Beer: Pumpkin Porter
Brewery: Four Peaks Brewing Co.
Style: American porter
ABV: 5.5 percent
Here in Arizona, we don't get much indication when the seasons change. The unbearably high temperatures might drop to slightly less unbearable range; the leaves might go from green straight to dead. Looking outside, you might not be able to tell that fall has arrived. But you better believe it has -- Pumpkin Porter is here.
Pumpkin Porter's eponymous ingredient is added to the brew in the form of pumpkin puree, but this wasn't always the case. Long ago, according to Four Peaks owner/brewer Andy Ingram, the brewery used Jack-o-Lanterns that had survived Halloween night. Brewers then had the joy of carving the gourds into manageable slices, roasting them in the restaurant's pizza ovens, and adding them to the mash -- a task that became more nightmarish as brewers increased batch size to meet demand.
The purée the brewery uses now, Ingram says, is a godsend -- especially since Four Peaks produced more than 400 barrels of Pumpkin Porter this year. A batch that big would require lugging around 70 or 80 large pumpkins, which is, you know, not fun.
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Ingram says plans were in place to employ Four Peaks' canning line to package a portion of Pumpkin Porter for on-the-go consumption, but the approval process for the labels took too long. Alas, it'll remain a draft-only beer this year. I hope you'll join me in composing multiple angry, expletive-filled letters to the TTB.
In the decade they've been brewing Pumpkin Porter, Four Peaks has never altered the malt bill. The spices that make their way into the boil -- nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and allspice -- have likewise remained unchanged for the past several years, but a spice's strength can vary from year to year, producing noticeable changes in a beer's flavor even when the recipe's exactly the same. I'll buy into that explanation for this aroma, which seems sweeter and spicier than years past. Sugary pumpkin puree takes a back seat to your standard pie spices -- cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice -- while cocoa powder and bubble gum make up the background.
The flavor adds smooth, dark malts to the fall seasonings. Crumbled chocolate mixes with cinnamon and graham cracker in the front, while the swallow brings a sweet blast of pumpkin, bubble gum and chocolate. Carbonation dances on the tongue with pointy heels, amidst, the smooth, soft body, and lingering notes of toasted pie crust and roasted pumpkin complete the ensemble.
About the pumpkin: Those looking for a faceful of pumpkin pie will be disappointed. Actual pumpkin flavor is negligible, which brewers say is what the people asked for. It won't wow you with pumpkin flavor; it'll wow you with subtlety, and with the way you'll have downed several glasses without even realizing it.
Pumpkin Porter premiered September 19 and will be available for a good long while at both Four Peaks locations and certain draft accounts across the Valley.
Food pairing suggestions:
Of course, you could go the obvious route and have Pumpkin Porter alongside an old-fashioned slice of pumpkin pie. But pumpkin ales, with their sweet malt and interesting array of spices, also go well with poultry. Try it against some gamey duck, allowing the beer's spice to accent the already piquant meat, or get some dark meat turkey for a Thanksgiving-style taste cornucopia.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized expert on beer.