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Guest post | Blake Marcum: Giving thanks for pumpkin beer in the 901

November 24, 2014 By: mike Category: Craft beer, Distribution, Memphis

The following is a guest post from Memphis craft beer drinker and pumpkin beer connoisseur Blake Marcum.


As Memphians huddle beside the propane heaters, enjoying the last few moments of patio time in fall before the dark cold winter casts it gloom and frost into our hearts and we find ourselves amid the dizzying display of winter beer, we can all take comfort in knowing that pumpkin beer can still be found on the store shelves in the 901.

Blake Marcum

Blake Marcum

The popularity of pumpkin beers has grown at an astronomical rate in America. What is more surprising is the enjoyment of this wonderful liquid is shared among the craft beer and macro beer crowd alike.

The greatest of all achievements of pumpkin beer may be how equally received it is by both men and women.

New pumpkin styles have also arrived, with pumpkin porters, imperial stouts, saisons and even IPAs as brewers continue their journey to tempt us with their creations. While not all of those can be found in the Mid-South, there are several that you can still bring to the Thanksgiving table to make that family time a lot more enjoyable (tolerable). We wanted to share our top list of pumpkin beers in the 901 that you should still be looking for.

Most beer rating systems are based on appearance, aroma, mouth feel, flavor and just an overall impression of the beer. With pumpkin beer we have to add a different dynamic as the beers have an unusual flavor pattern, which for this list we’ll call the Pumpkind Scale, a rating of what kind of pumpkin flavor the beer has. Some are like drinking pumpkin pie with the high spice load and some have a more gourd-like taste truer to the actual pumpkin. Which is better is up to you to decide.

Blackstone’s Pumpkin Ale:

Blackstone’s Pumpkin Ale

1.Blackstone Brewing Co.’s Pumpkin Ale: Our Nashville neighbor’s co-founder Kent Taylor told me that he did not even want to make this beer. He got talked into it and the popularity has skyrocketed in the state. I buy eight cases of this beer to enjoy and to share. It’s like drinking pumpkin pie that is not overwhelming after you’ve had a few.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin pie, heavy spice

2. Schlafly Beer’s Pumpkin Ale: At 8% ABV, this pumpkin not only possesses incredible flavor, but also carries an alcohol level that will have you feeling extremely cozy by the fire.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin pie, heavy spice

3. New Belgium Brewing’s Pumpkick: Our good friends at New Belgium proved that just because they are the 3rd largest independent brewery in the country, didn’t mean that they couldn’t learn a few new tricks. The 2013 Pumpkick had only a faint hint of gourd in it and almost no recognizable spice. While some liked it, I hated its innocence and lack of complexity that New Belgium brings to so many other styles. I decided to try the 2014 and was blown away by the spice load and complexity of flavors in it. They added cranberries and a touch of lemongrass to the recipe, because they’re New Belgium and well… why not? A very enjoyable beer.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin pie, medium spice

4. The Traveler Beer Company’s Jack-O Traveler: Traveler really impressed me with this one, considering it is so far outside of its normal shandy lineup. Drinking this beer is like enjoying your grandma’s pumpkin pie, but your crazy uncle got a hold of it first and added some alcohol.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin pie, heavy spice

Pumpkin beer haul

Pumpkin beer haul

5. Shipyard Brewing Co.’s Pumpkinhead: This is a great pumpkin for those who want some pumpkin, but not with the overwhelming nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon load that accompanies so many others. Pumpkin fans from both sides of the spice scale can enjoy this one, but those who want pumpkin pie will only get a faint taste of what they truly want.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin gourd, low spice

6. (TIE) Blue Moon Brewing Co.’s Harvest Pumpkin Ale and Shock Top’s Pumpkin Wheat: Both of these are enjoyable pumpkin offerings that you could drink daily, but don’t possess the strong distinction that the others on the list do.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin pie, medium spice

7. Magic Hat Brewing Company’s Wilhelm Scream: I couldn’t believe Magic Hat attempted a pumpkin beer when I first saw this. I also couldn’t believe I actually enjoyed a Magic Hat beer after I tasted it. This one tasted like the Magic Hat team just threw whatever ingredients in that were supposed to make a pumpkin beer, but somehow it worked out. I look forward to how it turns out next year.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin pie, heavy spice

8. Redhook Ale Brewery’s Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter: The one dark pumpkin you can find in the 901 is a nice porter with low deep hanging pumpkin flavors that are quite enjoyable for the dark beer drinkers out there.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin gourd, low spice, porter

9. O’Fallon Brewery’s Pumpkin Beer: This beer blew me away in 2013, but changed the recipe to lower the spice load in 2014. It is still a very enjoyable pumpkin, but I hope the 2015 version will need a fork to enjoy.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin pie, medium spice

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

10. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s Punkin Ale: Most craft beer fans in the 901 will not be pleased to see Dogfish Head down at the bottom of the list, because we’re all so happy to see them back in the Bluff City. The reason the Punkin Ale goes to the bottom is because it’s not a true pumpkin beer. Dogfish describes the beer as “a full-bodied brown ale with smooth hints of pumpkin and brown sugar.” As far as a brown ale with hints of pumpkin goes, it’s enjoyable. As far as a pumpkin beer goes, it has a long way to go and I don’t think Dogfish Head is truly embracing the concept, although their bottle art suggests differently.
Pumpkind Scale: Pumpkin gourd, low spice, brown ale

Either way you prefer to land on the scale, there are still plenty of enjoyable pumpkin beers available for your table. And while no local brewery makes a pumpkin beer currently, I believe it only to be a matter of time before we’re discussing which brewery in Memphis does pumpkin best. So go forth and make those pilgrims jealous with a great pumpkin beer.


