Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Squashing My Inhibitions About Harvest Beers

10# butternut squash
I'm not an especially picky eater, but there are a few things I don't really care for.  Usually the reason is textural and not connected to flavor.  Eggplant, watermelon and most squash (excepting zucchini) are all high on the list.  So, I generally steer clear of harvest beers and have avoided brewing the compulsory fall seasonal pumpkin ale that so many brewers despise but feel inclined to make.  I subscribe to the rationale behind brewing pumpkin beers as a use of fresh seasonal ingredients and a way to celebrate a change in the season, I just never liked them much.

The only similar beer I've actually enjoyed has been Hair of the Dog's Greg.  On a trip to Portland, OR a few years ago, Greg stood out among a ton of excellent beers that I tried.  It's unique in that it doesn't have any hops in it, and has a very simple grain bill.  The beer is different than any other I've tried.  It has a wheat-like cloudiness and a big pilsner flavor and aroma, but the squash adds a mild sweetness that's really complimentary.  It seems like unorthodox ingredients often get marginalized in an attempt to minimize their quirks, but retain the novelty of their use in a beer.  The simplicity of the Greg recipe allows the three (four if you count water) ingredients to stand out and enhance each other.   Alan, the owner, was kind enough to share some information about the recipe with me, and I went ahead and brewed it as best I could.

Greg (courtesy of Alan Sprints from Hair of the Dog)

15# German Pilsner    
10# Butternut Squash
WLP028 Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast

Greg making a mess in my fermentation chamber
I made a large starter the week prior to brewing as the gravity potential is pretty large in the recipe.  On brew day I peeled, seeded and cubed the squash, then roasted it in a 375 degree oven for an hour and a half.  The squash started to brown and soften, as the sugars caramelized.  I mashed all of the grain and the squash together for an hour at 152 degrees, then gathered the wort and sparged the grain/squash bed to round out the volume.  A 90 minute boil got me to the gravity I wanted (1.070), and the starter was pitched after chilling through the Chillzilla.

It was strange brewing without hops.  I set the pot boiling and didn't have to add anything else until flame out.   Their contribution to beer is one of my favorite aspects of recipe formulation, so I felt like I was ignoring an important process.  I also learned while looking into this beer that Butternut squash provides a better pumpkin flavor than actual pumpkin and that it is often used as a substitute for the real thing in pumpkin beers.  The starter I pitched got the beer going quickly, and I expect it to be done in time for Halloween.


  1. Interesting looking recipe. Did you add anything at flameout? Was the 10lb of squash after you chopped and cleaned out?

    1. Nothing was added at flameout. The recipe is literally just water, squash, pilsner and yeast. It doesn't leave much room for a messy fermentation or one that's too warm or not fed correctly. Makes me feel like I'm lagering. The 10 pounds of squash was what remained after the peeling and seeding. I started with almost thirteen pounds of whole squash.

  2. That fermentation looks crazy. How about aging some on maple wood?

    1. I think maple would probably work really nicely in this beer. Especially since the squash has that rounded sweetness to it. Maybe I'll age a few gallons on some cubes so I can do a side by side. Interestingly enough, my brother just brewed this same beer, but is using WLP001. Really curious to see how they compare.


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