I was tempted to call this post the brew day from hell because it was the most frustrating homebrew experience that I have ever had. I’ve been planning this pumpkin ale for a long time now and I was super excited to brew it. And then the brew day came. It started like a normal brew day but I was using some new ingredients that I have never used before. The first was a pound of rice hulls. I’ve never used them becasue I have never used enough of an ingredient to be cautious about a stuck sparge. For those of you who don’t know a stuck sparge is when the grains clog the openings at the bottom of the mash tun and prevent any liquid from coming out. In essence you have a bunch of wort stuck in the grain and no good way to get it out. With the addition of the pumpkin puree, also something I’ve never used before, I decided that rice hulls were a good idea.
Taking a few suggestions online I soaked them in warm water before adding them into the mash tun with the rest of my grains and pumpkin puree. The idea is to soak them first so that they absorb water and don’t steal any water from your strike water. Simple enough. The rice hulls expanded a lot more than I had expected, but that was alright because I still had plenty of room in my mash tun. Adding the rice hulls, pumpkin puree, and the grains all at one time was a bit of a challenge and I could of used a helper. Maggie the homebrew helper puppy was too busy playing with a towel to help me out this brew day.
After adding everything together I took a temperature reading and decided where my water temperature needed to be. I wanted to mash at 152. The first problem came when I realized that the pumpkin puree takes a lot more heat to warm up than the grains do. Grains instantly change temperature, pumpkin puree is much more resistant. My mash temperature came in much lower at about 142 degrees. Another problem came when I put too much water in becasue I wasn’t sure how to account for the pumpkin puree. I actually used bungee cords to keep the top of the mash tun on and prevent any extra heat escape.
I mashed for 60 minutes and then opened the ball valve to find a trickle of wort coming out. Crap. There was plenty of liquid in the mash tun, just not coming out of the front. I moved the grains around a bit and it started flowing a bit more. I collected about three gallons before it stopped again. I also added the 2 pounds of brown sugar when the wort started flow more to get it to dissolve better. The wort stopped flowing and I got my trusty strainer out and put it over the boil kettle. I then took a bowl and scooped out the grain and placed them in the strainer. Any liquid that was stuck in there trickled out, but I did not squeeze the grains to avoid any tannins from coming out in there. I emptied the mash tun out and captured another half gallon or so go wort.
I could not do a second runnings becasue the grains went from the stainer to the trash. I boiled what I had and added the planned hop additions anyway so I’m expecting the IBUs to be a bit higher than I wanted. I also added the same amount of spices that I had planned I use my kitchen sink to cool down my kettle since I do not own a wort chiller (yet!). My apartment has a duel sink setup that allows the water to overflow one and go into the other. It is a great solution for me to always have cold water running and the warmer water drain off. But today of all days, the apartment complex has some plumbing issues and the sinks start backing up. Not just in my sink but the 16 other apartments in the complex. I was ready to give up.
I finally got the wort down to a respectable level, 80 degrees, and put it into the fermenter. I added two different dry yeasts that have high flocculation (fall out of suspension) and high attenuation (eat a lot of sugars) characteristics. I took my gravity reading and it came in at 1.089. The ratio of brown sugar to wort drastically increased the gravity. I’m now looking a a pumpkin beer around the 9% ABV level. Could be good, could be really bad. I also tasted the wort to see what flavors were in there and man it was wonderful. Sweet, pumpkiny, and had the correct spice balance. Hopefully it comes out alright. The day after brewing the fermenter was whistling from all of the CO2 passing though the airlock. We shall see how this beer turns out but brewing it was a pain.