After reading an article on Pumpkin Ale that mentioned the colonial reliance on mashed pumpkin as an alternate for a barley mash — apparently pumpkin was much easier to acquire than barley in the colonies — I became curious as to what I could brew up using basic ingredients. I’ve been itching to start a batch for Yule and this seemed a good opportunity. I am not especially confident that one pumpkin would be enough since George Washington’s famous recipe for a molasses beer called for:
- 30 gallons of water
- 3 gallons of molasses
- barley & hops for flavoring
I am preparing a much smaller batch of only two gallons (saving my five gallon carboy for a fuller batch of mead), but I figure one roasted pumpkin will probably yield only a couple pounds of mash. I am treating the pumpkin like a flavoring, preparing a ‘tea’ of it in just under three gallons (allowing for evaporation) and thought to use molasses for the sugar. After reading some of the brewing forums, though, I have thought better of it and am using a kilogram of honey or the primary fermentables.
- 1 sugar pumpkin
- 1 cup molasses (blackstrap)
- 1 kg. honey (grocery store variety)
- 3+ gallons of water (2+ having been reduced overnight — see below)
- champagne yeast
- spices: I used ground cinnamon and cloves
The water gets boiled the night before and left standing uncovered overnight so that the fluoride and chlorine can evaporate off. Everything needs to be sterilized: surfaces, pots, ladles, measuring cups, spoons, etc. If you think you might need it, sterilize. I boil everything that I can for ten minutes. The carboys are treated with a sulphite solution as per the instructions on the package. There are several ways to do this, but the long and short of it is that bacteria can throw off flavor — or so I have been told. I’ve not experienced it first hand myself yet, knock on wood.
You are supposed, of course, to assemble everything that you think you will need and then everything that you think you won’t (in case you might). I somehow never do this, but wish I did. In general, I feel like our forebears must not have been so particular, and they seemed to enjoy the product. Maybe they didn’t know better, but … well, nothing’s gone hideously wrong yet — I mean besides two bottles exploding one time and half a batch actually growing mold. I still haven’t figured that one out.
Making the Mash:
Usually, barley would be boiled at a precise temperature to convert the starches into sugar. With pumpkins, I don’t know if boiling would convert anything into anything else, but roasting at least
caramelizes what sugars are already present. I roasted my pumpkin for an hour until the skin just slipped right off. Then I smooshed the meat into a pan and ladled in some of the prepared water until the pumpkin was covered. Bringing the mixture to a boil was tricky as heat had to be added slowly to avoid scorching the pumpkin, but when it was simmering down under a gentle boil I grated in the ginger, mixed in the spices, and squeezed in the lemon, tossing it in once the juice had been squeezed out. The trick was to get a good blend of aromas, and once it started to smell sweet and rich I knew it was ready to strain.
Making the “Wort”:
I don’t really know what else to call it. The goal was to get rid of as many solids as possible while introducing more sugars to the liquid that would actually become the final product. I decided to break with my past method of boiling the honey, since the colonial recipes I’ve seen merely require the water to be strained over the molasses or honey prior to brewing. I put the honey and molasses into a bowl and strained the mash over it, allowing the heat to dissolve them into the fluid. I then introduced this concentrated ‘wort’ to the rest of the water, thereby bringing it to the required “blood temperature” for adding the yeast. I constituted the yeast, strained the concentrated fluid into my bottles, since there were still small solids in the concentrate, and added the yeast.
The whole process start to finish and including cleaning up afterward took two hours.
It would have gone considerably quicker with a funnel that fit my bottles and a large strainer instead of a colander. Even then, it took some time to strain the concentrate as I had to squeeze the mashed pumpkin through the collander with another metal bowl. Also, with one pumpkin and the amounts of honey and molasses, 3 gallons was too much. The concentrate had a very nice flavor, but when it was mixed with the rest of the water it seemed a little thin. We will see when it’s finished.