In Arizona, there isn’t much indication when the seasons change, but in the fall people know that Pumpkin Porter has arrived.
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 carved the gourds into manageable slices, roasted them in the restaurant’s pizza ovens, and added them to the mash, a task that became nightmarish as they increased batch size to meet demand.
The puree that the brewery uses now, Ingram says, is a godsend, especially since Four Peaks produces more than 400 barrels of Pumpkin Porter a year. A batch that big would require lugging around 70 or 80 large pumpkins.
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 remains a draft-only beer for now.
The brew darkens its glass in shades of mahogany while a thin yet foamy head the color and consistency of cappuccino froth decorates the container with spatters of lace.
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—also have remained unchanged for the last 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 stays the same. In fact, the aroma seems sweeter and spicier than it was in years past. Sugary pumpkin puree takes a backseat to standard pie spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice—and 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, and the swallow brings a sweet blast of pumpkin, bubble gum, and chocolate. Carbonation dances on the tongue, the body is smooth and soft, and lingering notes of toasted pie crust and roasted pumpkin complete the ensemble.
Those looking for a fateful of pumpkin pie will be disappointed. The 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 realizing it.
Of course, you could go the obvious route and have Pumpkin Porter alongside an old-fashioned slice of pumpkin pie, but with its sweet malt and interesting array of spices, this brew also would go well with poultry. Try it against some gamy duck, allowing the beer’s spice to accent the piquant meat, or get some dark meat turkey for a Thanksgiving-style taste cornucopia.
ZF Review originally printed in The Handbook of Porters and Stouts.
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