Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Grand Pumpkin Ale v1.0

Some time ago, perhaps more than a year back, I purchased a Great Pumpkin Ale kit from Adventures in Homebrewing.  The kit's been sitting in my basement in the original double-bagged container ever since.  This weekend, I decided to brew it, though I held out little hope that it will taste very good - not because I think Adventures in Homebrew didn't make a good recipe, but because it has to be at least a year old. There's a good chance the grain has oxidized and gone bad. But rather than throw it out, I decided to brew it anyway. The worst case scenario is that I'll have to dump it later.

The original recipe made for a very weak beer compared to most pumpkin ales I've had. It was estimated to have an ABV of 4.3%.  I'm not sure I've ever seen a pumpkin beer that low. I was also concerned that given the age of the grain it might not yield much sugar. I decided to put my own spin on the recipe. If it turns out to be terrible, it won't be Adventures in Homebrewing's fault.  Since I modified it significantly I decided to change the name to The Grand Pumpkin (a reference to one of the Simpsons Halloween episodes).

Below is the modified recipe as brewed.

Ingredients

12 pounds 2-row Brewer's Malt
1 pound Honey Malt
8 ounces Cara-Pils/Dextrine Malt
8 ounces Melanoidin Malt
8 ounces Caramunich Malt
8 ounces Chocolate Malt
1 can (15 oz.) Pumpkin Puree
12 ounces Turbinado Sugar
4 ounces D-45 Candi Syrup
1/2 Whirlfloc tablet
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 small container of Pumpkin Pie Spice (31 grams)
1 package Safbrew US-05 yeast

Per BeerSmith, the beer ought to have the following characteristics:

  • Boil time: 60 min.
  • Batch size: 5.1 gallons
  • Est. OG: 1.083 SG, 20.1 Brix
  • BH Efficiency: 70%
  • Est. Pre-boil Vol.: 6.4 gallons
  • IBUs: 25.7
  • Color: 22 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 8.9%
  • Total Grains: 16 pounds
  • Total Hops: 1 ounce
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.31 IBU/SG
  • Est. Pre-boil Gravity: 1.072 SG, 
  • Est. Final Gravity: 1.016 SG
I set the Brewhouse Efficiency low for this batch due to the age of the grains and the likelihood that the yield would be low. Plus, The Grainfather seems to drop in efficiency as the grain bill gets closer to the device's limit of 20 pounds.

Even at that, post-brew figures were:
  • Fermenter volume: 4.9 gallons (really, a hair below 5, so I'm calling it 4.9)
  • Original Gravity: 1.083 SG, 20.1 Brix
  • Pre-boil gravity: 16.1 Brix or 1.066 SG
  • Pre-boil volume: 22 Liters or 5.8 gallons
Mash

6 gallons of mash water were placed in The Grainfather. Mash water was heated to 158F and the grains stirred into it a few scoopfuls at a time until it was all added. Some additional stirring ensured that it was all wet and that there were no apparent dry spots or dough balls in it.  The top of the grain basket was put on and The Grainfather pump turned on to recirculate the wort.  After 60 minutes of mashing, an iodine test confirmed conversion.

The kit actually called for mashing at 152F.  I chose to mash at 158F because I wanted a more full-bodied beer with, hopefully, some residual unfermentable sugars to go with the spice and balance out the hops.

At about 30 minutes into the mash, I added a 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree to the top of The Grainfather's grain basket.

It slipped my mind to do the mash out. I pulled out the grain basket and poured in the sparge water (1.25 gallons) before realizing I hadn't heated the wort to 168F first.  This was past the point of no return, so I let it go. 

Pre-boil volume was expected to be 6.4 gallons, but was about 22 liters or 5.8 gallons. Gravity was below what I expected, but I ended up adding water to get it to approximately 6.4 gallons, as it heated to a boil.


Boil

A 60-minute boil was performed, using the Brewcolator device to enhance boil-off and perhaps reduce chill haze later on.  The boil schedule was:

  • 60 minutes:  Add Northern Brewer
  • 10 minutes:  Begin circulating boiling wort through chiller to sterilize it and add Whirlfloc
  • 5 minutes: Add candi syrup, turbinado, and half of the container of pumpkin spices
  • 0 minutes: Turn off heat, turn off pump, and run cold water through chiller to bring its temperature back down before pumping into fermenter.
Post-boil volume was a touch under 6 gallons.

Fermentation

Wort was pumped through the counter-flow chiller into the fermenter. Wort temperature was 72F. I pitched the dry yeast directly into the beer along with the White Labs Clarity Ferm (intended to reduce gluten so a gluten-sensitive friend could enjoy the beer). 

I configured the temperature control system to keep the beer between 68F and 72F.  

