Brewing Thanksgiving Beers

As an American living in Hong Kong, once you make it to November and are finally rewarded with a drop in temperature then you can't help but start thinking about the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays on the horizon.  Over the past several years my wife and I have been fortunate to host or attend Thanksgiving gatherings with friends which always include staples of turkey, breaded stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, vegetables, and pumpkin pie.  This holiday always reminds me to reflect on what I'm thankful for, and beer is definitely on that list!  In the past I've never brewed a beer for a specific holiday, but in this post I will share a few recipes that I brewed for this year's Thanksgiving celebration!

I will also add that I am a follower of Paste Magazine based out of Atlanta, GA and I was inspired to write this post after reading their recent article about 10 Beers That Pair Perfectly with Thanksgiving Dinner.  They have a lot of great posts on beer, music and movies so feel free to add them to your reading list.

Thanksgiving Brews.  From left to right:  Pumpkin Saison, Cranberry Wheat, Smoked Brown Ale

Thanksgiving Brews.  From left to right:  Pumpkin Saison, Cranberry Wheat, Smoked Brown Ale

First up is the Pumpkin Saison.  Admittedly I brewed this for an Oktoberfest event that I didn't attend, but it seemed even more fitting to include for a Thanksgiving brew.  The basic idea was to take a saison style, which traditionally may or may not include additional spices such as cardamom, peppercorn, orange peel, cinnamon, clove, star anise, and coriander, and to tweak it with some pumpkin and to focus on the typical "pumpkin spices".  Since I brewed this in October when it was still warm, it actually worked out well to use the Saison yeast which has a higher temperature range and will produce more esters under warmer fermentation temperatures.  I had to source a small Japanese pumpkin which I steamed, pureed, and added to the kettle at knockout.  Pumpkin won't really give much of a flavor, but it certainly gave the beer a bright orange appearance.  In terms of spices, I used a nylon mesh bag to add subtle amounts of cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, and coriander.  At knockout I added 1 tsp of all-spice which I'm afraid may have been too much in terms of spice.  Next time I would cut out that last spice addition.  I also added honey and molasses at knockout which really helped to dry out the beer which is characteristic of a saison.  Check out the recipe below:

Pumpkin Saison - orange hue from pumpkin.  intensity of spice relative to the beholder - too much for me

Pumpkin Saison - orange hue from pumpkin.  intensity of spice relative to the beholder - too much for me

Pumpkin Saison

(20 liter - all-grain)

Malt:  

Pilsner (9.5 lb), Wheat (2.0 lb), Carapils (1.0 lb), Crystal 20L (1.0 lb)

Hops:  

Perle (7.5%) - 28g x 60 minutes = 16 IBU

Rakau (10.7%) - 33g x 15 minutes = 14 IBU

Hallertauer (2.1%) - 56g x 5 minutes

Yeast:  

Lallemand Belle Saison (2 packets - 22g total)

Water:  

Gypsum - 2 tsp x 30 minutes; Irish Moss - 1 tsp x 15 minutes

Adjunct & Spice:  

Cinnamon sticks x 3; Star Anise x 3; Cloves - 1 tsp; Cardamom - 1 tsp; Vanilla - 10 dry beans

Japanese Pumpkin - 2-3 lbs, steamed and pureed x 30 minutes in boil; Wildflower honey - 500g @ knockout; Maple syrup - 200 g @ knockout; Black strap molasses - 150g @ knockout

Mash:  20 liters filtered water @74 C strike temp.  60 minutes @66-68 C.

