For the longest time I have always wanted to brew my own beer. For years I’ve searched the internet for how-to’s and kits. But I always shied away from doing it because it felt like such a daunting task. I created my own fear by assuming it was difficult. Until one day I asked my Dad about his old equipment that I remember him using when I was a kid. He still had it and before you know it we were brewing a ‘kit’ from the homebrew store on a Sunday.
It was as easy as boiling water and the beer came out great. The hardest and most nerve-racking part was washing and sanitizing everything (and thank god my Dad did it the first time). I’ve since brewed another “kit” and I’ve learned a very important thing about homebrewing.
It is incredibly difficult to screw up homebrew.
After brewing two kits with my Dad at my parents place I decided to step it up a notch. I brought the equipment back to the apartment and opened the King Beaver Brewery for business. My first beer recipe was a bit adventurous but I was excited to try something completely different from everything available at the store. I decided on a Pumpkin Ale. After reading a lot of recipes and instructions, I picked one and headed to the homebrew store to pick up my ingredients and tweak the recipe.
Snowy Pumpkin Seasonal Ale
This is an extract recipe. Using extract is a bit easier than mashing grains. Using extract removes the whole step of mashing grains which requires a bit more room than my small apartment kitchen. There are “partial mash” methods that can be done in a kitchen but I decided to keep it simple for the first time.
7.72 lb (3.5kg) Light Malt Extract (Added more to yield a higher alcohol percentage)
1 lb Crystal Malt
8 oz Biscuit Malt
4 oz Wheat Flakes
66.95 oz (4.1844 lb) cubed fresh pumpkin
0.75 oz Golding Hops
0.25 oz Irish Moss
Pack of Fermentis S-04 Yeast
Homemade pumpkin pie spice:
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ginger
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/8 tsp Cloves
I cut up fresh pumpkin into cubes and placed them on a baking sheet with sprinkled cinnamon on top. Baked in the oven for 35 minutes to caramelize. I didn’t mash or remove the skin from the cubes. Part of my reasoning for this was laziness and part was not knowing exactly what to do. Next time I would try to remove the skin (although the beer has a nice orange colour and I’m wondering if the skin attributed to it).
Next I placed the Crystal Malt, Biscuit Malt and Wheat Flakes into a cheese cloth and steeped in a pot for 29 minutes at about 150°F. You do not want the water to boil so listen for gurgling sounds. The grains smelled amazing during this process. Like a delicious oatmeal. I’ve read a few recipes that use the spent grain to make bread which I really need to try.
After steeping, I transferred the liquid into a 12 litre pot and ran a few cups of boiling water through the steeped grains to rinse out stuck flavours from the grain.
I added more water to the pot along with the light malt extract. This time I put too much water and had to keep a close eye on it to watch for booklovers. About 4 litres of water should do fine.
Next, for the boil I decided to put the pumpkin into the cheese cloth. The recipe and forum posts were vague about this step. I decided to try it so I would not have to deal with pieces of pumpkin later in the process. I have a feeling I lost fermentable sugars in the pumpkin and cloth and next time I will boil the pumpkin loose in the wort. I tied off the cloth and used a binder clip to hold it in place.
Getting the water to boil initially took about 6 minutes. Next time I would boil the water first before dropping in the extract and pumpkin. The boil lasts 60 minutes and at different times ingredients are put in. The general idea is that putting ingredients at the beginning of the boil will give you taste and mouthfeel while adding at the end of the boil will add aroma.
Pumpkin goes in @ 60 minutes (at the start).
0.95 oz of Golding Hops @ 60 minutes.
0.50 oz of Golding Hops @ 15 minutes.
0.25 tsp Irish Moss @ 10 minutes. Irish Moss is a fining agent. There is a bit of science behind it but essentially it is added to make the finished beer clear.
I boiled some water and mixed the spices to create a ‘spice tea’ @ 3 minutes. This should give a bit of an aroma to the beer.
Once the boil was done I transferred the wort into my primary fermenting bucket. I topped off with sterile water to fill the bucket to 5 Gallons.
It took forever to try and cool the wort before pitching the yeast. I used my sink with cold water to try and cool it down. I forgot to write down what temperature I pitched at but it was around 79° to 82°. A good tip for cooling down the wort is to place your pot into the sink with ice water before topping off.
This was the first time I measured the gravity of my beer and I did it while it was still hot. I got an original gravity of 1.036 @ 85°F. My final gravity was 1.008 @ 74°F. I made some calculations to standardize those values to the proper temperature and then with some more fake calculations I estimate my beer is about 4.9% alcohol by volume. I lost a bit of fermentable sugars in my pumpkin when I removed it from the boil. But a lighter taste might be appreciated for this type of ale.
10 days later (October 29) I racked to secondary and added another spice tea. When I tasted the beer for the second time I felt the aroma of spices was missing. So I put about .5 tsp of cinnamon and .5 tsp of nutmeg into the carboy to get a stronger spice aroma in the beer. Racking to secondary is optional but is used to help separate the yeast and condition the beer. A lot of people skip this step but I like to rack to secondary, removing the yeast that has caked at the bottom of the fermenting bucket, to help clear up the beer when bottling.
At this stage the beer turned to a nice amber color. Very sweet to the taste. I am not sure if it is the pumpkin skin that brings out this color but it is very appealing.
16 days later (November 14) I bottled the beers with priming sugar. The sugar activates the yeast and carbonates the finished beer. I used a laser printer to print out the labels I made at beerlabelizer.com. Then I used milk on the back of the labels as an adhesive. Surprisingly, milk works very well. There is no smell or stickiness and the labels will come off very easily in warm water.
The beer is called Snowy Pumpkin because it is a “seasonal” ale that is a few months late of seasonal. I had planned for this beer to be ready by Halloween but I missed the mark.
It is recommended to let the beer condition in the bottle for about 3 weeks. This allows the flavours to mellow out a bit. I am really excited to share this with everyone. I have to admit though, as soon as I am done writing this I am going to crack one open a little early and try it. I’m too excited to wait that extra few days.