Sep 20, 2012

Brewing a Pumpkin Ale

So, you want to brew a pumpkin beer, eh?  Good for you - now that is is the fall season.  Let me help you out by spinning two tales for you to ponder.

First, a brewer and his partner gather up ingredients to brew a pumpkin spice beer - a beer with no pumpkin in the mash or the boil; there is simply pumpkin pie spices added at flame out.  Nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice... you can already smell the flavors, can't you?

Actual pumpkin in a can.
On the evening before brew day, the two decide they want to use actual pumpkin in the beer - to add a little extra flavor and fermentables, to make it more authentic, and just for the overall experience of brewing with a vegetable.  The quickest and easiest way to do this is to add canned pumpkin - not the pie filling, they know.  They want to add actual pumpkin in a can, which should be readily available at the grocery store.  After a quick glance at the "If you want to add pumpkin" section of the instructions which came with their kit, one of the brewers heads out to buy eight cans of pumpkin for a 10 gallon batch of beer.

Brew day arrives.  Water is heated.  Grains are crushed.  Pumpkin cans are open.  All into the mash.  Where  it turns into a big, goopy, stuck, gelatinous mess.  The day is ruined.  The grains wasted.  Time spent.  No beer.  And still all the cleanup.  That is what adding nearly 16 pounds of canned pumpkin can do to a mash tun.

Our pumpkin seemed to rise to the top.
On another day, a brewer and his partner decide they want to brew a pumpkin beer - with pumpkin and spices.  So, they do some research.  They investigate canned versus gourd.  It seems people have really good luck with roasting pumpkin, so they go and purchase two smaller pie pumpkins - not the big carving pumpkins.  The night before brew day, they scoop out the seeds and guts, cut the pumpkins into wedges, and place them on a cookie sheet in the oven for about an hour at 350 F.  They let the pumpkins cool and then scoop out the flesh.

Brew day arrives.  Water is heated.  Grains are crushed.  Pumpkin is cooked and ready.  All into the mash.  Where the temperatures are steady, flow is maintained, and gravity levels are hit spot on.  The brew day, by all accounts, is a resounding success.  That is what preparation can do for a brew day.

Runnings into the boil kettle.
Good color for a pumpkin beer.
If you think these stories are just some I found on the internet or made up, you are wrong.  They both happened to me within one week of each other.  Yes, we screwed the pooch on our first pumpkin attempt.  We wasted time, effort, and money.  It is the first brew we just couldn't save.  I don't think my mash tun would have held enough rice hulls to save it... we tried.  That is what brewing willy-nilly can do to a brew day.

Preparation can mean the difference in having beer and not having beer.  Please, do some research on any new ingredients or processes before going whole hog.  In hindsight, using one or two cans of pumpkin would have been fine.  Eight was too much.  Way, way, way too much.

Nice boil.  
Our current pumpkin beer, which we've decided will be called "Fairytale Debacle" (or "Fairytale Debac-ale" if you're feeling cute) in reference to the fairytale pumpkins we used and the debacle of the first attempt.  Pretty good name for a pumpkin beer!  (Eric came up with it, so he gets the credit...)

I hope you learned something from my mistakes.  If you want some more info on the process, check out Northern Brewer's video below where they talk about using pumpkin in your beer.  Wish I would've run across this a couple of weeks ago.

Finally, a shout out to Billy for picking up our ingredients spur of the moment.  That was a huge help!

Until next time, people.

Cheers.