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Nightmare Stout

I have never been moved to tears from frustration when brewing an all-grain batch of beer before – until tonight. I am quite convinced I found an alternative formulation for concrete, and it takes the form of my ill-fated pumpkin stout recipe. I ultimately ended up getting the b@stard brewed, but with severe compromises and consequences… Of which I will enumerate below.

Let’s begin with the recipe (10 gallon intended formulation):

12 lb Maris Otter 2-row
4 lb Munich
4 lb Flaked Barley
8 oz Muntons Black Roasted Barley
8 oz Muntons Chocolate Malt

1 lb Rice Hulls

2-3 Pie pumpkins, roasted @ 350 degF for 1 hour (about 8-10 lb of pumpkin mush)

2.5oz Whole Northern Brewer hops, 7.1%AA (60 min)
2 small cinnamon sticks (5 min)
2.0oz East Kent Golding (Flame Out)
0.33oz Pie Spices (Flame Out)

So there it is. I am quite convinced that 4lb of Flaked barley and 10 lb of pumpkin was pushing my luck for a single mash tun… perhaps even for 2. It all mashed just fine and converted without a problem. I had so little room left in the mash tun that I actually pulled 8qts of thick mash and did a quick 20 minute decoction to bring the whole thing up to 162 deg F. Then the horror began.

I cracked the valve to begin the vourlauf and collected about 2qt before flow stopped entirely. I opened the valve entirely… nothing. Nothing coming out. At this point I had only added a half pound of rice hulls, so I added the other half, scraped the cement off the top of my false bottom, let it settle for another 10 minutes, and tried again…. with the same result. I couldn’t get the stuff to sparge AT ALL. Long story short, I ended up employing my 10 gallon kettle, another mash tun, and ultimately a friggin 2 qt collander and my wife to just get the liquid off the grain bed. I collected 13.5 gallons to boil… but with only a 55-60% efficiency, which meant I had to add 2 pounds worth of DME I had laying around (for big yeast starters) just to get the wort in the right ballpark gravity.

Boiling there was ton of grain matter and protein churning around due to my way substandard (albeit necessary) sparging technique, and when the whole hops got added it looked like a big bubbling cauldren of disaster…. and it was. I managed to get the boil completed, and after a relatively reasonable cooling duration and whirlpool began runoff… at which point the Northern Brewer whole hops joined forces with the other crap in my wort and formed a concrete layer ontop of the false bottom. My 1/2″ valve and tubing was letting through a mere trickle… would have taken like 3 hours just to fill the fermenter.

I rushed downstairs, grabbed my metal spoon again, shoved it in the sanitizing bucket for 10 minutes, and then proceeded to scrap the hops off the false bottom… flow resumed normally, but tons of crud ended up in the kettle. At the end of it I was just so damn disgusted with everything that I just dumped EVERYTHING into the fermenter to get enough liquid volume (like 11-11.5 gallons) and pitched my damn yeast. I figure the $#!t will settle out and I’ll siphon off as much as I can.

So, lessons learned from today? You betcha.

  1. Pumpkin beers are prone to stick (DUH!)
  2. Listening to someone rave about their pumpkin stout recipe on a homebrew forum… NAIVE
  3. Mixing adjucts like Flaked Barley and Pumpkin in significant quantities… STUPID!!
  4. Attempting to brew more than just a 5 gallon batch of pumpkin beer, particularly in a single 10 gallon mash tun … STUPID!!
  5. Trying to do all this on a stout backbone where you CAN’T FRIGGIN SEE WHAT’S GOING ON… MAJORLY STUPID…

And with that… I believe I am going to take my lumps and go to bed, and pray that tomorrow brings me something other than grief from my homebrew. Considering my Oktoberfest took a tumble out of my friend’s truck sitting out front of my house AS HE WAS BRINGING IT IN to get tapped… after sitting in his fridge lagering peacefully for 6 months… I’ve had quite enough beer-related drama for one friggin weekend. I need sleep or a bullet, and at this point either is probably welcome.

OUT.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Anonymous
    September 26, 2006 at 6:58 am

    Consider it a character building experience. Ultimately I’d predict no worries with the beer as it is dark (clarity issues) and it is spiced and has significant roasted flavor (potential astringency from the particulate in the boil will be masked). A stuck mash is similar to having to be outside during a rain… Who are you going to be angry with and what good does it do you? The brewing gods wryly smile at our folly. But when you enjoy drinking the beer your worries will seem distant. Louis Glick

  2. September 26, 2006 at 11:56 am

    I can honestly say that I will NEVER mash pumpkin in with the bulk of my fermentables again. I think at best I will do a separate mash of the pumpkin, a pound or two of 2-row, and a couple pounds of rice hulls, and sparge it independent from the other grain… or just take the whole seperate mess, put it in a fine nylon mesh bag, and dunk it in the heating wort as it warms to a boil. That way if the pumpkin piece is a disaster I still end up with good beer, even if the pumpkin isn’t included.

    A pumpkin minimash that is then sparged with a teabag method in the kettle… now THAT sounds like a potential winner. Too bad I didn’t have that epiphany on Sunday morning…

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