​Sketchbook Delves into Lighter Side of Pumpkin Beers

It takes some effort to make a lighter pumpkin beer that evokes the flavor and essence of fall. For years the thought of “pumpkin spiced” beers meant a dark base littered with spices, leaving a usually sweet finish.

Sketchbook wanted to try something different and starting in 2016, Cesar Marron, the Head Brewer and Managing Partner of the Evanston, Illinois brewery went to a less popular consumer style by incorporating Saison into the fall lineup instead.

“We saw the pumpkin beer market take a plunge,” he recalled six years back. “Most of us at Sketchbook were not fans of the uber-sweet and overly spiced ones we had tried, but being the adventurous brewers we were, we went against the grain and created what we wanted out of a pumpkin beer.”

The Saison, Smokey Jack, is described as drier, nuanced, and lightly spiced and Marron revealed a twist: real pumpkins smoked on pecan wood.

“The Saison strain provides some of those peppery, spice-like flavors we want in the beer, allowing us to cut down on the pumpkin spice blend,” he explained. “It also lends to a beer that starts richer and finishes with a drier mouthfeel at the end of each sip. Making it a more inviting beer to drink, especially with food.”

​It’s no small feat and only one done in a small-batch capacity due to the intensive labor​ ​and collaboration. ​Sketchbook source​s​ the pumpkins from local farms and work​s​ with their schedule for when the pumpkins are ready.

​”​We drove to get them, cut them up in half, and took the seeds out​,” he said. “Then, we collaborated with Soul & Smoke in Evanston to smoke the pumpkins for us the day before the brew.​”

Once smoked, it was all hands on deck​ as the staff was tasked with​ cutting the warm, sweet, and smokey pumpkins into little squares.

​The appearance alone, clocking in at only 11 SRM makes it more visually appealing to some consumers.​

​”​It is just dark enough to invoke a warming, holiday feeling as you smell the aromas of the ​Saison, light smoke, and the spices​,” Marron said.​

​Smokey Jack is released to both of the brewery’s tap rooms around its area.​

​”I feel that our customers trust us to come and try​,” Marron said. “We can also explain to those who are not quite sure they want to invest in a pint or a 4-pack.

​”​That said, we have had good success with releasing this beer right before ​Halloween and ​Thanksgiving and having just enough for the season.​”

​Sketchbook doesn’t have any plans to make any other pumpkin beer or to make a bigger batch of Smokey Jack.

​”​We like that it is unique​,” Marron said. “Also, the idea of preparing 1​,​000​ pounds of pumpkins for a larger batch is not very enticing​.”​

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