Arizona Beer Class: Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter

BY Jess Harter Thursday, September 18, 2014

(Every Thursday, MXSW reveals the story behind one of Arizona’s noteworthy craft beers. See previous Arizona Beer Classes here.)

This week’s subject: Pumpkin Porter from Four Peaks Brewing

Pumpkin Porter is a seasonal ale (5.2% ABV) that debuted in 1999 at Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe. Brewed with aseptic pumpkin puree, the fall beer is Four Peaks’ most popular seasonal.

What should people who’ve never tried Pumpkin Porter expect?

FourPeaksPumpkinPorter“Pumpkin pie,” says Four Peaks brewmaster Andy Ingram. “If you’re going to be looking for a lot of pumpkin-y, gourd-y flavors, they’re not really prevalent. It’s more about the pumpkin pie spice. I’ve told people it tastes like pumpkin pie with a slightly burnt crust.”

Where did you get the idea for Pumpkin Porter?

“Before I was at Four Peaks – at Coyote Springs (Brewing Company), which is now sadly defunct – we made a pumpkin beer,” Ingram says. “It wasn’t a porter. It was more like an amber ale, but again with all the pumpkin pie spices. Instead of copying that, I changed the base to a porter.”

Just to be different, or did you think the porter style would be better?

“I did,” Ingram says. “I thought it would work a little bit better because of that burnt crust kinda thing I was going for.”

What was the initial reaction from the public?

“I think from the first time we put that beer on tap until now, it’s been like trying to hold back wild horses,” Ingram says. “People love it. We start getting phone calls in August: ‘When’s it coming out?’ It’s been that way since the beginning.”

What was the pumpkin beer category like back in 1999?

“It was pretty lonely,” Ingram says. “There weren’t a lot of pumpkin beers. I think Buffalo Bill’s was doing one at the time, and I can’t think of anybody else. So I’d like to think we were pioneers. Now everyone’s got one.”

Why do you think pumpkin beers have exploded in popularity?

“That’s a good question,” Ingram says. “I don’t know. There’s something that’s so seasonal about pumpkins. It’s Halloween. It’s Thanksgiving. It just really marks that time of year. Do you eat pumpkin any other time of year? I don’t.”

Have you tried to keep up with all the new pumpkin beers?

“The majority of them are pretty good,” Ingram says. “I like the fact that people are really getting different with them. It makes me sad to see other pumpkin porters coming out. It’s not like we own (the style) or anything, but we’ve been doing it for so long.

“It’s neat to see pumpkin lagers. Someone’s doing a jalapeño pumpkin spice. There’s a lot of different things out there. That’s what I like to see. Just the variety.”

Has Pumpkin Porter changed over 15 years?

“No,” Ingram says. “That’s kinda the inside joke we have. We’ll brew it and one of my partners will ask me, ‘How is it?’ The joke is always, ‘Best one we ever made!’ It’s funny. It’s been the same recipe for 15 years, but people will always say, ‘Oh, that one in ’09, that was so good,’ or ‘The one is 2012, that was my favorite.’”

How much has production increased?

“In this case, I’m kinda the guy who says no a lot,” Ingram says. “My partners, they always want to triple the amount every year. And my saying to them every year is, ‘You know, when it’s not special any more, it’s not special.’ So I’m the one who kinda keeps the reins on it.

“I think this year we’re doing 40 percent more than we did last year. I think we’ll do 1,800 barrels. It’s kinda funny to think about. Just that one seasonal is more than probably most of the breweries in the state do all year.”

Last year, you canned Pumpkin Porter for the first time, but only sold them at Four Peaks locations. How about this year?

PumpkinPorterCan“This year we’re going to distribute them (throughout Arizona),” Ingram says. “That’s another reason for the larger increase.”

Any other changes in how you’ll distribute Pumpkin Porter this year?

“We decided not to do allocations on it this year,” Ingram says. “Last year, Teddy (Golden, the brewery’s ‘beer traffic controller’) kinda managed where it went and how much. Hensley (Four Peaks’ distributor) had the idea to just put it out there, and when it’s gone it’s gone. It will save us a lot of headaches.

“I know Teddy freaks out every year about who gets it and who doesn’t get it. People call him up all angry: ‘Why didn’t I get any?’ So this year it’s just out there. If you’re retailer and you want it, you have to call and get it. Like I said, when it’s gone it’s gone.”

If it starts to sell out too quickly, will you still hold some back for November as you’ve done in previous years?

“We’ll definitely do that again,” Ingram says. “The tradition of people coming in and filling growlers before they get on airplanes to go home for Thanksgiving is huge. Hundreds of growers will go out the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It’s such a great tradition we want to keep it alive.”

So will Pumpkin Porter be available for growler fills starting this Monday?

“I believe so, but it’s not for sure yet,” Ingram says, “The thing is – with growlers and cans, anybody that can do some quick math in their head will realize that with the cans you get more beer for less money.”

Will the price of six-packs be $14.99 again?

“$12.99,” Ingram says. “We were able to drop the price this year because, as I said, we made 40 percent more. The economies of scale worked out so we could drop (the price) a little bit.”

Any other Pumpkin Porter news this year?

“Well, if we do blaze through (this year’s supply of Pumpkin Porter), I have a recipe for a Double Pumpkin (Porter) that might be coming out in November,” Ingram says. “It’ll be around 7% alcohol. It’ll be like Pumpkin Porter, but Pumpkin Imperial Porter. It would be a Single Tank (Series) beer, so it would come out on draft at the pubs only.

You say “if” and “might.” What would you say the odds are that you’ll brew Double Pumpkin?

“Oh, 100%,” Ingram says. “I’ve already ordered all the ingredients. I’m probably gonna shoot myself in the foot with that one. If people like it, that’s what they’re gonna want for next year’s version.”

Where to find Pumpkin Porter

Pumpkin Porter will be released at 10 p.m. Sunday on draft and in six-pack cans at Four Peaks’ Eighth Street and Scottsdale pubs. It’ll be available only at Four Peaks locations, including the Tempe taproom, next week. It then rolls out at bars, restaurants, and stores throughout the state Monday, Sept. 29.

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