Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Upper Mississippi Mashout results – Pumpkin rye ale

Recently I published a post dissecting feedback I received on my Belgian honey ale at the Upper Mississippi Mashout homebrew competition. That was just one of the three beers I entered. In today’s post, I will go on to detail feedback I received on another entry, CUJO SPICE v. 2.1 pumpkin rye ale (brewed July ’11), BJCP category 21A, spice/herb/vegetable beer.

This pumpkin rye ale, the better batch of the two versions I brewed last summer, scored worse than I anticipated. I received a 27 from a BJCP “certified” judge and a 32 from a BJCP “national” judge. I can at least be glad I got the higher score from the judge with more experience. None the less, my score averages to just 29.5. Yes, I think some recipe tweaks are in order but I think this batch is quite tasty and that my execution was decent. It deserves to be in the 30’s. Since this was the first competition this beer has been in, I’ve entered it in the upcoming National Homebrew Competition (NHC) to get a few more opinions before I re-brew it this summer.

Here’s the feedback recap:

  • Aroma – bready/toasty, mildly sweet malt profile, cinnamon and nutmeg, brown sugar and “juicy fruit” notes, mild pumpkin and rye aroma, some esters and clove notes, no phenolics, no DMS, no hop aroma, some faint papery notes. 8/12 (both judges) – Next time: I think the unorthodox choice of Irish ale yeast I used (WLP004, normally employed for stouts!) did a great job at smoothing out this rye beer (I liked how it performed with this recipe much more than WLP001 Cali ale), but perhaps WLP004 took away too much of the character. Maybe I’d consider doing another ounce of Cascade hops near the end of the boil to bring about more hop aroma, though I’m not necessarily sure if that’s necessary, as this recipe is supposed to be all about the pumpkin. I think I should use another 15 oz. can of pumpkin though. One can probably isn’t enough for this recipe.
  • Appearance – Brilliant clarity, light tan head quickly fades to a thinner sustaining layer, burnt sienna medium orange amber in color. 3/3 (both judges) – Next time: No changes here. Glad I was able to have this one in the bottle 5 months prior to judging.
  • Flavor – Carmely, bready malt aroma, some earthiness, no hop flavor or bitterness, sweetness throughout, malt-forward, brown sugar notes, moderate spicy clove nutmeg and cinnamon apparent, aftertaste is toasty grain slightly solventy peppery and warming. Spice additions overpowering other flavors. Slightly neutral fruitiness. 10/20 (Judge #1), 12/20 (Judge #2) – Next time: Maybe I’d consider doing a flavor hop addition of something earthy like Norther Brewer to bring about more hop flavor to help bring things closer into balance, though I’ll be honest in saying that I was aiming for an in-your-face pumpkin ale on the sweet side with this recipe. If I make changes here, they would be to allow this recipe to perform better in future competitions, not because I think things should be brought into balance. Regarding the solvent or oxidized flavors, looks like I might have had a process issue when transferring from vessel to vessel and it’s possible this batch could have fermented too hot. I think it was in the 70’s. I can shoot for a lower fermentation temperature next time by letting it ferment in the cellar (usually 5* cooler in there) instead of the beer room.
  • Mouthfeel – medium light in body, lighter in carbonation, soft bottle-conditioned character, slightly warming, some fusel alcohols, very little creaminess, very little astringency, some mild spiciness. 4/5 (both judges) – Next time: I’m interpreting their feedback as my needing to mash at a higher temperature next time to increase the amount of long-chain dextrins left in the wort that aren’t fermentable by the yeast, creating a more substantial mouthfeel and higher finishing gravity
  • Overall impression – very good, though rye character muted by spices (though one judge also said spices were muted as well), pumpkin and overly smoothed by the yeast employed, would have done better if brewer would have selected a style, fusel alcohols were distracting likely due to an under-pitch of yeast, oxidation may indicate age (this was an incorrect observation by the judge). 2/10 (judge #1), 5/10 (judge #2) – Next time: I will definitely pitch more yeast. I’ve already started buying twice as much for each batch since I completed this brew day last summer. Yes, it adds an extra $7 onto the cost of the batch, but that’s a very small price to pay to prevent off-flavors. Also, based on one of the judge’s feedback about calling out a style, I did just that when I entered this beer in the NHC, calling it an “amber ale with pumpkin and rye” thus downplaying the “intended” affect of the rye malt. Perhaps I’ll re-think the use of the Irish ale yeast so I don’t loose as much rye character, but I really think that’s what makes this recipe special…

Summary of recipe tweaks based on the feedback received thus far (may change after I receive feedback on this beer from the NHC later this spring):

  • Mash: mash at 154*
  • Malts: bump up the amount of rye in the recipe so it shines through more if I decide to keep using the Irish ale yeast
  • Hops: use an ounce of Northern Brewer hops for a flavor addition at around 30 min. left in the boil and perhaps use 1/2 or 1 oz.  more of cascades for the aroma addition near the very end of the boil
  • Adjuncts: throw in an extra 15 oz. can of pumpkin, doubling the amount of pumpkin in the batch
  • Spices: leave these the same, as the judges didn’t point me in a definitive direction there
  • Fermentation: aim on the low side next time, 65-68* instead of 70-72*

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