Brew Day: Curly’s Pumpkin Milk Stout

I gave up on being trendy a long time ago. When I was 14 I realized I would never be cool, and socially only aspired to be left alone most of the time. At 34, I find being purposely uncool kind of amusing. Case in point, I refused to use emojis until very recently. Now that everybody uses them, I try to use them as obnoxiously as possible. When Jennie asks if I want Chipotle for dinner, I might respond with several thumbs up emojis, several burrito emojis, and several eggplant emojis. To wit, when I suggested a Pumpkin Milk Stout, Jennie’s response was “pumpkin spice is so 2014”. At that point she may as well have put the squirt gun emoji to my head. I had to brew this!


My last batch of Curly’s Milk Stout was a dud. There was something off about the flavor. I entered it into a competition where it scored quite poorly. The judges remarked that the beer was phenolic. My guess is that the batch was infected. I still haven’t tasted the coffee or chocolate variants from that batch.

After taking 2015 off from pumpkin beer and the hassle involved with brewing with fresh pumpkin it is time to brew one again fall. There are commercially available pumpkin milk stouts out there, but it is not nearly as ubiquitous as the lightly hopped amber pumplin ales that are everywhere. To Jennie’s point, the sales of pumpkin beer are down substantially. The market finally reached a point of saturation last year.

The first thing I did was revisit the recipe for Curly’s Milk Stout that would will be the base beer. Each batch has been slightly different than the last as I sought to perfect the beer. Recently I drank the last bottle from the original one-gallon batch as part of a vertical of all of the batches of Curly that I have brewed. At the end Jennie and I both agreed that the first batch was the best batch.

With beer and with life it is easy to be carried away with trying to improve things. After too many small improvements, it is easy to lose your way. Sometimes when something is lacking or deficient, it is better to just start over with a clean slate which is exactly what I did.


Curly’s Milk Stout was always an amalgam of English and American ingredients. The first thing I decided was I wanted all of the ingredients to be American. I replaced the English Fuggle with American Willamette hops. I simplified what had become an overly complicated grist: clean American 2-row barley as the base, Caramel 40 for body and a medium caramel flavor to compliment the sweetness from the lactose, Chocolate Malt for a light roasted character, and a small addition de-husked Blackprinz malt for color without adding an excessive roasted flavor.

For my yeast I didn’t want anything too floral or malty like WLP029 Burton Ale and 1318 London Ale III that I have used in earlier batches. I also wanted something with a little more character than Chico, so I went with one of my favorite yeasts 1272 American Ale II. The 1272 strain also doesn’t finish quite as dry as Chico which I think will work well here.


I purchased two sugar pumpkins at a local farm. Jennie helped carve the pumpkins and discard the innards. We roasted the pumpkin wedges and added them directly to the mash. Pumpkin can be treated like any other un-malted adjunct in that any extra enzymes in the grain will help convert the starches in the pumpkin into fermentable sugars. With my small partial mash and high percentage of pumpkin in the grist, some higher enzyme 6-row malt might have been a better choice.

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It is so easy to go overboard adding too many different spices and/or adding too much spice. In our experience cinnamon sticks and pre-packaged “spice blends” available at homebrew shops can be too much and throw off the balance.  I reviewed the recipe from the last pumpkin beer we made, Pennant Race Pumpkin Wheat as I felt we had really dialed in the spice additions. I used the same ratio of the different spices relative to each other, but I did increase the amount of spices slightly because this beer is both a darker and hoppier beer than the pumpkin wheat.


When I sealed the fermenter the beer smelled amazing! My yeast starter wasn’t ready to pitch until the morning after brew day which also gave the wort some extra time to get down to pitching temperature. When I peeled back the lid to add the yeast the wort smelled so rich and malty. After two weeks I will rack the beer, taste a sample and decide if I want to add a vanilla bean.

Shipyard plans to keep Pumpkinhead on shelves well into winter, describing it as a “perfect Christmas beer”. The spices one might use in a pumpkin beer, and the spices a brewer might use in a spiced winter ale are actually quite similar. Is nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and clove out of place in a winter beer?

I planned to brew this beer at least two weeks earlier before I injured my left rotator cuff.  As a result this beer won’t quite be ready for Halloween, but we will have plenty for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. On brew day, in addition to carving the pumpkin, I needed Jennie’s help milling the grain and lifting the grain bag out of my 8-gallon kettle. This is the first five gallon batch that we’ve brewed just for us, as opposed for some type of event, in a long time.

See the full recipe here

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