Thanksgiving in a Mug

The biggest beer holiday of the year, especially for Germans, is Octoberfest. But brewing a special beer for any holiday can enhance your enjoyment of it. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and many cooks may already be planning this year’s feast. With all the attention paid to the food at Thanksgiving, it’s only natural for homebrewers to think about what kind of beer might go well with the turkey, stuffing and other holiday favorites.

Although many “normal” beer styles — including leftover Octoberfest — can be served at Thanksgiving, some homebrewers may wish to experiment and come up with an interesting beer especially for Thanksgiving. In this article, I present recipes for three beers made with ingredients used in typical Thanksgiving dinners. If you just want to brew one of the beers, all the information needed is presented in the recipes. If you’re interested in some kitchen chemistry and food science background on the ingredients, the text of the article provides this with biological nerditude thrown in.

Pumpkin Beer

Pumpkin pie is a traditional Thanks-giving dessert. Pumpkins are the fruit of the pumpkin plant (Cucurbita pepo), although most people refer to them colloquially as vegetables. Like many fruits from the squash family, — including cucumbers, various types of gourds, various types of squash, zucchini, cantaloupe and watermelon — their starches or sugars can provide extract for brewing.

The best way to use pumpkins in brewing is to bake cubes of pumpkin flesh and stir them into your mash. To do this, cut the pumpkin open, scoop out the seeds and “goop” and cut the pumpkin flesh into cubes measuring about one inch on each side. Preheat your oven to 350 °F (177 °C) and spread the pumpkin cubes on a baking tray. Bake the cubes until they soften and their exteriors have browned. This will take between an hour and an hour and a half.

(When you’re done, consider baking the pumpkin seeds for a snack treat. Take 2 cups of the pumpkin seeds and coat them with about 3 teaspoons of olive oil. Spread seeds on a baking sheet, turn oven down to 300 °F (149 °C) and roast them until they are golden brown. Season with salt (to taste) and a pinch of cayenne pepper.)

Wait for the pumpkin cubes to cool to around mash temperature, then stir them into your mash as you mash in. Most pumpkin recipes are for ales and a single infusion mash works fine. Pumpkin fruit is about 90% water, but some of this is lost during baking, so it can be somewhat confusing figuring out how to calculate how much water to add for a proper mash consistency. If you are an experienced all-grain brewer, the simplest way to “calculate” this is just to wing it.

If not, try this quickie estimate: take the weight of your grains plus the dried weight of the pumpkin (10% of the wet weight) and multiply by your usual water-to-grain ratio — most BYO recipes use 1.25 quarts water per pound of grain (2.6 L/kg). The extra water in the pumpkins will make your mash a little thinner than usual, but the difference will be small unless you’re adding a pile of pumpkin. Other than perhaps stirring the mash a couple more times than you usually do, you don’t need to do anything unusual once the baked pumpkin cubes are stirred into the mash.

For brewers looking for a simpler option, canned pumpkin is also available (and that is the option used in the extract recipe). Read the label and use only cans containing 100% pumpkin. Some canned pumpkin contains sugar or spices. Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin does not and is available in 15 oz. (0.43 kg) and 29 oz. (0.82 kg) cans.

Baking the pumpkin develops the flavors of the pumpkin flesh, but what really makes people think of pumpkin pie are the spices. Pumpkin pie is typically spiced with cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), allspice (Pimaneta dioica) and nutmeg (Myristica sp.). Some recipes for pumpkin pie spice omit the allspice, which has a cinnamon-like character to it, but may include cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), mace (Myristica sp.) or other spices. (Mace, incidentally comes from the same plant as nutmeg. Nutmeg is from the seed of the plant; mace from the seed covering.) Most supermarkets carry premixed pumpkin pie spice, especially around Thanksgiving.

Keep in mind that a spice mix with more ingredients is not necessarily better than one with the four basic ingredients. A simple mix of 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/4 tsp allspice works well in either pie or beer — but feel free to use Grandma’s double secret background recipe if she’s told it to you.

Grinding your own fresh spices will yield the best flavor in your beer, much better than that old pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice that’s been sitting in your spice rack for years. However, fresh supermarket mixes aren’t as awful as some “spice snobs” would have you believe. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of making your own spice mix, a fresh supermarket blend will work fine.

(You’ll have more fun baking your own pumpkin and making your own spice mix, and your results will likely be better, but I understand that not everybody has a ton of free time around the holidays.)

Getting the right amount of spice in a beer can be tricky as the strength of spices varies. You can add the spice sometime during the boil, at knockout or in secondary (either as raw spice or as an alcohol extract). In the recipe with this article, the spices are added at knockout. Keep in mind, though, that you can boost the amount in the keg (or bottling bucket), if you desire.

Many pumpkin ales, including the commercial Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale, are American pale ales with pumpkin and spices added. My recipe has pumpkin added to an English old ale and is just a bit bigger and darker.

