Fall is my favorite time of the year because of the crisp cool weather, the leaves during the fall color change, and football. Most importantly, fall is also a great time of year for seasonal beer. My wife loves this time of year because my brewing skills become especially useful to her because I brew her favorite fall seasonal beer ... pumpkin ale. Over the years she has sampled a few BBLs-worth of pumpkin ale. She has her go-to pumpkin ales, her hard to find pumpkin ales and her tragic never again pumpkin ales. You might call her somewhat of a pumpkin ale connoisseur. As you might imagine, not all of my pumpkin ales were a winner with my better half, especially in the beginning. There was the year I over-spiced and it tasted like a cinnamon-flavored shoe; or the year I used an ill-advised yeast strain that left me with a beverage somewhere between nutmeg-flavored popcorn and pumpkin cough syrup. My most memorable pumpkin blunder occurred when I added six pounds of pumpkin to the boil leaving me with about eight inches of pumpkin and yeast sludge in my carboy, drastically affecting my final volume. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing because from what I remember that was also the brew resembling a cinnamon-flavored shoe.
Throughout the years, my pumpkin ales have evolved like a living organism similar to Charles Darwin's theory of "natural selection." This general principle of biology describes how an organism's most favorable traits are those that allow them to survive being hunted by predators and natural events that select against them. Thus, an organism changes over time depending on the selective pressure put on it. Each time a change was made in my beer, the pumpkin ale predator (aka. my wife) determined if it would survive or become extinct. So in a way, year after year of natural selection by my wife has made my beer what it is today.
Due to her critical pumpkin ale palate my most recent pumpkin ales have incorporated such changes as baking the pumpkin before mashing it and incorporating lactose for added mouthfeel.
Recently, my pumpkin ales have been well received by friends, family, and colleagues. Most notably, I have been asked to brew my pumpkin-derived concoction for a friend's Halloween party (I even made labels incorporating the party throwers initials, which you'll see above), my college roommate's rehearsal dinner, and a work Halloween party (where it won the "best homebrew at a work party" award). About that last point, it is possible this was the first time a homebrew was brought to this particular establishment, but who's keeping track?
My point is that just because your homebrew didn't result in a "perfect" stylistic example, there is still hope if you try to learn from criticism and allow natural selection to be your guide. In time, you too may win the coveted "best homebrew brought to a work party" award. Always remember, if at first you don't succeed, brew, brew again!...