Why Black Hog Fall Bears Aren’t Available as Early as Other Pumpkin Beers
By Tyler Jones, Head Brewer at Black Hog Brewing Co.
Fall beers should be available in the fall. Seems like a no brainer, right? But if you are a beer drinker who looks forward to your favorite fall beer, you can find plenty on the shelves by August 1st (here’s looking at you pumpkin beer!). If you are disappointed to discover that Black Hog fall beer is not available as early, I’m happy to take some time to explain why.
Simply put, we choose quality over seasonal distribution demands. Our distributors ask for our fall beer by the beginning of August, but that doesn’t align with our commitment to brewing within season and with local ingredients. At Black Hog, we pledge to support local farms and include their ingredients in our brewing as much as possible. Therefore, we cannot start brewing our fall beers – or any other seasonal beer – until the ingredients are harvested by local farmers.
How do other pumpkin beers become available by August 1st? Most pumpkin beers are brewed by taking canned pumpkin puree, dumping it over the mash tun, spicing it with cinnamon and nutmeg and, voilà! you have pumpkin beer. This approach allows brewers to get their beers on the shelf “on time” for the demand, but at what cost? It’s hard to determine how canned pumpkin puree is made, where it comes from, and how long it has been on the shelf. In addition, the pumpkin spice trend has declined in recent years. This is why at Black Hog we strive to make quality beer within the actual season instead of following trends.
Here are Black Hog’s Fall Seasonal Beers, which feature seasonal ingredients and are available by the end of September.
This is a lightly spiced farmhouse ale with Connecticut grown squash. We don’t brew the typical pumpkin beer you may have found in the past decade. Instead we use Delicata Squash, the first available squash of the season, and employ a traditional brewing technique from the 18th century. At that time, brewers used various types of squash to stretch the grain that was heavily taxed by Britain. The extra starch from the squash and enzymes from the grain create some fermentable sugars and add amazing body to the beer.
Saison is a beer style developed in the French / Belgium area, also known as a farmhouse ale. In the middle ages farm workers, or “Saisonnieres”, were paid in food and beer. To attract and retain quality workers, farmers had to produce the best beer possible. Because if you had bad beer you lost your farm workers. To do this the brewers didn’t follow the German Reinheitsgebot purity law allowing them to add spices, fruits, and grains other than barely to make the best beer possible. This allows lots of flexibility within the style which makes brewing them so much fun. Saison is traditionally brewed with yeast fermented at a higher temperature than a normal ale, producing many other aromatic flavors such as bubble gum, spice, and fruit coming from the yeast.
Here’s what the brewing process looks like: When the Delicata Squash is ready and delivered from our local partnered farms, we clean, halve, seed, and shred the squash to expose the starch. The shredded squash is added into the mash tun, letting the enzymes from the barley work on those starchy gourds, converting starch into sugar and adding body, flavor and some fermentable sugar to the wort. Then, rather than over spicing, we use Saison yeast, which produces natural spice characteristics in fermentation. We enhance those natural spice characteristics with a touch of white pepper and cinnamon sticks.
Here is the drinking experience you can expect: When drinking the Delicata Squash Saison you might initially expect the pumpkin spice bomb that you get from a typical Pumpkin beer. However, the flavors of the malted grains come through first with some mouthfeel and a touch of body followed with a Saison yeast spice note – a bit of phenol spice blended nicely with bubble gum. As you drink Delicata Squash Saison you taste a variety of flavors, finishing with a hint of cinnamon and white pepper.
This wet hop ale, brewed with 100% freshly picked Connecticut hops, adding some body from the large amounts of wet hops used in the brew as well as all those amazing hop flavors and aromas you expect in a beer that uses 100’s of pounds of hops. Hops, an agricultural commodity, are grown on bines (that’s correct, not vines) up to 20 – 30 feet in the air and produce papery cones. Once per year they are harvested, dried, processed, pelletized, nitrogen flushed, vacuum sealed in a light-proof bag, and are kept cold to be used throughout the year. Black Hog takes advantage of a harvest window between the end of August through September when freshly picked, undried “wet” hops are available. Wet hops have a higher water and oil content that give the beer a resinous mouthfeel and great hops flavors, and aromas.
Here’s what the brewing process looks like: We start brewing Autumn Nugget the day after the Nugget and Cascade wet hops are harvested at local farms. They are added in many points along the boil to extract all aspects out of these hops we can only get one time a year. Because it is a fall beer, we add autumnal spices such as vanilla bean pods, pink peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, and a touch of nutmeg.
Here is the drinking experience you can expect: The first few sips of Autumn Nugget taste like a traditional wet hop amber IPA. Halfway through the pint, the spices hang on your pallet a little longer and start to build a warming sensation in your chest. By the end of the pint all the flavors come together in a beautiful fall beer that doesn’t include pumpkin!
This season we also unveiled Barktoberfest, a new fall Black Hog Beer named for our successful partnership with Companion Pet Rescue (CPR Dogs) of Southbury Connecticut. It is a traditional fest-style German lager, featuring biscuity notes from Munich malt. The lager yeast lends a crisp and clean finish, making it a gulper instead of a sipper on a chilly fall day. It is currently only available in the Black Hog tasting room in cans only.
Now, with a deeper understanding of how traditional fall beers are brewed and spiced with in-season, local ingredients, we hope you will think twice before selecting a pumpkin beer in August. We love nothing more than to talk to our customers about beer, so before it’s too late, stop by the tasting room to find out if you like the fruity spicy notes from the Delicata Squash Saison, the herbal hop flavor/aromatic of the Autumn Nugget, or the biscuity notes from Barktoberfest. Stout season is approaching quickly, so now is your chance for a flavorful fall beer!