The Great Pumpkin

My brother-in-law, Travis, has been brewing with me regularly now for a couple years.  Back in September we brewed our annual Pumpkin Spice Ale.  We made 10 gallons of it and I put 5 gallons on tap and set the other 5 aside.  We wanted to use that other 5 gallons to fill a real pumpkin and serve the beer out of one.  Last weekend we did it.

First, the tap version turned out pretty nice.  I still detect too much ginger and clove in the beer and they over power the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  I put 9 pieces of clove in a 13 gallon boil and it’s still too much.  Those are all there, but there is too much clove.  The aroma turned out real nice as did the color and, best of all, the flavor.  We were pretty pleased with the brew.

The question was going to be what would happen once we put it in a pumpkin.

We decided to carbonate it first, before putting it in the pumpkin.  I’m not too familiar with making cask beers and didn’t want to experiment on this project.  Shelley and I visited Elysian Brewery in September for their Pumpkin Festival and I talked with a brewer there about how they set up their pumpkin.  So we decided to try two different versions for our pumpkin.  Elyisan’s way and what I’ve read on forums.

What Elysian did was cut off the top, clean it out and then apply a torch/flame to the inside to sterilize the interior.  I neglected to ask them about carbonation.  But they told me they treated the pumpkin as if it was a cask.  The sample we had wasn’t very carbonated, but it did resemble what you’d have from a cask beer.  They sealed the top back on with beeswax.  So we did this for one of the pumpkins.

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The other pumpkin we cut off the top, cleaned it out and then filled it with water and Five Star to sanitize it.  Basically, we treated and sanitized the pumpkin like a keg.  After letting the Five Star sit in the pumpkin for 5 minutes or so, we poured it out and then filled the pumpkin.

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We filled the two pumpkins at the same time in the same manner we would fill a keg.  Well, sort of.  We just pushed the beer out of a corny keg at about 3 psi and filled the pumpkins.

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We left some headspace inside each pumpkin, just in case.

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We then put the caps back on and then sealed the seam with beeswax.

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We did all this the day before we tapped the pumpkins.  We knew there would be an issue with carbonation so we didn’t want to let the pumpkins sit too long.  I placed both pumpkins in our wine cellar at 55 degrees.  I would have liked to put them in a refrigerator but we don’t have one that’s big enough to hold them both.  The next day we took them over to my sister-in-laws for dinner and tapped the bigger one of the two.  We held the smaller one back for an extra day to see how the carbonation level held up.

Here are some still photos Shelley took of our tapping of the pumpkin.

pumpkin tapped

pouring the first beer

the toast

So, the pumpkin beer tasted okay.  It was still carbonated but did lose some bubbles.  It did seem very cask-like.  The flavor changed quite a bit too.  This was the pumpkin we sanitized with Five Star.  We think that the pumpkin itself contributed quite a bit of moisture to the beer and watered it down a bit.  I took a sample home and checked the gravity but it was unchanged.  But it clearly tasted thinner then the tap version.  With that said, it wasn’t disappointing at all.  The pumpkin held three pitchers of beer and we drank the entire pumpkin during dinner.  The flavor was very pumpkiny as well.  Much more so then the tap version.  Again, I think there was some transfer of flavor while inside the pumpkin.  If we can figure out a way to keep the carbonation level up, it would be interesting to taste this beer after three days inside the pumpkin.

I’m also happy to report no one complained of any ill effects the next morning.

We drank the smaller of the two pumpkins the next night.  It lost all of its carbonation and was very flat.  We didn’t taste any difference between the smaller pumpkin beer and the larger one the night before other than the carbonation level.

Some things we might try for next time.

Travis wants to flame the inside more on our next attempt.  We’re not sure if that might reduce the added moisture from the fresh pumpkin leaching into the beer or not.  It will be interesting to try at least.

Second, I think we’ll fill the pumpkin before we carbonate the beer but then add priming sugar to the beer and carbonate it inside the pumpkin.  We’ll leave some headspace as well, but I can’t image we would have any issues with over pressure that breaks open the pumpkin.  After all, the pumpkin is somewhat permeable.  Enough to relieve any overpressure from carbonation?  I think I’ll keep the pumpkin inside a plastic tote, just in case.

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