30. Spiced Beer

Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash Ale

Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer, (30A)  BeerSmith Recipe File




This recipe is the culmination of many, many batches.  I first brewed a pumpkin ale 4 years ago, and while I wasn’t a huge fan, it was a hit among friends and family.  So, it became a staple for the fall harvest/pig roast I would host every October, morphing into a sweet potato beer, than a yam beer with WLP 090 vice Wyeast 1056, the grain bill and hop schedule staying the same for each.  This year, I’m brewing the same recipe, using Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash.  My wife is in a Master Gardener class, and I offered to brew a beer featuring something they grew for their graduation party.  I felt ambitious, and took this on without any research into whether PDC Squash even works in beer!

The specifics of the grain bill, I must admit, are from Northern Brewer’s Smashing Pumpkin all-grain kit. (1) Again, I brewed this beer first as an extract brewer, then as an all-grain brewer, and because of the great reception, I’m sticking with it.  Kudos to Northern Brewer, this is a really great recipe for reaching out to those who might not call themselves craft beer lovers.

This category in the Guidelines is a point of criticism for many brewers.  It is a catchall for many different types of beer, and while some see that as a flaw, I do not.  I see this category as a real chance at creativity and experimentation, within the Guidelines (though I pity the judge who has to evaluate this category in a contest… hell, I pity the brewer.  Feedback from this category has got to be all over the place).  If you read the Guidelines, the overall theme is an appropriate focus on balance.  My motto with spices, veg, chocolate, even oak is: you’d rather leave the drinker wanting a little more, than a little less.  I do have a spice addition here: 1 teaspoon of an equal parts mixture of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.  I have added this to every version of this beer I’ve brewed, and I have never noticed it in aroma or flavor any more than VERY subtle.  That’s the way I like it for this type of beer.  You of course, are allowed lots of leeway here, and should build the recipe to suit your tastes.  I think this recipe works well because the base beer is a solid American Amber recipe, which is hard not to like.

If you’re going to work with a large amount of vegetable, consider some rice hulls in the mash.  I learned that the hard way many years ago when sweet potatoes quickly became a thick sludge which left me with a stuck sparge – literally a hot mess.

This recipe is a crowd pleaser, which is perfect for a group of gardeners, many of whom I would not call craft beer enthusiasts.  Which is why it is important to me to make sure I focus, and brew the best possible version, both to showcase my brewing, and represent home brewing to an unfamiliar crowd.  Also, I think it is fun exercise to make beer from something they planted, and it sort of brings two seemingly different worlds together for a greater appreciation of one another.


Recipe (all US malt, Briess) BeerSmith File

7.5 lb. US 2-row

2.5 lb. Munich Malt

0.5 lb. 80L

0.25 lb. 60L

1 large Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash (I forgot to weigh it, sorry!)

Mash @ 151° for 60 min, single infusion (1.25 qt/lb), fly sparge w/4.7 gal @ 168°

Boil for 60 minutes

1oz Cluster (6.8%) boil for 60 min

1 tsp of equal mixture of ground cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg @ flameout

WLP 090 San Diego Super, 800mL starter

OG: 1.050

FG: 1.010

ABV: 5.3%

IBU: 22.5

Color: 10.1 SRM

Fermentation Temperature: 65-68°


Brew Day

I cut the squash in half length-wise, then into several pieces, removed the seeds and placed cut-side down on a baking sheet in a 350° oven.

Cook them face down, I'm just showing off here
Cook them face down, I’m just showing off here

I baked for 1 hour, noticed they could use a bit more caramelization, and boosted the temp up to 400°, and baked for another 20 minutes.

I allowed the pieces to cool enough to handle, removed the skin (I wouldn’t eat the skin, why put it in my beer?!), and cut into roughly 2 inch cubes.

Notice caramelization
Notice caramelization

I added the squash directly to the mash, immediately after mashing in.  It is important to note, that you’re going to want to have a little (1-2 quarts) of both hot (~165°) and room temperature water on hand, as every time I’ve added veg to the mash, the temperature swings are different.  If you use canned pumpkin, for example, and don’t let it cool after you cook it, it will raise the temperature.  In my case, the squash lowered the temp about 7 degrees, and I corrected for it by adding almost 2 quarts of 165° water.