Fermented:  19-20 C for 10 days before bottling

Next up is the Cranberry Wheat which turned out to be my personal favourite.  The idea was to brew a normal wheat beer with 60% wheat and 40% pilsner and to add some cranberry to give it a slight tart, fruitiness.  Originally I thought about using Brettanomyces to go for a sour, but I wanted to see how tart it could be without wild yeast.  The only problem was that I couldn't find any cranberries or cranberry sauce.  Instead, I settled with cranberry juice cocktail which was tricky because it had considerable added sugar - it's difficult to find 100% fruit juices.  That extra sugar would be fermentable so I had to consider WHEN to add the juice.  I decided to add some at knockout (to not boil off the aroma, knowing that it might leave during primary fermentation anyways) and add a second addition during secondary fermentation.  When I was ready to bottle, however, I felt that there wasn't enough evidence of cranberry, so I decided to add more before bottling and to count it as part of the priming sugar.  The last thing I wanted was some bottle bombs because I neglected the sugar content of the juice - especially when brewing a wheat with a higher target carbonation level.  This one turned out quite nice and I would definitely brew it again.  Check out the recipe below:

Cranberry Wheat Ale - refreshingly tart and fruity without being overpowering

Cranberry Wheat Ale - refreshingly tart and fruity without being overpowering

 

Cranberry Wheat Ale

(20 liter - all-grain)

Malt:  

Wheat (6 lbs) and Pilsner (4.5 lbs)

Hops:  

Hallertauer (2.7%) - 28g x 60 minutes & 28g x 15 minutes

Yeast:  

Fermentis WB-06

Water:  

Gypsum (2 tsp x 30 minutes); Irish moss (1 tsp x 15 minutes)

Adjunct:  Kirkland's Cranberry Juice Cocktail

Mash:  65-67 C with 19 litres of filtered water for 60 minutes

Fermented:  10 days @20-24 C

Cranberry additions:  1 cup at knockout; 2 cups during secondary fermentation; 4 cups for priming/bottling

Lastly, we have the Smoked Brown Ale.  I'd previously made an American brown ale that I enjoyed and which would definitely go with the season, but I wanted to put a slight twist on it by adding some smoked malt to hopefully pair well with a turkey or ham.  I opted for a Pilsner base, additions of crystal-40, and crystal-80 as well as a small addition of smoked malt to add that meaty, roasted flavor.  Here's the recipe for your reference:

Smoked Brown Ale - murky appearance evident of failing to use clarifying agent; need to take a mulligan on this batch; drinks just fine but could look nicer with increased head retention and more smoked flavor

Smoked Brown Ale - murky appearance evident of failing to use clarifying agent; need to take a mulligan on this batch; drinks just fine but could look nicer with increased head retention and more smoked flavor

Smoked Brown Ale

(20 liter - all-grain)

Malt:

Pilsner (6.0 lbs), Munich (1.0 lb), Crystal 40L (1.0 lb), Crystal 80L (0.5 lb), Carapils (1.5 lb), Chocolate (0.5 lb), Smoked (0.5 lb)

Hops:

Galaxy (15.3%) - 28g x 60 minutes

Simcoe - 28g x 5 minutes

Yeast:

Safale US-05 American Ale yeast

Mash:  20 liters filtered water w/strike temp of 77 C; 60 minutes @66-68 C

Fermented: 7 days @ 20-24 C

The brown ale turned out quite murky which is largely due to my failure to add irish moss to the boil kettle to settle out some of those proteins.  The "smoke" flavor was subtle and if I made this one again I'd probably increase the smoked malt in the grain bill.  Otherwise, I think that the color was right for a brown ale, there was a distinct fruitiness from the Simcoe hops added for flavor and aroma (I was thinking of roasted peaches), and the pilsner malt kept it light and easy to drink.  I would probably revert to using 2-row pale malt as the base instead to give it more substance (mouthfeel).  the head retention was poor which could be addressed with a slight wheat malt addition and I'd probably increase the carbonation slightly.

When you have large gatherings of friends for holidays it's a great opportunity to share the gift of beer.  Thanksgiving is a particularly nice holiday for brewing beers to pair with seasonal foods.  While there are plenty of Christmas beers out there (my favourite being Anchor's Christmas Ale that changes each year), what about other upcoming holidays?  Mandarin Orange Sour for Chinese New Year?  Keep dreaming BIG people.

--Mr. Jackson