(Chris LaPierre is the Head Brewer at Iron Hill Maple Shade)
I have to admit I shudder a little bit every year the first time I smell a pumpkin-scented candle, drive by a roadside stand full of pumpkins or even see someone walking down the street with a pumpkin latte. What it means to me is that I've got some very early mornings and very long days coming up in the brewery. Brewing a pumpkin ale means I have to be in early enough to get my pumpkins cut up and roasted and cleaned up well before the kitchen staff shows up to start prepping for their work day. I'm using their knives, cutting boards and ovens so I've got to be careful not to wear out my welcome.
Every year I kind of wonder whether it's worth it, roasting the pumpkins that is. There are brewers who say you don't really need the squash in the beer. All people are looking for are the spices they say. But then every year when I open up that convection oven and get hit with that blast of warm air carrying that first whiff of roasted, caramelized pie pumpkins, I'm reminded why I forced myself to get up at 4:30 in the morning.
I used to do all of the chopping, roasting and skinning myself or with an insomniac volunteer while my assistant mashed in. A few years ago I got smart and started employing the help of some poor soul from the kitchen. Not only did it free up some time for me to help my assistant in the brewery, but it ensured that someone who actually knew how to cook was manning the blades and ovens! They can get those pumpkins ready in about half of the time I can. This year it was Shaun who helped me out. He was the obvious victim for me to prey on. In addition to being a chef, he's also an avid home brewer. If I had a chance of suckering anyone into getting up early to help me, it was him. He got something out of it too. He used the pumpkin meat from the bulb of the pumpkin to make a pumpkin soup that day and he spiced and roasted up the seeds to use them as an accompaniment to the cheese plate in our upcoming Mug Club beer dinner in Maple Shade.
Of course we couldn't stop at just standard Pumpkin Ale. This year we had to add a Belgian Pumpkin Ale and Bourbon Imperial Pumpkin Ale to the mix. And we're continuing our tradition of filling hand-packaged 750 ml bottles of the Great Imperial Pumpkin Ale dressed in art work from West Chester artist and friend to Iron Hill, Jeff Schaller.
The bottles will be available at our Maple Shade location starting on September 29 and company-wide on October 1. I hope you enjoy them! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get to bed. I've got to be up in a few hours to help Shaun roast pumpkins for batch number two!