Harvest Ales, Redux
Picture yourself living in a pre-industrial Northern Europe. You and the rest of the village have toiled through a long, hot summer in the fields drinking screechy small beers and the last precious remnants of the March beer. Eventually, the new barley is ready to harvest, but you still have to wait for its long journey through malting, brewing and fermenting before it finally flows into your mug. Ahh, ambrosia! This is a reason to celebrate.
So for obvious reasons, there has always been a unique affection for harvest beers. The Germans in Westphalia have a poem, “O harvest beer, you bountiful feast of freedom and desire. It is because of you that babies are weaned from the breast.” And even as the old ways fade, there is today a new appreciation of beer as an agricultural product, with all the seasonality and pride of place that comes along with this.
Today, you have to seek out ways to create excitement around the harvest, because your homebrew shop is not going to make a big deal out of the new malt coming in. Brewers in the United States are using freshly-harvested “wet hops,” sometimes from brewery gardens, as one way of celebrating. If you want to get creative, there are lots of different ways to put together a harvest beer.
Check out your local farmers’ market. Fall is a season of great bounty, and there are plenty of opportunities for incorporating the fruits of the harvest into a celebratory beer. Fruits, vegetables and honey all can be incorporated. Here’s few recipe outlines to get you started.
Potsdamer was a wheat beer brewed in nineteenth century Germany. Not a lot of information is available, but it was described as “…luminously clear, tinged with amber” and seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and coriander. Sounds to me like the perfect base for a pumpkin beer, since our experience with that fruit is nearly always in the context of a certain amount of spicing.
There’s no need to limit your choice of squash to pumpkins, either. In fact, Hubbard, butternut or acorn squashes all may all produce more intense flavors than pumpkins proper. If you do go the pumpkin route, choose one of the smaller “pie” pumpkins, which are actually grown for eating, not carving.
The Elysian Brewpub in Seattle has taken pumpkin beers to an extreme, brewing five pumpkin beers last year—enough for their own festival. The highlight was a beer that was actually conditioned in and served from a giant hollowed-out pumpkin.
For a recipe, I would suggest using about one third wheat, and the remainder Munich malt. Extract brewers can use a similar proportion of wheat and amber extracts, perhaps supplemented by a small amount (half pound) of not-too-dark crystal malt, and steeped in the usual manner. As for gravity, you’re on your own, as the reference I have for Potsdamer bier gives no information on this, but I would think for a table beer that a target gravity of around 1055-60 would be appropriate. No reason why you couldn’t crank this one all the way up to a barley wine, though.
Hopping should be German and on the light side. Three-quarters of an ounce of Hallertau should give you 25 IBUs. For the spicing, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest a mix of an ounce of crushed coriander (Indian variety is best if you have access to an Indian grocery store), and perhaps half a teaspoon of ground cloves and a teaspoon or two of cinnamon, all of which should be added at the end of the boil. Potsdam is up north in Germany, which in the nineteenth century could have meant a top fermentation, but a lager yeast wouldn’t be out of the question, either. Either way, this beer is going to be scrumptious alongside the family turkey.
The large, shiny orange Asian persimmons can be found in specialty grocery stores across the country. However, in parts of the Midwest, wild persimmons grow and can be harvested, usually in October, and are best after the first freeze. When sold commercially, it is most often in the form of a thick pulp. The flavor is rich and luscious, often with a fair amount of acidity. It seems to me this would balance and complement a dark bock-style beer. Recipes for those aren’t too hard to come by, but I would look for one with a high proportion of Munich malt for the richest, most traditional character. Add a pound or two of persimmon pulp to the secondary, and allow to macerate for two or more weeks, before racking to a clean carboy, allowing to settle clear, and then bottling or kegging.
Honey Imperial Oktoberfest
We live in an age of creeping imperialization, with just about every style being doubled up and turned into an imperial version. Historically, this is completely in line with the way the term was used in the United States a hundred years ago, when a brewery might add this designation to their top-of-the-line product.
So the recipe ought to be pretty obvious. You can make this anywhere between 1080 and 1100 and justify the imperial designation. A large proportion of Vienna malt is always a good place to start, and with a strong recipe, should produce a deep orange-amber beer.
Find some great honey. Local is always fun, but there is a world of choices available to you. I would suggest between 10 and 20 percent of the gravity. You can either dump it in toward the end of the boil, or if you want a little more honey aroma, add it to the secondary where it will restart fermentation.
Since this is a strong beer, observe the usual precautions when readying yeast: a strong, vigorous starter and well-oxygenated wort.
So there you have a few ideas to get you started, but the possibilities really are endless. Start picking those pumpkins!
A brewer since 1984, Randy Mosher is a nationally recognized writer and authority on brewing and beer styles. He is the author of The Brewer’s Companion (Alephenalia Publications, 1984), Radical Brewing (Brewers Publications, 2004) and Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Best Drink (Storey, March 2009). In addition, Mosher consults on package design and branding.