Elysian’s The Great Pumpkin Fest & Roadshow

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(Part 2: an interview with Elysian’s owner/brewmaster Dick Cantwell)

The weekend before last I finally got to attend the Great Pumpkin Beer Fest in Seattle at Elysian Brewing’s new production brewery. This is one of those fests that was on my own bucket list to check out someday, and I do not think it could have been a better year, as this is the one where it went big time. The fest moved to a brand new, not-yet-opened production facility Elysian has built in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. The space is expansive, with a huge parking lot and massive warehouse brewery.

The new brewery does not appear to have any public tasting room or pub, but luckily is easily accessible by public transportation. Arriving by bus it was hard to miss the huge grain silos outside in the parking lot with Elysian’s logo and “The Great Pumpkin Beer Festival” plastered on one. Also, the huge line around the block to get into the festival at 1pm was daunting. I, however, was able to slide past the line and in the gates with my VIP pass.

Elysian definitely takes its pumpkins seriously–everything from tap handles made of corn cobs (by friend/brewer Whitney Burnside) to an ice cream cart selling only ice creams made with pumpkin beer added to the vibe. The attendance was astounding for an all pumpkin beer festival, but the size of the new space easily fit everyone in.

The variety of different kinds of beers made with squash was vast. For some reason there were a lot of saison/farmhouse ales; I don’t know if this is just the hip style today or if brewers have decided they are a great base for pumpkins.

There were also a good number of sour pumpkin beers, even including one from Russian River labeled just ‘Sour Pumpkin 2010′ that I was excited to try. It was indeed sour, with just a hint of squash flavor, and bone dry. Honestly, it left a bit to be desired. One of the beers I saw on tap when I arrived was Avery Brewing’s Rumpkin, a 16%Abv Imperial Pumpkin Ale brewed with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, then aged in Gosling’s Rum Barrels. Of course, no sooner than did my friend Jean Powell and I go for the beer (just a couple hours into the fest) than it was tapped out.

Naked City Brewery’s Don Webb and Taphandles Inc.’s Jean Powell

Therein lies my only real complaint about the festival–there was too little of some of these beers to go around. I have to imagine some of these kegs were only 1/6 barrels, because they were disappearing so fast and they were only offering 4oz pours, no pints.

Jean hides in a hammock tied between kettles on the new brewing deck

There were also quite a few of these special beers from breweries not normally even distributed in Washington state, like Cambridge Brewing (which had 3 different beers), Hollister Brewing, St. Arnold, and Iron Hill, so you could tell Elysian really went all out to get some of these brought in. One of these beers I almost could not believe my eyes to see was Allagash’s “Ghouleschip”, a special version of their new spontaneously fermented coolship series brewed with 300lbs of fresh shredded pumpkin and 200lbs of toasted pumpkin seed for a 16bbl batch with no spices; they even aged it in french oak Chardonnay barrels. Of course, when they announced they tapped this beer, a line formed and probably only the first 50 or so people got to try it, which leads me to believe they did not pour it all. I hope some more of this beer makes it out.

Of course, Elysian Brewing themselves are the kings of the pumpkin beer, brewing 13(!) of their own. The offerings on tap ranged from numerous sour pumpkin beers like Ursa Orange, a Berliner-Weisse, and Headless Horsey, a 100% Brettanomyces fermented beer, to classics like Dark o’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout and The Great Pumpkin, which is always tapped in giant pumpkin firkins, as it was different times throughout the day, and always ran dry quickly.

Some of the more interesting offerings were Rock Bottom’s Cerveza Calabaza, brewed with two gallons per barrel of Whey from Beecher’s Cheese to add creaminess; Silver City’s Punk Rauchen, a smoked German style rauchbier, only instead of using smoked malts they roasted fresh pumpkin over apple wood for 6 hours before adding it to the mash; Elysian’s Coche de Medianoche, a Mexican-themed pumpkin beer made with cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, pan-roasted guajillo chilies, and both Indian and African cayenne pepper, with a late addition of fresh epazote from Prosser Farms. This was definitely one of the standouts.

Elysian is taking the pumpkin show on the road this year, so if you missed Brewpublic’s Killer Pumpkin Fest, then this Saturday’s Great Pumpkin Roadshow at Saraveza is not to be missed. They will be bringing quite a few of Elysian’s special pumpkin beers along with guest taps and, of course, tapping some of The Great Pumpkin in pumpkin firkins. Also, I just got the beer list and am happy to report the Coche de Medianoche will be making an appearance. Beer list:

-Night Owl Pumpkin Ale
-The Great Pumpkin Imperial 
-Dark O’ The Moon Pumpkin Stout
-Mr. Yuck Pumpkin Sour
-PK-47 Pumpkin Malt Liquor
-Hansel and Gretel Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner
-Coche de Medianoche
-Kurbitinas Pumpkin Dunkelhefeweizenbock
The Great Pumpkin Road Show!!
Saturday, October 22nd from 5pm-Midnight
Join Saraveza and Elysian, the nations most pumpkin obsessed brewery!!!
~Elysian Brewers on hand to join in the Pumpkin bliss~
~An Epically Imbibe-able Surprise (FREE!)~
~Jack O’ Lantern Contest w/Prizes (submissions accepted until 2PM on 10/22)~
~Live Music in Saraveza’s Bad Habit room & outside tents for street-side sippin’!~
Admission is $20 in advance at Saraveza. Includes an awesome Elysian glass with 8 tasting tickets.
Costumes and Orange Attire Encouraged!!
Saraveza, 1004 N. Killingsworth Street; Portland, OR. 97217

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

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