Also, at the end of your sparge, fish out a piece of the veg and eat it.  If it is very bland, then you know you’ve successfully extracted all the sugar you could from it.  If it is still a bit sweet, consider some more pre-cooking, a longer mash time or a slower/longer sparge (but don’t over-sparge).

The rest of the brew day was straight forward, with a normal boil (adding my spice addition at flameout), cool down and transfer to fermenter.  At pitching, the wort was 65°.



I keep the wort at 65° for the first 48 hours of fermentation, allowing it to rise to 68° on the 3rd day.  Now, here is the beauty of WLP 090: at the end of day 3, the krausen had already almost completely fallen back into the beer!  On day 6, I kegged it.


WLP090 Does NOT play around
WLP090 Does NOT play around

As you can see, on 6 day there is a well defined yeast sediment, and the beer is relatively free of yeast.  This beer doesn’t usually clear up on its own (I think due to increased unconverted starches from the veg), so if you mind, consider fining.  In my case, because I’m presenting this beer to outsiders, I’m fining with gelatin in the keg. (2)



After 5 days in the keg, I bottled using a Blichmann counter pressure filler, and capped with green (gardeners!) caps.  I also quickly designed a label on beerlabelizer.com, printed it out on sticky sheets, and put them on the bottles for a truly professional look.  I’m hoping the gardeners will be very impressed.

Squash Beer!
Squash Beer!


My Take


First of all, while not brilliantly clear (it is clearer in person than in the picture) I think the clarity is pretty good given there’s an entire squash in there!  The aroma features subtle spice.  The squash is definitely there, but it doesn’t taste like you’d expect it to, it isn’t blatantly squash.  The spice additions are also barely apparent on the pallet, but again, that’s how I prefer spice beers.  The finish is slightly bitter, with a mildly “starchy”, dry feeling.  Overall, I’d say while not an award winner, it is very similar to how I remember previous batches.


The Stig

It’s time to turn the beer over to our Team Tasting Imbiber.  Some say he owns a full suit of armor made entirely out of winter squash.  And that recently, he’s been adding spice additions to his shaving cream.  All we know is, he’s called the Stig!

Aroma: Squash fruit up front, hint of baking spice reminiscent of cardamom.  No discernible hop aroma.  Very faint DMS which isn’t off putting (this could just be a vegetal aroma from the squash).

Appearance: Light copper hue (10-12 SRM), good clarity, off white head with intermittent lacing, moderate head retention.

Flavor: Mild squash fruit, very diminished spice flavors compared to aromatics.  Slight graininess, almost husky. Perhaps too bitter for the style.

Mouthfeel: Mild carbonation.  Medium bodied.  A bit astringent on the finish.

Overall Impression: Great aromatics, and looks the part.  Falls short on the flavor and mouthfeel.  Perhaps over-sparged, and hops could have been in the boil too long.



First of all, the beer went over well with the gardeners.  They really enjoyed the “coolness” factor of the beer being made with something they helped grow, and several people told me that they really enjoyed the beer.  It dawns on me that perhaps the reason this beer does so well in non-craft beer crowds is BECAUSE it isn’t a very good spice beer, but rather an amber with a little something extra.

I’m not surprised that The Stig didn’t love this beer, but he did highlight some important points that I would correct if I were brewing this again.  Looking at my IBU/Gravity ratio (perhaps a more accurate representation of bitterness vice strictly IBUs), this beer is 0.45 IBU/points of OG, which while within The Guidelines, is probably too high for a beer this low on the ABV scale.  In the future, I would dial back the ratio to 0.3 or so, and let the squash and spice take front and center.

The husky/astringent notes are a concern (I sort of noticed a “starchy dry” note in My Take).  The notes could be from over-sparging (possible), too high a mash pH/sparge runoff pH, crushing the grain too much (shredding the husks completely, but my crush was good), mashing too hot, getting too many grain bits in the boil kettle or even a bacterial infection (which I think is very unlikely, as I am a StarSan maniac).

