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Don't Let the Pumpkin Scare You! GRB's New Pumpkin Ale!

a glass of orange juice next to a cup of coffee

    Beer is meant to bring people together, whether it’s striking up a conversation with a stranger at a bar, brewing a home batch with your buddies, or sharing a brew with family. Sometimes, though, a beer can cause controversy, draw a dividing line. In this case, it’s a type of beer. It might be surprising at first, but the truth is that beer nerds love their beer, and they love it a certain way, to a certain standard, made with certain ingredients. One such ingredient that is nowhere near universally loved is pumpkin. What might be the most popular additive at your closest Starbucks is really a cause for controversy at your local brewery. Not every brewer or beer drinker enjoys pumpkin beers, and even those who do might have pretty strict standards of how to make one properly. This is evident just by Google searching pumpkin beers; blogs will come up with posts reading “Pumpkin Beers Must Die” or “My Eloquent Pumpkin Beer Rant.” This seasonal brew gets some brewers up in arms, whether it’s because they don’t think pumpkin belongs in beer or just simply because pumpkin beers are creeping their way onto shelves as early as August. August!

    At Grand River Brewery, we love a challenge, we love to do things our own way and craft our own path. And yes, we like to be a little controversial, as long as what we produce is actually good. So of course we are making a pumpkin beer this year, blogs be damned! (aside from this one, of course…) The Tricky Potion Pumpkin Ale is Grand River Brewery’s response to the controversy. Our idea with this brew is simple: what’s there to argue about if it’s just an all around great beer?

    As many brewers and beer lovers alike know already, a properly flavored beer starts with a great base. In the case of a pumpkin beer, it’s important not to choose something overly hoppy, because the hop flavor really clashes with the pumpkin flavor and becomes a little overwhelming and difficult to discern. That makes an ale, especially an amber ale, the perfect base for a beer like the Tricky Potion. And the brewers didn’t choose the name randomly, this is a tricky potion to brew. Too much pumpkin will weigh the beer down, too little and you can’t really call it a pumpkin beer. It needs some of that pumpkin spice, too, so the flavor is more recognizable, but not so much that the pumpkin itself gets drowned out. Like the title suggests, tricky!

    In past years we’ve produced a pumpkin stout, but the brewers, especially the Assistant Brewer, Caleb, wanted to try something new. As he worked on developing this recipe, he did loads of research to find the best way to bring out Fall flavors before Fall produce is fully available. See, that’s another tricky part: pumpkins aren’t even in season during the time when a pumpkin beer needs to be brewed. If we waited until pumpkin season, we wouldn’t have the brew done until pumpkin season was almost over. That means that using a pumpkin puree is the best option for making this beer seasonally appropriate. We don’t want to release it in August, but we also don’t want to release it in November. 

    On a smaller batch home system, it’s a little easier to work seasonally. Many brewers who make pumpkin beers will roast their own pumpkins and puree them with things like cinnamon, caramel, and other spices to really give it a kick. With a small batch home brew system, having a seasonal beer come out a little later than you would want is easier to deal with; there’s less beer to drink before the season ends. Brewing seasonal beers on a large scale system like we have at GRB makes this a little trickier, and not just for Fall beers. We have the same issues with balancing time to volume with winter beers, too. But Fall is one of the shortest seasons for flavors, even though it’s also one of the best.

    All of this time and consideration ended up producing a delicious Pumpkin Ale that we are proud to have on tap. The Tricky Potion is subtle in flavor but still very present, with a creamy mouthfeel that’s perfectly balanced with the level of carbonation. This beer is everything that’s great about Fall: spice, richness, and togetherness. GRB decided to fight through the pumpkin controversy, and we are ever so glad we did. If you’re a Fall person or just looking to try something new, definitely come give the Tricky Potion a try!