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
Color: 10.1 SRM
Fermentation Temperature: 65-68°
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.