Cask O Lantern Pumpkin Ale safely in its home
It’s been a while since our last update, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been brewing! In fact, a lot has been going on around here; we’ve brewed a Fat Tire clone, a Phillip’s Chocolate Porter clone, a not-so-imperial Imperial Stout, a Christmas spiced ale we’re calling the Fireside Warmer, but most importantly, we’ve got a temperature controlled fermentation chest and a kegging system now!
Enough of that. What we’re all here for today is to talk about a little experiment I decided to try: brewing a real pumpkin ale.. and fermenting it inside a pumpkin.
I decided at the last minute to try this in order to have it ready for an upcoming Halloween party in just over 2 weeks. And as is generally the case, the higher the gravity of the beer (read: alcohol content), the longer it takes to mature and get past the “green” stage. So, with absolutely no time to spare, I had little choice but to brew a ‘small’ beer that’s base recipe is roughly that of an English Bitter (3-4% ABV).
Two ~10 lb. pumpkins were harmed in the making of this beer: one I got from a pumpkin patch in Chilliwack (which is where the whole idea began), and the other from my neighbourhood IGA.
What follows is my sleep-deprived account of two harrowing evenings spent in the apartment, battling pumpkin innards, the mash (and sparge) from hell, and just a general lack of proper brewing equipment (all of our brewing equipment is conveniently located at our parent’s house)…
Evening One: The House on Hamburger Hill
Things started off just peachy. My girlfriend helped me wash, de-gut and carve up the pumpkins.. then she disappeared to do homework for the rest of the night (thanks for the help! :P) It took much longer than I had planned, mostly due to separating the damn seeds from the guts. Nevertheless, the pumpkin chunks and seeds went into the oven and emerged a while later, ready for the next step: the mash.
Somewhere I got the idea of taking the roasted pumpkin seeds, cracking them, and adding them to the mash along with the rest of the grains. Well, we don’t have a grain mill, or a rolling pin, so out came a large mallet (ahem, Gordon Ramsey’s finest sauce pot) and a ziplock bag.
We had received a bag of Pale Chocolate Malt from a member of our homebrew club, but the grain was uncracked, and we don’t have a scale to weigh out the 1/10th of a pound that I needed to darken up the brew and give it some roast.
Need 1/10th of a pound of Pale Chocolate Malt and don't have a scale? Improvise!
The issue of cracking the grain was already solved with the pumpkin seeds, but to measure out 1/10th of a pound I MacGyvered a makeshift scale using a ruler and 2 tupperware containers (and then proceeded to defuse the bomb with it). All of this was taking precious time I didn’t have, as the nefarious evil known as ‘bedtime’ was rapidly approaching.
Perhaps the only smart thing I did the rest of the night after baking and crushing up the pumpkin was to divide the flesh into two large hop bags and mix them up with rice hulls (to help spread the pumpkin flesh apart and reduce the inevitable clumping).
You do the mash! You do the puuuumpkin mash!
I didn’t really have anything to mash in, so I mashed in the brew kettle (big aluminum pot) and tried to manage the burner and stir to keep an even temperature of 150F throughout. Well, easier said than done. Temperatures seemed to range from 138F all the way to 168F if I left the pot unattended for more than a couple minutes. Or was it just the broken digital thermometer I was using that we had gotten rid of for being inaccurate? Either way, mash efficiency soon became a serious concern.
If I was missing the brewing system we normally use then, collecting the wort and sparging only made it worse. After mashing for an hour, separating the wort from the grains and pumpkin was an absolute nightmare, and the kitchen could only be described as a scene from a Vietnam war movie. Grains and wort went everywhere: the floor, the cabinets, the oven – not to mention my clothes. I was trying to strain the contents of the brew kettle through a pasta strainer that was not nearly big enough to hold the volume of grain and pumpkin flesh falling out of the pot. The battle lasted probably an hour, and after giving up on mash efficiency I had collected 2.5 gallons of super-hazy wort. Time for cleanup and bed – almost four hours after my bed time.
Evening Two: Return to Castle Pumpkenstein
Things were starting to look up. Thanks to the wort sitting in a carboy overnight, much of the grains and crud that had made it into the wort had settled to the bottom and I was able to rack the wort off the sediment into the brew kettle, producing a liquid that finally resembled wort and no longer a swamp. I topped the brew kettle up with an additional couple liters of water to bring my pre-boil volume to 3 gallons.
Raising the wort to boiling temperature took longer than I had become accustomed too, and I was starting to fear a repeat performance. Eventually it did boil, and I carried out an hour long boil, adding my hops, spices and vanilla along the way. Upon sitting the brew kettle in a cold water bath, all I could smell was pumpkin pie. And it tasted like it too, from the hydrometer sample I tried. Apparently the boil had really brought out a lot of the missing flavour from the pumpkin flesh. Finally, a good sign.
Touch Down! Now THIS is cask ale.
After conceding defeat on the first night I had given up on the idea of fermenting inside a pumpkin and was content to give this brew a second chance at life by safely fermenting in a regular carboy. My brother wouldn’t hear of it. I transferred the cooled wort to a carboy, shook the hell out of it to aerate and pitched the yeast starter my brother helped me prepare the night before. After thoroughly mixing the yeast in the wort, I racked half of the 2.5 gallons into the other pumpkin I had hollowed out, slapped an airlock in it and threw it in our fermentation freezer. Only three hours late for bed this time!
I’ve never been so glad to be done a brew session before, and hopefully never will be again. It’s funny thinking how far we’ve come in terms of our brewing process, and when having to go back to a low-tech brewing solution, everything falls apart again.
Oh well, lesson learned. Now I can eagerly anticipate this pumpkin ale, which, after tasting before fermentation, shows a lot of promise
Update (October 20th, 2010):
Last night I took gravity readings on both vessels and, of course, tasted the samples:
Batch fermented in Carboy:
- SG: 1.009 – 75% AA – Looks like fermentation is complete
- “Pumpkin pie” spice aroma subdued from before fermentation, apparent mostly in background and finish.
- As expected, I waaaay overbittered this recipe. For whatever reason I didn’t pay much attention to the hop bill, and ended up with around 27 IBUs. In a 1.038 beer that’s supposed to be on the maltier side, this is beyond overkill. Hopefully it will mellow somewhat in the next 10 days.
- Otherwise tastes “green” or young, as expected. It’s been a while since I tasted a beer after only 6 days fermentation, so hopefully “green” is what I’m tasting.
Batch fermented in Pumpkin:
- SG: 1.010 – 73% AA – Looks like fermentation is mostly complete too. My guess for the higher SG than the carboy is the extra stress on the yeast and/or enzymes/proteins present in the pumpkin. Either way, I’m pleased to see that the yeast attenuated so well, and didn’t choke and die immediately 😛
- Ahhhh yes, the flavour. What can I say about the flavour? Let me first say, it is common to age wine, spirits or even beer in oak or other barrels to impart some of that flavour into the beverage. So fermenting beer inside a pumpkin should impart some of that pumpkin flavour right? Well sure. The catch is that raw pumpkin doesn’t taste good. Not even remotely. So now my beer tastes like raw, less-than-ripe, pumpkin. At what point did I think this would be a good idea?