I've decided my beer for Halloween weekend (and I'd better start brewing within the week if it's to be ready in time) is to be something inspired by the experience of sitting around a campfire swapping ghost stories. To me and most of the friends I've polled, that means a beer that reminds us of s'mores - a toasty base flavor with strong chocolate notes, perhaps a little roasted or smoky character, and a muted but woodsy hop character.
Here's my first pass at a grain bill:
7# Maris Otter
1# chocolate malt (UK) - for the chocolate aromas, of course
1/4# caramel 60
1/4# roasted barley - for roasty flavors that might even hint at smoke without making it taste like a rauchbier or an ashtray
I'd be looking for something basically in the southern English brown range with that, though given the nature of the beer it's definitely not going to quite be to style for anything. I'm thinking Northern Brewer hops to IBUs somewhere in the high teens, and Wyeast London ESB yeast.
Now, a friend also suggested - and I think this is a good idea - that the campfire aspect of the beer demands a warming quality. Since campfire storytelling sessions often last late into the night, I want a beer that can do the same, so I'd like to keep it sessionable rather than using his idea of high enough alcohol to provide a subtle warming; my thought is chili peppers. But I definitely don't want to make it spicy enough to be a proper chili pepper beer and scare off drinkers who may like their browns and have an adventurous palate but aren't prepared for anything quite as spicy as some of the spicy beers out there, so I'd need to keep the peppers moderate.
The same friend suggested a hint of something unexpected flavorwise, not quite enough to properly identify but enough to put you a little off your guard drinking it. The idea was that this would conjure up the unsettling nature of horror stories. I like the concept, but have no idea what I'd use to achieve the effect. The aforementioned warming pepper heat might also be the answer for this part as well.