It's getting colder, and to me that means it's time for Winter Ale. I prefer mine malty, a little higher-alcohol than a standard ale, with some pine and citrus. I want it to evoke forests and mandarin oranges and fireside.
But it's also late fall, which means my wife still feels it's pumpkin season. Pumpkin pie and pumpkin beer just seem to go hand-in-hand. But I'm not looking for pumpkin pie beer, ust a beer that reminds us that pumpkins are a unique and wonderful adjunct.
With that in mind, I went back and looked at my previous pumpkin and winter ale recipes. My favored winter features Northern Brewer, Cascade, and Tettnanger hops in a ~6.5% base of 2-row, 90L, Gambrinus honey, and chocolate malts. My favored pumpkin uses 2-row, 80L, 90L, and Victory to complement the pumpkin juice and very mild nutmeg/clove spicing.
The Victory is in such small quantities that I felt it could be excised. The Gambrinus, then, needed to be featured to keep the pumpkin flavor interesting, and the chocolate had to stay to give that earthy undertone to the winter ale. The good thing about a spiced pumpkin ale is that the combination changes the profile of the entire enterprise, allowing both hop and malt flexibility underneath.
One other consideration: our homebrew club handed out hops a couple months ago, and I ended up with 1.5 oz of whole leaf Nugget. That's been in the freezer ever since, so it's time to use it.
The recipe below is a little convoluted, but it follows serially how I made the beer.
Aduncts: 20 lbs pumpkins (Calebrese)
Quarter pumpkins, bake @ 250F for ~3 hours.
Reserve the liquid put off by the pumpkins.
Separate the pumpkin meat from the shell. Shred the meat and press through a strainer if desired, again saving any liquid.
Total liquid should be 1/2-1 gallon. Don't worry about getting it all out of the meat.
(I froze the juice, because it's not needed for the boil and would have overflowed my system.)
30 lbs 2-row
4.5 lbs Gambrinus honey
1.5 lbs 80L
1.5 lbs 90L
0.75 lbs Medium chocolate (British)
Boil volume: 22 total, 18 to boil (see pumpkin ale segment below)
Final volume: 16 gallons
Mash @ 152-154F. If batch sparging, take last 4 gallons of 2nd running for pumpkin ale (see below). If continuous sparging, take gallons 12-16 for pumpkin ale (see below).
Put pumpkin meat in a nylon bag.
Boil the 4 gallons reserved from the previous step along with the pumpkin meat for a minimum of 50 and maximum of 75 minutes.
Boil the base ale liquid using the following hop schedule:
2.25 oz Cascade (fwh)
1.5 oz whole Nugget (60min)
0.75 oz Northern Brewer, 0.5 oz Tettnanger (20min)
At flameout, take 5 gallons of the Base Ale to add to the Pumpkin Ale's 3-ish remaining gallons. (This volume is in the carboy in the pictures below.) Add the pumpkin juice to the boiling Base Ale. (This is done in a bucket sitting just off-camera in the top picture below; it's the input to the chiller setup.) Recall that I froze the juice (~3/4 gallon total liquid), so this will start the cooling on the boiling wort. Wait until that's all liquid, then VERY QUICKLY run it through the chiller. The cold break needs to be aggressive to drop the solids out of the solution here. I needed 3 runs through the counterflow chiller with ground water around 55F and put through an additional pre-chilling ice bath; this water was probably about 40-45F, and the final wort temperature was a little over 60F.
Yeast is 1056 (American Ale)
This recipe makes 9 GALLONS of pumpkin ale
After 2 weeks, add "pie spices": 1 tsp nutmeg, 12 cloves.
For the remaining gallons, add 0.75 oz Centennial and 0.25 oz Simcoe. Let sit while you cool the pumpkin wort. (In the image with the pot below, the hops have already been added.) Once done with the pumpkin wort, chill this wort to pitching temperature. This took 2.5 runs through the chiller shown below, with the same specs as given in the Pumpkin Ale section above; final wort temperature was about 66F.
Yeast is 1968 (London ESB)
This recipe makes ~11.5 GALLONS of Winter Ale
After brewing, it became apparent that the wort was a little dark. This may have needed light chocolate instead of medium chocolate. I might also have dropped it to 0.5 lbs instead of 0.75, but we'll see what the flavor is on the back end. I also prefer the slightly smoky flavor of the medium chocolate.
After 2 days in the fermenter (~66-69F), both are going well. The winter smells lightly of citrus and pine, and it's got an earthen quality, probably from the Simcoe. The pumpkin smells mildly of pumpkin; it's not overwhelmed with the hops, just has enough of them in the background to make the entire enterprise smell pie-like.
Enjoy the smells and tastes of late fall. I know I will!
Mash out. Spin on.
Fall is here! The weather is crisp and cool! It's time for a pumpkin beer!
While the commercial world has had its pumpkins out for months -- this year we picked some up in early September -- the homebrew world is not so constrained. As a brewer, I delight in turning seasonals on their heads, brewing farmhouse beers in winter by opening the appropriate heading duct; making Maerzens that come out in October; and flooding the world with pumpkin beer well after the prime pumpkin season.
So it is with no regrets, qualms, or reservations that I will be brewing a pumpkin beer this week. Alas, the local brew shop is closed on Mondays, or I'd be starting tonight, but my random assortment of grains isn't up to the task the way it was last time. (I'd consider the amazing Oktoberfest brewed two months ago to be a triumph of grain remainders, as I pulled together 16 gallons by buying just 2.5 pounds of grain.)
Pumpkin beer apparently has quite the history in the US, and I'm only happy to add to that history by producing Yet Another Pumpkin Ale. It is, after all, my wife's favorite, and the spices let me tinker with the base recipe without significantly affecting the final flavor.
That having been said, this year will be something of a departure. Where previously I had used a "standard" ale recipe -- mostly 2-row with a small amount of caramel and cara-vienna for some texture and color to back up the pumpkin -- this year it's going to be the Winter Warmer recipe.
In the commercial world, this is a mortal sin. I'm not only changing the recipe, I'm shifting it dramatically from a purpose-built pumpkin ale to simply a winter ale with some pumpkin and pumpkin spice in it. Seems like quite the change.
But I have good reason for doing this. And besides, this is homebrew, where experimentation is one of the delightful benefits.
So why the shift? This is predicated on two very simple, but very compelling, arguments.
First, the pumpkin beer is so heavily doctored that the base ale simply needs to provide a backbone. There's nothing fancy about this, and indeed the more complex the base flavor, the worse off you are, because ultimately the pumpkin spice and pumpkin will overwhelm it. This is even true in he small spice volumes I stick to (~1-2 tsp of spice total per 5 gallons; this is about 1/6 of what many online recipes call for).
But why the winter? Because that's my favorite of the season. And since it's relatively high-alcohol, I can make a mini-mash with pumpkin only, add it to a part of the winter mash, and have a full 2-batch brew in a single go. The only problem, then, will be partitioning the wort appropriately, either before or after the boil.
All that having been said, though, Thanksgiving is still pumpkin time. So shut your pie hole!
Mash out. Spin on.