The beer is expected to ferment for at least one week in the temperature control system.  After that, I'll let it ferment at ambient temperature for another week as secondary, possibly adding the rest of the container of pumpkin pie spice - if a taste test doesn't show enough of a spice flavor or aroma.


After at least two weeks of fermentation, I'll dose the beer with gelatin and cold-crash it in the mini fridge for 3-4 days to brighten up before bottling.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

Experienced home brewers reading this are probably asking a lot of questions.  I'm going to try to anticipate some of these and answer them here:
  • Why did you let this kit sit around so long before brewing it?  I bought the kit on sale along with a bunch of other grain and hops. I kind of forgot about it for a while, because I had so much other grain in the brewing area that it kind of got lost in the shuffle. When I finally noticed it was there, I didn't hold out much hope for it tasting good, so I was hesitant to brew it. I finally reached the conclusion that it was never going to get younger so I ought to just brew the darned thing.
  • Why did you modify the kit?  The original specifications called for the beer to be only 4.3% ABV. I've never seen a pumpkin beer that low, and none of the ones I like is that low. Plus, knowing the age of the ingredients, I was pretty sure the 4.3% wouldn't be achieved and I'd end up with a really weak beer.  I decided to add some 2-row Brewer's Malt to raise the gravity. Then I decided to add some Honey Malt to maybe sweeten it a bit. I added Cara-Pils and Melanoidin to help give it a nice whipped-cream-like head (which seemed appropriate on a pumpkin beer).  I added D-45 because I had some sitting around, and Turbinado because I'd seen another brewer add it to a pumpkin beer and it sounded good.  This also helped me get to the gravity I wanted to reach.
  • Did anything go wrong during the brew?  Yes. Something usually does. In this case, I'd had BeerSmith set to 80% brewhouse efficiency, which I get for most beers.  After the mash, the efficiency was clearly much lower, so I adjusted accordingly. That's reflected in the numbers given above.  I also had some trouble with my motorized mill. Its spider gear came apart and I had to spend a while reassembling and tightening it.  It needed an Allen wrench, which I didn't have handy and needed to search for.  Apart from those things, it turned out well.
If I had all this to do over, I'd have made the kit much sooner after I purchased it.  In that case, I probably would not have modified it, since I'd have wanted to see how Adventures in Homebrewing's kit would turn out as-is.  

11/12/2017:  It appears that fermentation has dramatically slowed or stopped on this one. A refractometer reading showed it at 10.2 Brix, which is a bit lower than the gravity I expected. I view this as a further indication that fermentation is finished. I'm planning to dose it with gelatin and a bit of fresh spice later today.  Early samples taken from the fermenter have gotten my wife's seal of approval. In fact, she asked me not to give away too much of it, she likes it so much.  High praise.

11/15/2017:  I added gelatin finings and enough pumpkin pie space shaken into the fermenter to create a thin layer across the wort (maybe a quarter of a teaspoon or so), then moved the whole thing into the mini-fridge to cold crash.

11/20/2017:  The beer is looking pretty clear and has a nice aroma, so I decided to bottle it. Yield was approximately 12 bomber (22-ounce) bottles and 30 bottles at 12 ounces.

11/21/2017:  I designed and printed the label, then removed bottles from my "hot box" long enough to get the labels on. They'll now sit in the 76F box until they carbonate, which should take 1-2 weeks.

12/04/2017:  The first couple of test bottles have been refrigerated and opened. The beer is incredibly dark for a pumpkin ale, probably due to the age of the grain.  It has a pleasant spicy aroma, not too much or too little for my taste.  The flavor is very close to my ideal pumpkin beer.  It's slightly sweet, with a clear (but not too intense) spice note, with a touch of pumpkin flavor, and enough hops to balance it but not enough to make it bitter.  I get a cola-like flavor from it, possibly due to oxidation, but it's hard to say.  Overall it's a good beer and I'd make it again with fresh ingredients.

Next Time

When I brew this one again, and I will, I plan to make the following changes:
  • Brew with fresh grain instead of the older kit I used this time
  • Ensure that I hit my gravity, boiling off or adding extract as needed to hit the target
  • Add Victory Malt (maybe 10-15%) to add a biscuit-like flavor to the beer, which I think would be reminiscent of pie crust
  • Add the pumpkin puree sooner, and perhaps double the amount, to bump that flavor up
  • Mash at 156F instead of 158F to reduce the sweetness slightly.
I think those changes would get me closer to my ideal pumpkin ale.

12/22/2017:  The beer has changed quite a bit since originally bottled. The spice aroma and flavor seem to have decreased quite a bit, and the beer itself has gotten quite a bit darker.  It's interesting to note that it seems very little like a pumpkin beer now and more like a brown ale.

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