I went back to the books (Palmer, Noonan and a byo article (3)) to double check that my single-infusion mash technique is correct.  I immediately noticed that I’m doing something all 3 sources advise against:  I add my hot liquor to the mash tun first, and then slowly add my grain to the hot water, vice doing what they recommend.  They advocate adding your grain to the mash tun, and then slowly adding the hot liquor (Noonan says dough in with cold water but I don’t know anyone who does that, and that’s for decoction mashing), stirring frequently (obviously) until you’ve added the entire volume of hot liquor.  So, that may be the culprit, but I think something else was also a factor.  I’d have to wonder about mash water chemistry, and its role… I did not monitor mash pH at all during the sparge, and I could have over-sparged.  Also, perhaps I didn’t do as good a job as I thought removing the skin from the vegetable, and that was a source of astringency.  So the takeaway for me is to correct my dough-in procedure, begin monitoring sparge pH and wait on more feedback from The Stig on other beers to see if this problem is unique or recurring.


(1) Smashing Pumpkin all-grain kit
(2) Fining with gelatin in the keg is very easy, and I’ve done it 7 or 8 times now with great results.  Again, Scott’s influence is evident, as I follow his procedure.


Books I referred to for this recipe:

Palmer, John.  How To Brew.  2006.

Noonan, Greg.  New Brewing Lager Beer.  1996.

Zainasheff & Palmer.  Brewing Classic Styles.  2007.

2008 BJCP Guidelines.


  1. This is a pretty good first post. Congrats. Very informative. I’ve brewed this extract version myself a couple of times, the most recent included sweet potatoes and butternut squash. It didn’t occur to me to add more spices though. I will keep this in mind the next time i brew it.

    1. If I had to do it again, I’ll dial back the IBUs a tad, bump up the OG at least 10 more points, and maybe add 1.25 tbs of spice, using the freshest spices possible.

  2. Hi, I’ve got a pile of dried persimmons from the in-law’s garden. They’re sweet with a really subtle floral aroma, kind of reminiscent of lavendar. I’ve been thinking of trying to make a persimmon ale, but I’ve never heard of anyone doing it before. Do you think the recipe you used would be a good base, or do you have any other recommendations as a base for a subtly-fruit-flavored beer.

    1. First, there are two main types of persimmons, one is particularly astringent, and the other isn’t. Astringency (caused by tannins) has almost no place in beer, and can be downright awful because carbonation and bitterness tend to over accentuate it. So, eat one and figure out which variety you have. Also, a quick query of Wikipedia says that the astringent varieties when very ripe tend to not be astringent any more, so perhaps you’re in the clear. If they have a pallet drying, puckering-grape skin sensation, that’s astringency (Astringency is weird, it’s not a taste but a sensation).

      Second: beware of wild yeasts! Unless you’re planning on making lambic or some other “wild ale”, you’d have to find a way to reliably kill the bugs and bacteria that are no doubt dormant on the skins of that fruit. They’re just waiting to be rehydrated in the presence of tasty sugar…. So, given the fruit’s subtly, vodka might be your best choice if you plan to add these post-boil. The booze will kill the badguys and dutifully extract flavors from the fruit. Soak them completely covered overnight and add the whole thing, vodka and all. Use the smallest container and the least amount of vodka to get the job done.

      Adding the fruit at the last few minutes of the boil of course would kill those little buggers, but remember every minute you boil these guys you’re losing all those delicate aromatics and flavors.

      As for the base beer, I’d go a few shades lighter to help bring out those subtle aromas and flavors, drop the IBUs to a bare min, and perhaps even use a bittering hop without much character to get in the way (crystal comes to mind). No aroma or dry hops. Come to think of it, this fruit might be nice in a Hefe, or better still a Belgian Wit…

      My last thoughts: if you’re even remotely considering experimenting with wild ale, I think these guys would be great for the role. Tannins actually do just fine (in low-moderate levels) in wild ale, the wild yeasts wouldn’t be a problem, and the subtly would be more apparent given the extremely low bitterness and very light color. If you are considering this, grab “Wild Brews” by Jeff Sparrow for ideas, techniques and recipes. Just keep in mind you won’t be drinking that wild brew until 2015 AT LEAST.

      1. Actually, the more I think about this, the more I realize Belgian Wit might be perfect as a base beer. The pros often add orange peel, grains of paradise and other spices, so I don’t think the persimmons would be out of their element. The carbonation is high, which helps lift aromatics to your nose. Wheat is a pretty good canvas for flavor. Need I say more?

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