Earlier this week I had a chance to do my first “vertical tasting” with some of my homebrew. (That’s the term beer geeks use when referring to tasting the same beer brewed in different years.) I saved a bottle of the pumpkin ale I brewed last fall, so I was able to compare it to the one I brewed a month ago.
If you’re curious, you can take a look at the recipes I used for these pumpkin ales.
The 2008 Pumpkin Ale was understated. Cinnamon and clove were still apparent in the aroma and it had a mild spice flavor, but I could tell the spices had dissipated somewhat since last year.
The beer was amber with medium body and a clean aftertaste. I do remember when I had this beer last year, it had a somewhat unsettling bitterness in the finish. The bitterness seems to have gone away.
Overall, I would consider this to be a pumpkin session beer. The spice is there, but it’s subtle. It wouldn’t kill my palate after having two or three.
For the 2009 version, I jacked up pretty much everything in the recipe: more malt and more spice. I tend to like flirting with edge of madness.
The first thing I notice is the darker color. The 2008 was a light amber color, the 2009 was a deep ruby red. (Perhaps a little too much crystal malt?)
The aroma of the 2009 is a startling blast of clove. The theme of this beer: clove. There’s a bit of cinnamon and some malt aroma, but the clove really stands out.
Taking a sip confirms the clove theme. Very spicy, with clove and cinnamon being at the top, with a little ginger tingle in the finish. It has a solid malt backbone and nice body. The clove aftertaste on this one lingers for a good while. Not much bitterness to speak of.
At first I was a bit turned off by the cloviness of the 2009. It is dominating, but it’s starting to grow on me. Nicole summed it up well as she put it, “It’s like drinking Christmas.” I like how intense the spice character is, but next year I will change up the proportion of the spices. I’ll take the clove and ginger down, and perhaps add a little more cinnamon and nutmeg. I may add a little allspice for good measure.
One of the lessons I took away from this exercise is that fresh beer is indeed the best. Many high-gravity and barrel-aged beers can mellow and develop new flavors over time, but typically, beer isn’t going to get any better with age. If anything, it may lose some of the hop or spice character. Even worse, you risk the beer becoming oxidized and tasting like cardboard.
So my advice is to drink up, drink quickly, and make more before you run out!