Relish the Cranberry

Most Thanksgiving dishes — turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy — are savory. Providing contrast is the tart cranberry relish. You can also use cranberries (and the other fruits in cranberry relish) to make a tart, sparkling fruit beer.

Cranberry relish is typically made from cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon), seedless oranges (Citrus sp.), apples (Malus domestica) and sugar. However, as with pumpkin pie spice, there are numerous variants. Lemon (Citrus sp.) and ginger are found in a many recipes. (Incidentally, some sources give different species names to the trees bearing different citrus fruits, but all citrus trees — including orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit — can interbreed with each other.) Sometimes cranberry relish is spiked with an orange-flavored liqueur such as Orange Curaçao or Grand Marnier.

The relish is made by grinding the cranberries, oranges — whole (zest, rind and all) — and cored apples and adding sugar. The result is sweet and tart, with a “bite” from the tannins in the cranberry skins and some bitterness from the orange rind.

Making a fruit beer from a tart, strongly-flavored fruit is much easier than making fruit beer from milder fruits. There’s a reason that raspberry wheat is such a popular summer homebrew. To make a cranberry relish beer, brew your base beer and rack it onto cranberry relish. For my base beer, I’ve chosen a lightly-hopped honey wheat so the color and flavor of the cranberries show through.

Once primary fermentation is finished, make your cranberry relish (minus the sugar) and place it in the bottom of a sanitized bucket then rack your beer onto. Do not add the cranberry relish in the boil to sanitize it; cranberries are rich in pectins and your beer will be very hazy. Cranberry relish has a low pH and cranberries have natural anti-biotic compounds in them. (Cranberries grow in bogs and it’s thought the anti-microbial substances are present to help fend off floating bacteria.) Also, the beer you’re racking onto the relish has alcohol in it. This combination of factors limits the possibility of contamination.

During the time the beer contacts the fruit, the sugars in the fruit will be fermented. Color, flavor and tannins from the cranberries will dissolve into the beer, as will bitter compounds from the orange rind (all of these are water and/or alcohol soluble). Pectins from the cranberries and apples will also dissolve, but a dose of pectinase enzyme should degrade them.

The resulting beer should be tart and have a noticeable bitter astringency, just as cranberry juice does. Normally, astringency is something we avoid in beer. However, you expect some astringency along with cranberry flavors. You may want to adjust the acidity by adding malic acid, citric acid or a blend of the two if the beer is not tart enough for you. Malic acid, the type of acid found in apples, is available at home winemaking shops, along with citric acid. Cranberries contain malic, citric and quinic acid, the latter of the three suppresses urinary tract infections. They are also high in benzoic acid, which is used as a preservative in many sweet drinks.

After the contact with the fruit, rack the beer away from the relish. You will be left with soggy relish, which still contains a lot of beer. You may be tempted to want to strain this to yield more beer. However, straining the last bit of relish mush will probably cause too much splashing to be worthwhile, and this isn’t good because you don’t want oxygen to get into the beer.

Sweet Potato ESB

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are not true potatoes — they are from a different species than true potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) and the vegetables are storage roots instead of tubers. But, their starch can be used to provide extract to any beer.

I’ve brewed my sweet potato ESB three times now. It’s just an offshoot of my regular ESB with 5.0 lbs. (2.3 kg) of sweet potatoes substituted for 1.0 lb. (0.45 kg) of pale malt. Sweet potatoes are about 80% water, so the dry weight of 5 lbs. (2.3 kg) is comparable to 1 lb.  (0.45 kg) of pale malt. You can turn any of your beer recipes into a sweet potato variant by making this swap.

To use the sweet potatoes, I just make whipped potatoes, let them cool  and stir them into the mash. Since I don’t bake the potatoes, they only contribute starch and an orangish color to the beer. The beer does not have any sweet potato flavor to it. Aside from the color, the only difference between this and my normal ESB is that the sweet potato ESB is a little drier. If you get brewing now, your holiday beer can be fully aged and conditioned in time for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Beer recipes

Old Pumpculiar
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.058  FG = 1.012
IBU = 27  SRM = 16  ABV = 6.0%

8 lbs. 7 oz. (3.8 kg) pale ale malt (3 °L)
0.66 lbs. (0.30 kg) dark crystal malt
(120-150 °L)
1.0 (0.45 kg) torrified wheat (or flaked wheat)
8 oz. (0.23 kg) cane sugar
8 oz. (0.23 kg) molasses
6.0 lbs. (2.7 kg) pumpkin (fresh, cubed)
0.75 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
6 AAU Northern Brewer hops (60 mins)
(0.67 oz./19 g of 9% alpha acids)
2.5 AAU Fuggles hops (15 mins)
(0.5 oz./14 g of 5% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1028 (London Ale) or White Labs
WLP026 (Premium Bitter) yeast
0.75 cups corn sugar (for priming)

Step by Step

Cut pumpkin into 1-inch (2.5 -cm) cubes and bake at 350 °F (177 °C) until brown. Heat 13 qts. (13 L) of water to 164 °F (73 °C) and stir in crushed grains and pumpkin (once pumpkin has cooled to around mash temperature). Mash for 60 minutes at 153 °F (67 °C).  Collect about 5 gallons (19 L) of wort, add 1.5 gallons (5.7 L) and boil for 90 minutes, adding hops at times indicated. Add sugar and molasses with 15 minutes left in the boil. Add spices at end of boil and let wort sit 15 minutes before cooling. Ferment at 70 °F (21 °C).

