I’ve tried setting some bottles aside in the past to have some available for competitions. Unless your competition is within a few months after brewing, don’t do it. These beers do not hold up well – just tell everyone how awesome it was and how many awards it surely would have won if you could have just stopped drinking it.

The taste and aroma differences in fresh hops can be difficult to describe if you’ve never tried one before. Our IPA was dominated by Cascade hops with contributing Columbus additions. I would normally expect a beer featuring these hops to be heavily citrus focused with a strong emphasis on grapefruit. This characteristic is still found in the wet hop beer, but is less dominant. I get accompanying notes of melon and lemon, and the flavors just “pop” throughout your mouth in a unique way, leaving your tongue with a thick feeling of hop resin as you swallow. I’m not sure where this comes from, but one other interesting note is these beers exhibit a nice creamy mouthfeel to support the overall sensations. On the down side, you will get a distinct green plant flavor and aroma when using large quantities of wet hops. So depending on your tolerance for this character, some brewers may want to be cautious about overloading their personal batches. Using a full two pounds is more akin to throwing caution to the wind.

In summary, hops are pretty easy to grow and may actually be more challenging to control. There is always something intrinsically rewarding about brewing with ingredients harvested from your own backyard. If you’re thinking about getting started, I hope you found this information useful. If you’re an experienced grower and brewer, we welcome sharing your own tips in the comments below. Happy growing, picking, and brewing!


Brew Bracket 8: Oktoberfest

About two years ago, I discovered the existence of Brew Bracket. I've been a hooked fan ever since.

This past weekend I was able to go to my first Brew Bracket in the Tomlinson Tap Room. Just as much bracket style, great craft beer fun as their events at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, this event is only 8 local breweries, and the blind tasting happens table side, where voters can relax, snack, and drink beer poured by the expert double pourer volunteers.

Brew Bracket 8 was right time on time with their Oktoberfest style beer challenge: right in the middle of the traditional Oktoberfest celebration going on in Munich!

The fierce competitors of this BB8 was:
Flat 12 Bierwerks
Twisted Crew Brewery
Sun King Brewing Co.
Thr3e Wisemen
Bier Brewery
Iechyd Da Brewery
Upland Brewing

Some of the beers were really interesting. Flat 12 had their Red Oatober in the competition, and it was distinct with the hop  flavor in the nose and on the tongue.  Twisted Crew (I believe, based off my tally sheets) gave their Oktoberfest a coffee enhancement.  Other than that the other breweries had the same malted lager, creamy traditional Oktoberfest flavor.

Being only 8 breweries the voting, and tasting went quickly and it was within no time that the RAM picked up their third win.

Every time I go to a Brew Bracket event, I can't even describe the camaraderie that just surrounds the venue. Between Mike and Ryan, the charity involved, the brewers, the sponsors, the visitors, it is just a special kind of event. There is always good music, good food and I always run into good friends there.

So if you still haven't gone to a Brew Bracket.. you must go to Brew Bracket 9 - Porters! (I'm very much looking forward to this style!)