Halloween is one of those holidays with an ageless quality. It doesn’t matter if you’re a youthful trick-or-treater or the adult handing out candy to those costumed visitors. It’s always a festive time of year.
This year, I found a different way to get in the Halloween spirit: I decided to brew a beer for the occasion, more specifically pumpkin-flavored ale.
Home brewing is a hobby I’ve become enamored with recently. I got a Mr. Beer brewing kit for Christmas last year and I’ve added other essentials — bottle capper, grain bags, boiling pot, etc. — through the Brew-N-Wine Creations store in Mankato.
Mr. Beer kits are pretty simplistic compared to some of the other home-brewing options, but for novice brewers, it’s a good place to start. The kits also leave plenty of room for creativity, as I’ve brewed everything from coffee-flavored dopplebock to raspberry wheat beer in the past year.
Pumpkin-flavored ale presented a new set of challenges. I decided early on that I wanted to use a real pumpkin instead of the canned variety. I figured it’d be less messy and give the beer a more natural flavor.
Of course, the problem with doing this is that I had no prior experience baking with pumpkins and knew even less about how to use them for brewing. Heck, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as pumpkin pie spice.
So, like most curious minds in this day and age, I looked to Google for the answers. After browsing a few different brewing sites, I came up with my own plan of how I wanted to do it:
--- I scooped the seeds out of the pumpkin, chopped it into several small pieces and threw it in the oven at 325 degrees for about an hour.
--- After letting the pumpkin cool, I sliced the skin off the pieces, cut the pieces into even smaller chunks and stuffed them into grain bags (cloth bags that are used as a strainer for solids during the boiling process).
--- The normal procedure for a Mr. Beer kit calls for bringing the unfermented beer — also called a wort — up to a boil for only a few seconds. However, since I was trying to extract as much flavor as possible from the pumpkins, I added extra water and kept the boil going for about 40 minutes. In order to replace the brewing sugars lost during the boil, I also added honey to the wort.
--- After the boil was complete, I added about a 1⁄2 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice to the mix. The spice seemed like it was strong enough to overwhelm the rest of the beer’s flavor, so I steeped it — basically the same as using a tea bag — in a separate pot of boiling water for a few minutes.
At present, the pumpkin-flavored ale — nicknamed “Pumpkin Pete’s Trick-or-Treat Ale” — is still fermenting and won’t be ready until the end of the month, just in time for Halloween. So I can’t say definitively if it will be a tasty concoction or a brewing monstrosity.
However, like the jack-o’-lantern carving and trick-or-treating of years past, the brewing succeeded in getting me excited for the costume-clad holiday that’s fun for all ages.