Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pumpkin Beer

A couple of years ago I brewed up a really nice pumpkin beer and thought it was about time to try it again.  I even planned way ahead and planted a sugar pumpkin plant in my home garden for the sole intention of using the pumpkins in a beer.  Unfortunately, the plant had some serious issues and I didn't get a single fruit from its vine (in fact, all my squash/cukes/melon plants had issues this year).  So, I went with Plan B and picked up a couple of small pumpkins at a local farm/orchard.

There are a multitude of methods out there for brewing a pumpkin beer - from using a canned puree to baking whole pumpkins in the oven with brown sugar to skipping the pumpkin altogether and just using the requisite pumpkin pie spices.  I didn't like any of those options.  I wanted to use fresh pumpkin, but didn't want to deal with the extra steps of baking it (and the mess and probable stuck sparge that goes along with it).  I did a little research and discovered that the gelatinization temperature for pumpkins falls within the normal mash temperatures.  So, I figured if there's any starch that needs to be converted, it can just happen right there in the mash (though it turns out, as far as I can tell, there's not a lot to convert).

I cut the tops of the pumpkins, scooped out the seeds and stringy pulp, and chopped them up into chunks (rind and all).  I then processed the chunks with my cuisinart with the handy-dandy grater attachement.  The resulting pumpkin "hash" was mixed right into the mash.  After an hour, full conversion was confirmed with an iodine test and I proceeded to sparge as normal with no problems.  The brew process went without a hitch.  I decided to use a combination of EKG and Challenger hops since I have found recently that I really like the beers I've made that use more than a single hop variety - there just seems to be an added dimension to these batches.  I also added a judicious amount of spices (again, using a combination to give the final beer more complexity).  Most pumpkin beer recipes I see out there tend to only add hops for bittering, letting the spices predominate the flavor and aroma, but I like the way English hops meld with the spices, so I opted to add some late hops.

For the yeast, I decided to try something different and went with WLP072 French Ale (Platinum Release)...mostly because I had it already in my fridge after picking it up on a whim earlier in the summer, but also because I figured its malt-forward characteristics would work well in a beer like this.  I pitched a 1 liter starter and fermentation took off.  I currently have it in my "mudroom" (for lack of a better term) where the ambient temp is ~64°F.  I hope to have a few bottles ready for a pumpkin-carving party in October, but I imagine it won't really hit its peak until at least Halloween.

Feathertop 2.0
brewed on 9/19/12 (and into the morning hours of 9/20/12)

Recipe Specifications 
Batch Size: 4.00 gal

Estimated Color: 11.9 SRM
Estimated IBU: 29.9 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 69.00 %
OG: 1.048
FG: 1.012
ABV: 4.7%

5 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter - 52.6 %
1 lbs Caramunich I - 10.5 %
8.0 oz Melanoidin Malt - 5.3 %
8.0 oz Vienna Malt - 5.3 %
8.0 oz Wheat Malt - 5.3 %
2 lbs Pumpkin, fresh, raw, grated - 21.1 %

10 g Challenger [7.20 %] - 60.0 min
10 g Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] - 60.0 min
4 g Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] - 15.0 min
4 g Challenger [7.20 %] - 15.0 min
4 g Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] - 1.0 min
4 g Challenger [7.20 %] - 1.0 min

Spices (all added in last minute of the boil)
0.50 tsp Cinnamon, ground
0.50 tsp Nutmeg, ground
0.25 tsp Ginger, ground
0.25 tsp Allspice, ground
0.13 tsp Cloves, ground

French Ale (White Labs #WLP072)

 Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, 150°F, batch sparge

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Small batch experiments

I brew 3.5-4 gallons batches. Most of the time the beers spend 3-4 weeks in primary (of the plastic bucket variety) and then I rack them to the bottling bucket and bottle. However, occasionally I move a beer into a 3-gallon glass carboy for extended aging. When I do this, I tend to have a little beer left over in the primary. Recently, instead of dumping this out, I've been racking this left over into a 1-gallon glass jug so that I can try something different with it by adding fruit and/or spices and/or souring cultures. My first experiment of this sort was to add the dregs of Cisco Brewery's Dark Woods to about a half gallon of my 2010 imperial porter, Tabula Rasa. I was a bit skeptical about souring such a big and roasty beer, but it actually turned out fantastic. This success has emboldened me to continue on with this sort of small batch experiments. The only problem I have though is that I haven't really figured out a way to efficiently bottle them without losing too much volume in the process, which is why I currently have several of these in my cellar aging longer than anticipated.

Current experiments (from left to right in the above photo):

Blueberry Wine
I thought I would include this here even though it doesn't fit in with the rest of my beer experiments. Pure blueberry juice from Trader Joe's, augmented with wildflower honey (also from Trader Joe's...I love this place BTW...whenever I shop there I spend a lot of time in the juice aisle thinking about what I could ferment). This particular batch has been sitting there for almost a year now. I should probably bottle it.

Spiced Wheat Wine
Dried Thai red dragon chili peppers, star anise, grains of paradise, and cacao nibs added to my dark wheat wine, Bene Victum. Go bold or go home, right?

Sour Cherry Oatmeal Stout
Tart cherries from Oregon Fruit added to my already funky oatmeal stout. Definitely looking forward to this one.

Sour Kölsch (Crooked Sunbeam)
Oak cubes and the dregs of Russian River's Temptation added to my Sonnenstrahl Kölsch. I added a little DME-based wort with some German Opal hops, lemon peel, and grains of paradie as well to give the RR bugs a little extra to chew on. I only added a little oak, but I am nervous that I have let this beer sit too long. Might be an oak bomb by now.

All of these are probably ready to go into bottles. I just need to find the time to deal with them! Hopefully I'll get it together so that I can get tasting notes for these posted sometime by December.
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