Brewed in Japan: A visit to the Tohoku Craft Beer Festival in Akita

July 25, 2013 By: mike Category: Craft beer, Events, Travelin'

My friend Jonathan Lovin, a former Memphian who lives with his wife and kids in Akita, Japan, wrote this guest post about his visit last month to the Tohoku Craft Beer Festival.


As I walk out the door, I see the tail end of the bus heading away. There’s no way I’ll make it to the bus stop on time. It’s Sunday and the buses only run about once every hour today. If this were a larger city like Tokyo or even Sendai, I’d have no problem catching another one in a few minutes. But this Akita, home to roughly 300,000, and it’s quite spread out compared to most cities here. This prefecture is actually noted as being the most rural area in Japan.

We get something like 250 overcast days a year. But today the weather is unusually warm and clear for our cloudy city. So I decide to walk to the venue, which is close to the bus station in the “center” of the city. Hey, it’s a good excuse to listen to an album a good friend gave me, The Head and the Heart, which has really grown on me. Just under an hour later (and long enough to listen to the whole album and have caught the next bus), I arrive.

 Northern Tohoku Micro-brew Beer Festival

Welcome to the Tohoku Craft Beer Festival Festival. There are tents creating three sides of a square with tables located in the middle. Luckily the tables are covered, because the sun is beating down. I grab a Weizen from Lake Tazawako Brewery, cordon off a few seats at a table and jump on my iPhone to post on Facebook. I boast that I made it before any of my friends and tempt them with a photo of my first brew of the day. The Dutch-style Weizen is quite refreshing and absolutely delicious. Of course after an hour-long walk…

I see a character straight out of The Hobbit, long hair, awesome beard, elvish-made heat reducing leather hat… No wait, it’s just my friend Kelly. After getting settled, we use our bags as markers and go for a beer. I get the Berry Blend and Kelly gets the Dunkel from Kohan no Mori Brewery (Forest near the lake). We get back to the table and some older women have practically thrown our bags into a bin to gain our seats. This is a very common occurrence here. For some reason grandmas in Japan are like bikers or something; they break in line, steal seats and generally show little respect for the rules they demand everyone else rigorously obey. After a quick fist fight in which we won, but just barely, we reclaim our seats.* Luckily, it’s not to the death because women here live forever. I just hope they don’t come back with their friends.

Kelly obviously made the wiser choice. My (blue)Berry Blend tastes like fruit juice while his Dunkel has a malty kick with a slight hop afterburn. Good thing this is only my second beer. It’s fruity enough to cause adverse reactions. At this point I get permission to post to Kelly’s beer blog, Beverages Abroad. His blog has many interesting facts, mostly about Asian beers, but he’s moving to California soon and I seriously doubt he’ll stop writing about beer (much less drinking it).

Japan-Iwate Kura

Our friend Misa shows up, but she’s not drinking. We need more beer and she wants food, so it’s time for another walk. We decide someone needs to stay with the seats. Misa and I get pork on a stick, french fries (which are called fried potatoes here), an IPA and a Red Ale from Iwate Kura Brewery. The Red Ale is better. Now Dave, Tom and his expecting wife Mizuho show up. We have gained a posse. Just let those old ladies come back now.

I decide to get adventurous and try the Oyster Stout from Iwate Kura. Since this beer seems a little strange, I only get the small cup, which is ¥300. The larger sizes are going for about ¥500. The size basically reflects the price, with the small at about 300ml and the medium at about 500ml. The Oyster Stout is bitter with a fishy aftertaste.

I need another beer. This time it’s another Red Ale. I also try the Peach Ale, Extra Pilsner and the Pilsner from Fukushima. Tom’s Peach Ale has just a hint of fruitiness and is overall very light and refreshing. The Extra Pilsner is probably my favorite. Everyone jokes about the beers being from the same place as the nuclear power plant disaster but, honestly, I don’t even taste a hint of Cesium.**


Next, from a brewery in Miyagi, Kelly and I share a sampler including Champagne Beer, Pineapple Beer, Grape Beer and Rice Beer. I do love a good champagne beer, and it’s a little better than the rice beer (though rice beer is quite refreshing). After that, I have a dark lager from Oirase Brewery. Honestly, the Dark Lager is just too heavy, especially for a hot day like today.

