How to make Pumpkin “Barleywine”

Technically, it is still summer. But based on the beer shelves full of pumpkin beers, breweries would have us believe fall came weeks ago. Love it or hate it, pumpkin beer is here.

It seems from twitter and other social media that people have some pretty intense opinions about the pumpkin beer thing. This includes me.

First of all, I am most definitely of the opinion that pumpkin anything should be reserved for when it is actually fall, so I’m always irked to see pumpkin beers out in August. What is that about!?

I’m just not ready for summer to be over I guess.

In terms of the beer itself, there are those people that think of pumpkin beer as a well-spiced (nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.) fall ale. I am personally of the opinion that pumpkin beers should taste like rich, sweet pumpkin, with just a hint of spice. So for me, Southern Tier Pumpking, a favorite of many, is gross. Again, just my opinion, this is a blog after all.

Of course you *could* spice this beer to high heaven if you want, but then we couldn’t be friends. Just kidding! Sort of.

We decided that rather than add pumpkin pie spice or the like, we’d use a Trappist Belgian yeast for some extra fruity and spicy goodness. (If you ARE going to spice this beer up, don’t tell me about it I’d probably use a non-Belgian yeast that can tolerate high ABV (like WLP001). Up to you. Technically, per Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines, using the Trappist yeast makes this beer more a Belgian specialty ale, since we’re using a Belgian yeast for this “barleywine,” and adding pumpkin too, but whatevs.

Pumpkins

So let’s talk about basic barleywine.

A barleywine is a rich, malty and highly alcoholic beer up to 12% ABV, hence it’s name. Barleywine as a style started out in England around the mid – late 18th century. English aristocrats, who frequently had shortages in supplies of wine, promoted them and were also some of the only people who could afford to drink these strong ales. In the past 25 or so years, American craft brewers have latched onto the style, so nowadays, there are technically two barleywine styles: American and British. The main difference, which is a common difference between American and British beers, is that the yankee version has far more hop presence (50-120 IBU vs 35-70). For that reason, our pumpkin barleywine with 105 IBUs, plus we’re style bending anyway with the Trappist yeast, which is of course a hallmark of craft brewers in America (the style bending that it is), I’d say this is an “American” barleywine of sorts.

cut-side down and roasted

Our original pumpkin recipe called for 5-6 lbs of pumpkin. The beer turned out great, but this time I wanted more pumpkin flavor, so we doubled it. The recommendation for type of pumpkin is not your typical giant pumpkins at the grocery store, but if you can find pie pumpkins or sweet pumpkins, get those. We lucked out since the Eaton Farm, with which we have a CSA, has had lots of pumpkins in the past few weeks so we scooped up four small to medium sized gourds.

Typically we’d do a yeast starter for a beer this big in alcohol, but since our TWO yeast packets both failed us, we ended up scavenging to find yeast in a pinch. Thankfully, Brew Monkeys up on the West Side of Cincinnati was open on a Sunday and had plenty of great yeast and advice to boot. Brewmergency averted! If you live over on that side of town I would definitely check it out.

steamy roasted pumpkins

To prep the pumpkins, we started out by pre-heating the oven to 400 Fahrenheit, cutting them in half, scooping out the guts, placing them cut side down on baking sheets and roasting them for 45 minutes – an hour until the flesh was nice and soft. You want to give the pumpkins time to caramelize, which will concentrate the flavors. DON’T add any oil – you don’t want that in your beer. No sir.

Once the pumpkins have cooled off a bit, scoop out all the pumpkin flesh and mash it up in a large bowl. Set aside until you’re ready to mash in.

scooped out flesh

While we were roasting up those pumpkins, we made up some candi sugar. Lots of homebrew stores will sell Belgian candi sugar, which is expensive, but honestly it is stupid easy to make at home and WAY cheaper.

The great thing about using candi sugar is that since it is fully fermentable you can increase the alcohol in your beer without also adding that cloyingly sweet maltiness.

To make candi sugar, you’ll need a large sauce pot and a candy thermometer, plus white sugar, water, and lemon juice (which is what we use) or cream of tarter as suggested in this blog post which which goes into a ton of detail – more than makes sense here.

"Belgian" Candi Sugar

Now! Onto the beer!

For the malt profile, you can go as simple as two row, a smattering of specialty grains you like (nothing too dark), but perhaps a pound of some crystal 40, or vienna. Whatever suits your fancy. We ended up using 17 pounds of grain – which is a whole heck of a lot.

After crushing up our malt, we placed rice hulls, what ended up being 9 pounds of roasted pumpkin, and malt into our mash tun. We use the rice hulls to help avoid a very stuck sparge, which even with them we had to do a little stirring at first to unstick it, but after that it was smooth sailing. We opted for a two step mash – the first for 45 minutes at 148 degrees fahrenheit, and the final another 45 minutes at 152 degrees. This two step process activates the different enzymes – alpha amylase and beta amylase which help make beer fermentable (super simplification of the process, but that is the gist).

Otis, our ridiculous bulldog just loves when we make beer.

After the mash is complete, we pour water at 170 degrees, using a handy dandy pump, to rain over the grain, which rinses the grains of all their wonderful sugars. A hose at the bottom moves our wort into a large kettle. Once this lautering process is complete, we boil up our liquid. Since the barleywine is a higher alcohol beer, we opted for a 90 minute boil to concentrate the wort and add a little more color in the process. The longer boil also helps to deter DMS (dimethyl sulfide) which I was telling you about in last week’s off-flavor post.

The hops in this beer are really important, because they help to balance out the maltiness and alcohol. We decided to use 5 oz of delta hops, a relatively low alpha hop we added mostly early on in the boil since we weren’t trying to get much hop flavor, just some nice bitterness for this malt-bomb.

Wort ready to boil

Great color, huh? Pumpkin tastic.

After the boil, we cooled down to about 75 degrees, and transferred the wort into a sanitized bucket, added the yeast and aerated the hell out of it so it could get to work. We ended up with a post-boil original gravity (measure of total sugar) of 1096, which will likely give us a 9.5-11% alcohol beer, depending on how much sugar the yeast eats.

As with most barleywines, we’ll age the beer for a significant period of time, in this case a year, meaning this beauty will be ready NEXT fall. If it is near as good as the last time we made it, this beer will be well worth the wait.

What do you think of pumpkin beers? Have you ever made one?

Cheers!

5 thoughts on “How to make Pumpkin “Barleywine””

  1. Now THAT sounds and looks like my kind of pumpkin beer. The majority of “pumpkin” beers produced are a misnomer and should rather be called “pumpkin pie spice (blech)” beer.

    What if you tried the same process with some butternut squash or other gourd thrown in as well to see if you could get even more depth of flavour?

    1. That’s a really good point – would probably yield more sugars to add roasted butternut squash even though its not technically a “pumpkin” – similar flavors.

      I can’t wait for this beer to be done…

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