Extract option: 

Replace pale ale malt, wheat and pumpkin with: 1.0 lb. (0.45 kg) pale ale malt, 1.5 lbs. (0.68 kg) Alexanders pale liquid malt extract, 4.25 lbs. (1.9 kg) Muntons Light dried malt extract and two 29 oz. (0.82 kg) cans of pumpkin. Place crushed pale ale and crystal malts in a large steeping bag. In your brewpot, heat 3 qts. (3 L) of water to 164 °F (73 °C). Submerge grain bag, then add pumpkin to grains. Steep at 153 °F (67 °C) for 45 minutes. After steep, remove bag but do not rinse with water. Add water to brewpot to make 2.75 gallons (10.4 L), add dried malt extract and bring to a boil. (You can heat the extra ~2 gallons (7.5 L) of boil water in a separate pot.) Boil 60 minutes, making hop and sugar additions as described in the all-grain recipe. Add liquid malt extract and spices at end of boil and let steep 15 minutes before cooling wort. Cool wort, transfer to fermenter and top up to 5 gallons (19 L) with water. Aerate wort and ferment at 70 °F (21 °C).

Cranberry Zinger
(5 gallons/19 L, extract with fruit)
OG = 1.044  FG = 1.007
IBU = 11  SRM = 3  ABV = 4.8%

14 oz. (0.40 kg) Briess wheat dried
malt extract
3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) Coopers Wheat liquid
malt extract
2.0 lbs. (0.91 kg) orange blossom honey
3.0 lbs. (1.4 kg) whole cranberries
(four 12-oz. packages)
2 medium Navel oranges (seedless)
2 medium apples (Granny Smith)
1/4 tsp. yeast nutrients
1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
1/2–2 tsp. malic acid or acid blend (optional)
4 AAU Willamette hops (30 mins)
(0.8 oz./23 g of 5% alpha acids)
Safale US-56 dried ale yeast (3 packages)
1.2 cups corn sugar (for priming)

Step by Step

Bring 1.5 gallons (5.7 L) of water to a boil and add dried malt extract and hops. Boil for 30 minutes, adding yeast nutrients with 15 minutes remaining in the boil. After boil, shut off heat and stir in liquid malt extract and honey. Put lid on pot and let hot wort sit for 15 minutes (over 160 °F/71 °C) before cooling. Cool wort and transfer to fermenter. Add water to make 5 gallons (19 L), aerate and pitch yeast. Ferment at 68 °F (20 °C). Let ferment until completion. Make “cranberry relish” by combining cranberries, apples (cored) and whole oranges (rind and all) in a grinder or food processor, chop to cranberry relish consistency. Put cranberry relish at bottom of sanitized bucket, rack beer on top of it and add pectic enzyme. After 7–10 days of contact with relish, bottle or keg beer. Adjust acidity with malic acid, if desired. Bottle or keg and carbonate so beer is fizzy. A)

Sweet Potato ESB
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.048  FG = 1.010
IBU = 42  SRM = 11  ABV = 4.8%

8.0 lbs. (3.6 kg) English 2-row pale malt
5.0 lbs. (2.3 kg) sweet potatoes
0.5 lbs. (0.23 kg) crystal malt (60 °L)
2.0 oz. (57 g) biscuit malt
9 AAU Kent Goldings hops
(1.8 oz./51 g of 5% alpha acids)
1.25 AAU First Gold hops (30 mins)
(0.25 oz./7 g of 5% alpha acids)
1.25 AAU First Gold hops (20 mins)
(0.25 oz./7 g of 5% alpha acids)
1.25 AAU First Gold hops (10 mins)
(0.25 oz./7 g of 5% alpha acids)
1.25 AAU First Gold hops (0 mins)
(0.25 oz./7 g of 5% alpha acids)
1/4 tsp yeast nutrients
1 tsp Irish moss
Wyeast 1968 (London ESB) or White Labs
WLP002 (English Ale) yeast
1 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Step by Step

Whip potatoes, let cool and stir into crushed grains at mash in. Mash at 153 °F (66 °C) for 1 hour, stirring three to four times. Boil wort for 90 minutes, adding hops at times indicated. Ferment at 70 °F (21 °C).

Issue: October 2005