Brewing A Pumpkin Ale At Brewdog Glasgow

Dial Brewers Kegs

Since it opened in July, events have been an exciting element of Brewdog Glasgow‘s appeal. The one-off (so far) appearance of Brewdog’s Ghost Deer has been complemented with visits from two Californian breweries, Ballast Point and Stone Brewing. The latest event was the in-house brewing of a seasonal pumpkin ale – the result of a vote by pub punters – that would consume a Sunday afternoon. Brewing the beer were both Brewdog‘s Stewart Bowman and, over as part of an annual brewer exchange programme, Chris Sartori of Stone.

Due to start at two in the afternoon, the lacksadaisical approach to an event that had had almost a couple of weeks’ billing was evident. The pumpkins arrived half an hour in and twenty minutes shy of two hours, Bowman walked in carrying a bucket filled with jarred spices and kitchen utensils after what must have been a hasty trolley dash around the local Morrisons. Hops and malts, however, were already present following a visit to the Fraserburgh brewery before making the journey to Glasgow. And the Brew Magic system dominating the end of the bar had been prepared the day before.

When it does start, however, Bowman stands on the bar, asks for silence, and the many chats happening around the bar ebb away to allow him to invite everyone over to ask questions and help with the brewing of the one-off pumpkin ale. There’s an initial burst of interest as some people leave their seats to find out what the fuss is about, but they probably leave unenlightened as there’s not much to be witnessed from the initial mashing process as warm water saturates itself with the malts’ sugars. Thus a small band hang around to watch the process and ask questions of those involved.

The questions vary from what’s happening currently in the beer making process – mash, sparge, boil – to the make-up of regular Brewdog beers. It’s informative and interesting to get an honest insight into how the brewery works and to see how much influence business objectives have over the beer being production. When I ask about the shrinking ABV on Punk IPA — originally 6%, then 5.6%; now 5.4% (although still 5.6% bottled) — I’m told that it was, for a flagship beer, seen as a tad strong to find its place as a feasible player in the mainstream market.. As such it would appear that Punk IPA’s long term future is as a beer purposefully developing demand rather than satisfying it.

Other assorted details and anecdotes come out. Nanny State‘s fermentation lasts a mere twelve hours, apparently, and the problems of cleaning out tanks after batches of both Juniper Wheat and Hello, My Name Is Ingrid is highlighted. Even the smoke and mirrors story of how a batch of 77 Lager became Prototype 17 is laughed off, explaining why, when launched, it was being touted as a once and once only affair.

With all the talking going on, someone has to be keeping an eye on the brewing, and that responsibility has fallen to another Brewdog brewer, Graeme Wallace, who spends his time zipping around the set-up taking readings and twisting valves. From time to time he calls for assistance from the other brewers who spring into action.

Pumpkin ale, Bowman admits, is a first for him. However, with the lack of pumpkins and spices from the outset, it’s already clear there’s an element of winging it going on. One of the pumpkins returns from the oven, its edges browned, and a light billowing of smoke. It becomes part of the mash, tossed in with the three malts being used. Half a kilo of Amber and Crystal supplement a brew that’s going to be almost ninety per cent Golden Promise. Once the sparge is done, the hops come out in preparation for the boil. For bitterness, there’s a mix of Styrian Goldings and Columbus. Later, for aroma, there’s an addition of Simcoe alongside another roasted pumpkin, followed by a selection of spices chosen via a quick straw poll of those in attendance: cinnamon, cardamon pods, nutmeg, and cloves.

The boil completed, there’s a futher setback as the contraflow isn’t working so, in order to cool the wort, the brewers do it manually using some concoction of buckets, pipes, and ice.  With this, the brewing demonstration also comes to an end as, we are told, they are unable to pitch the yeast on the premises. So, the pumpkin ale will be taken to the Fraserburgh brewery where it will ferment and, around three weeks later, put in a brief appearance at the bar where it was brewed.

In an intimate setting, the brewing process — for the passive participant, at least — is a rewarding experience. Being able to sample the different malts used, sniff the hops, and taste the sweet warm wort begins a cradle to grave approach that ends with the tasting of the finished beer. The brewers involved may not know how the beer will end up, and those that participated will look forward with anticipation to the day it arrives on draft. Until then, there’s plenty more beer for them to brew and the onlookers to sample.

October 30, 2011

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