Two weeks after completing our first Brew Day we lugged all the equipment back out to my driveway. It was the end of August, the heat was blazing and though I love the summer heat I was about ready for things to cool off. With the next season right around the corner it seemed like a great time to make up a batch of some sort of spicy fall beer. We chose the Brewer’s Best Pumpkin Spice Porter extract kit.
The thing you quickly learn about homebrewing is that you choose what kind of beer you’re going to want to drink in the future, not in that moment. When picking a recipe it’s important to note how much time it’ll take to ferment and condition. If you want to make a heavy stout for the winter you might have to brew that some time in July since it might take a few months in the bottle or keg to develop proper flavors. Beer is a living thing that’s always changing over time. Learning what to drink fresh and experimenting with how certain beers change over time is an interesting and scientific way to get more out of being a fan of beer.
Since this beer has gone through its complete cycle from being a box of ingredients to a finished beer I thought it would be good to talk about the final product and other things not covered in my first homebrewing post.
The name of this beer is at once exact and misleading. This is not a true pumpkin ale, there’s not a trace of real pumpkin going into it, but it does have a healthy amount of pumpkin pie spice for flavor. It’s also a little more unique since you see a lot of traditional ales or IPAs infused with pumpkin as a brewery’s fall pumpkin/Oktoberfest offering. You don’t find a lot of porters being offered up as fall beers and since Phil and I both love the style picking this kit was not something we debated for long.
As I mentioned before we once again we picked out a complete kit at our local homebrew supply store from Brewer’s Best. These are really great for the starting homebrewer because they contain every single thing you’ll need that is not equipment. Ingredients, grain or hop bags, bottle caps, priming sugar; you name it, it’s there. Complete ingredient kits are available from a lot of different homebrew supply stores and sites. Northern Brewer, Midwest Supplies, Austin Homebrew…they all offer a number of ready-to-go kits in a wide range of styles.
Here’s the ingredient list for our Pumpkin Spice Porter (PDF):
- Specialty Grains:
- 4 oz. – Caramel 90L
- 8 oz. – Carabrown
- 8 oz. – Dark Chocolate
- 6.6 lbs – Porter Liquid Malt Extract (LME)
- 8 oz. – Maltodextrin
- 1 oz. – US Golding – bittering
- 1 oz. – Willamette – aroma
- 1.5 oz. – Pumpkin Pie Spice pack
- Safale S-04 dry ale yeast
When Brew Day rolls around we typically gather all the equipment, set up a temp shelter and then lay out all the ingredients (measuring out anything that needs it), sanitize all the things and get our water heating. There’s plenty of time while the water heats to look over the instructions and get everything laid out in the order you’ll use it.
Let’s take a look at a simplified version of the instructions for this kit:
55 minute boil.
- Heat 2.5 gallons of water to steeping temperature of 150-165 degrees. Put specialty grains loosely in grain bag, tie off at the top and place in water for 20 minutes. When time is up, remove grains, allowing the excess water to drain back into the pot.
- Bring wort up to a boil, once boiling add all of the fermentables and bittering hops. Boil for 40 minutes.
- With 15 minutes left, add aroma hops.
- With 5 minutes left add spice pack.
- Boil final 5 minutes then terminate the boil.
With the boil completed it’s time to use our hand-dandy wort chiller to bring the temperature down far enough to pitch the yeast. On as hot a day as it was this took quite a while, even with our then new pre-chiller (a smaller version of the wort chiller that is set in-line inside an ice-filled cooler before the regular wort chiller). This time we routed the water run-off to a sprinkler and immediately recycled the water to feed my lawn. Eventually it came down enough to pitch the yeast, give it a little shake and set it in a dark corner to let the yeast turn the wort into beer.
About a week later I racked the porter to a secondary fermenter. There is definitely some debate on whether you should rack at all but we subscribe to the theory that racking the beer helps with clarity (not a big concern with a dark beer like this) and leaving the beer sitting on top of the trub that collects at the bottom of the carboy can possibly cause off flavors in the final product. At some point we’ll try making the same beer with each method to see how it comes out.
A little over two weeks after racking (three weeks since brewing) we racked the beer to our bottling bucket to get ready for, well, bottling. We had bottled our Belgian Tripel in 12 oz. bottles so to change things up we decided to use 22 oz. “bombers” for our Pumpkin Spice Porter. Bottling can be a cumbersome process (we’ll soon be moving to using kegs) since you have to wash and sanitize each and every bottle that you’re planning on using. I’ve recently been reading about how to make this process a little less painful and it seems that a combination of using a dishwasher (with PBW, not dish soap) and a Vinator Bottle Rinser (with StarSan) for sanitizing will help this process along nicely.
After we were done there was a little set aside to test the uncarbonated but otherwise finished beer. I always like to taste the beer at all the different stages to get an idea of how its coming along. After taking a swig Phil and I exchanged a curious and concerned look. There was almost no flavor that we could pick up. Usually your basic porters will smack you in the face with their malty flavors let alone one that has a whole bunch of strong pumpkin spices mixed in. It was going to be nerve-racking couple of weeks while we let the bottles condition until we tried it again.
Another couple of weeks after we bottled we had plans to get together to go tour Flying Fish’s new brewery and brew up some White House Honey Ale (next time on Homebrew Adventures!) but also, it was time to taste our Pumpkin Spice Porter for the first time. Curiosity was high and we nervously popped off the cap of a cold bomber, splitting the bottle between our two pint glasses. Success! The spices are right up front, almost a little too much but they should settle. Body is good, nose is tempting, mouth feel is clean. Why the sip on bottling day has so little flavor is still a mystery but will rest in our memory as another lesson in the on-going learning process that is homebrewing. Cheers!