By this time Martin, Yuki and Go have shown up, as well. They are good people. Go makes music and seems to know everybody. Yuki is an inventor and has been developing a hydro-electric battery. He tells me it’s finished, shows me some pictures and says he’s simply waiting for the patent. Good luck, Yuki! Yuki is also well-known at the local brewery, Aqula (among other places). I ask him for some help with an interview I want to do with a local brewmaster, and he agrees wholeheartedly.

Now it’s time for the Aqula sampler. I get all four on tap. The Sakura Wheat is quite bitter. Next, the American Pale Ale is citrusy and sour. One of the special beers is the Akita Beauty Beer (Akita is renowned for its beautiful women, no joke). I pass it around to get opinions from as many people as possible. “It’s not sweet.” “It has a malty backbone.” “It’s light but not watery.” Tom says it’s like experiencing an existential drift. Ok, now to do the same for the other special brew, the American Amber Ale. I hear that it’s smooth, woodsy, moldy and reddish sweet. I also hear it’s malty, has a grapefruit kick and it’s an all-around happy beer. Yay! America.

Aqula sampler

I get a Caramel beer from Kohan no Mori right before Yuki and I catch the local brewmaster. Time for the interview. My first question is about the local brewing community, but he gets standoff-ish almost immediately. I’m thinking I must be slurring or something. So I ask him if there are any contests for local homebrewers and he says, “no,” and they are not in contact with him nor would he want them to be. So I tell him that these contests are very popular in the states, and it’s like a renaissance of sorts nowadays. He seems fully aware of this, so I ask why isn’t there any support here. Then he explains, “It’s illegal.” Now I get it. The laws have changed here enough for small companies to try their hand at brewing. However, for personal consumption, it’s still illegal. It seems there may be an underground movement but most likely homebrewing will stay this way as people here tend to avoid battling the status quo.

I explain that I wasn’t trying to frame him and that I honestly didn’t know that. He seems to lighten up and even start to smile a bit. People are putting the chairs and tables up now. I decide to help since the group that put this whole thing on, Aqula, has been so helpful for my story. We get all the chairs and tables put up and my friends start to go their separate ways. My friend Ben G. has been here for a little over an hour and seems to want another beer. So Yuki, Ben, my good buddy Martin (who has twins on the way!) and I head to Aqula for one more round. It’s like a 10-minute walk so I buy an Akita Komachi (rice beer) for the walk. This rice beer is brilliant!

*No old women were actually hurt in the making of this article.
**Several foreigners and hundreds (if not thousands) of Japanese most likely had their DNA mutated during the course of making this article.

Guy from Narugo

Brewing an American-style lager with Memphis homebrewer Jeff Kinzer

June 14, 2011 By: grant Category: Beer learnin', Homebrew, How to, Memphis

The following post is a guest submission from Bluff City Brewer Jeff Kinzer, who makes a mean homebrew. We always look forward to tasting his creations.

I’m brewing a Premium American Lager.  Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “isn’t that a waste of brewing time”.  Well, yes and no.

Here’s the deal: My wife wants to have a party this summer and I’d like to have a keg of homebrew that my inexperienced beer friends would like (these are the people that think Miller Chill and Corona Light are exotic).

Due to time constraints Easter weekend, I opted to brew the extract version, which calls for 8 pounds of light liquid malt extract, 1 pound of rice syrup (I never thought I’d use rice in a homebrew), and 1.25 oz of Hallertau hops (a heart-stopping 20 IBU!).  To save a few dollars I opted for dry yeast (20 oz. of Safelager).

After heating 6 gallons of water, mixing in the extract and adding a little more water to hit my target pre-boil gravity, there was nothing left to do but add hops and wait for the boil to complete, and of course to consume a few brews.

To fight my shame of brewing an American-style lager I drank a Lindemans Faro Lambic I’d been saving.  It was a little sweet for my taste but it went well with white cheddar cheese and Bugles.

Once the boil finished and with the wort chilled and safely racked to a plastic bucket, I put it in my spare refrigerator until the next morning. I am trying to follow the lagering advice from the book Brewing Classic Styles: “chill the wort to 44 degrees, then rack away from the cold break before oxygenating and pitching the yeast”.

I got up early the next day and transferred the cool wort to a carboy, then proofed and pitched the yeast.  Again following advice from “Brewing Classic Styles,” I slowly raised the wort temperature over the next 36-48 hours to 50 degrees.  Two anxious days later I saw krausen in the carboy.

By the end of the first week I begin to notice a sulfur-like aroma in the refrigerator but that’s supposed to be normal, and there was rapid activity in the airlock so I’m hoping fermentation was okay.

At the end of the second week, I raised the fermentation temperature to 58 degrees hoping this would be my “diacetyl rest.” After two days I lowered the temperature back down to 50.  I still saw some more activity in the airlock than I expected so I decided to give it three more days and re-check the gravity before lagering.

Finally, after about 27 days and a final gravity reading of 1.012, I transferred the beer to a Cornelius keg,  and put it in my second spare refrigerator, at 40 degrees.

Tried a taste after 41 days and it seems a little sweet but I think it will be fine once carbonated.  I think I got the hop bitters about right, meaning there is none.