BREWHEADS: Master of Pumpkins and Blizzard of Hops

I went on vacation in the mountains of Pennsylvania during the 4th of July and brought along a bunch of metal beers to review while reading Choosing Death and watching black bears and rattlesnakes all day. It was a damn fine vacation!

I am here to tell you about Tröegs Brewing Company in Hershey, PA, and their sometimes obscure schizophrenic tribute metal beers they brew once a year. Yeah, I know. It’s confusing. After exhaustive in-depth research (using the Google machine and drinking beer) I will bring clarity to chaos.

In recent years, Tröegs began brewing two potential Metal Beers: Master of Pumpkins and Blizzard of Hops released in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Keep reading and you will know why I used the word “potential.”

Let’s rewind. Two years ago I saw a new Tröegs beer called Blizzard of Hops — a winter IPA—which sounds a lot like Ozzy Osbourne’s first solo album Blizzard of Ozz. The official beer description and label art gave no indication it was a tribute beer to the Prince of Darkness—just the name. I was suspicious of the potential metal beer connection. So I hit Tröegs up via Twitter to ask whether or not this was a tribute to Ozzy. No response – radio silence. So I was left unconvinced and skeptical. At the time, I did not know Tröegs to be a metal brewery. However, I assume nearly every brewery has been infiltrated by at least one foaming-at-the-mouth crazed metalhead playing air guitar and mumbling lyrics to Cannibal Corpse as they toil in the heat with their horns in the air! A year later when I saw their beer called Master of Pumpkins in the fall of 2015, I thought there was no way this was a coincidence.

As the name suggests, Master of Pumpkins is a pumpkin beer—with a twist. The first twist is that it uses a Saison yeast strain and is bottle condition. The second twist is that it was a metal beer tribute to Metallica’s song Master of Puppets, then it wasn’t, and now I’m not sure anymore. More on the confusion in a bit.

Beer Nerd Alert: Bottle conditioning is a technique where the beer is slightly refermented in the bottle by mixing priming sugar and usually yeast into the beer before bottling it. The yeast then eats the sugar, reproduces, and releases carbon dioxide – thus naturally carbonating the beer inside the bottle. This process increases the beer’s shelf-life by reducing dissolved oxygen at the same time enhancing the flavor.

Looking at the beer’s description from 2013 and 2014 labels reveals that Master of Pumpkins was indeed a tribute to Metallica. Yay, I found another Metal Beer!

Brewed with native Pennsylvania neck pumpkins harvested just a few miles from our brewery, Master of Pumpkins conjures the spirit of autumn by combining traditional pie spices with French saison yeast to illicit notes of vanilla, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and honey. Taste it you will see, more is all you need.

Did you read that? The last sentence in the beer description. There. Right, There! Taste it you will see, more is all you need. Those words clearly are lifted from the Master of Puppets lyrics. Read for yourself.

Needlework the way, never you betray
Life of death becoming clearer
Pain monopoly, ritual misery
Chop your breakfast on a mirror
Taste me you will see
More is all you need

You’re dedicated to
How I’m killing you

When Tröegs released Master of Pumpkins in 2015, the last line of the beer’s description that referenced the lyrics vanished. Maybe they got a cease-and-desist from the infamously litigious Metallica, or maybe they dropped it after hearing any of their music from 1991 to 2008. Who knows? I am disappointed they removed the reference from the label and website. Chris Trogner, co-owner of the brewery, even talked about the naming of the beer in a November 2013 YouTube video (when the song reference was still on the label) but he did not mention Master of Puppets, Metallica, heavy metal, or even music.

Regardless of its metal beer identity, I really like this beer. It has a relatively low rating on Beer Advocate of 80, which I will attribute to the “love them or hate them” opinions people have of pumpkin beers. I also can be bipolar with pumpkin beers. Some years I love them. Some years I don’t touch them. I drank this one in early July (definitely not pumpkin season) and still really like it.
• 30 IBUs (International Bitterness Units)
• 7.5% ABV (Alcohol by Volume)
• Munich, Pilsner and Special B malts
• German Northern Brewer Hops
• French Saison Yeast

The bottle I popped open was dated 9/30/2015. It was nine months old, and its ABV was just below the threshold to age well. I got nervous that I held onto this bottle too long. When I noticed it was a bottle conditioned beer, I smiled. It would still taste good.

Master of Pumpkins has a beautiful reddish-copper color. Initially, it poured relatively clear. But once the yeast from the bottom of the bottle—a result of bottle conditioning—mixes in your chalice of choice, the beer becomes hazy.

This beer smells and tastes exactly like pumpkin pie. There is no better way to describe it. You can smell and taste the cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. It’s highly carbonated—another result of bottle conditioning. I did perceive a bit more hop bitterness as the beer warmed up, but it was pleasant.

Overall, this was one of my favorite pumpkin beers despite its on-again-off-again metal beer identity. Also, I always pick up several six-packs of Blizzard of Hops every winter. Both beers are brewed very well, which people come to expect from Tröegs.

I have to assume the subtleness to Tröegs’ metal beer tribute(s) may be due in part to the litigious nature of both Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne. Music artists with that much money and lawyers would make nearly any sane independent craft brewer shy away from making overt tribute beers to these guys. Ozzy (i.e. Sharron Osbourne I assume) in 2014 sent a cease-and-desist letter to The Brewer’s Art based in Baltimore, MD for their “Ozzy” Belgian-style pale ale, which they later renamed “Beazly.” And of course, we all know about Metallica vs. Napster vs. tribute cover bands, vs. anyone daring not to pay financial tribute to them.

This fall when Tröegs releases Master of Pumpkins, I encourage you to drink it with some pumpkin pie and watch these guys shed the banjo covering Master of Puppets!