Gather close, dear reader, and let me tell you a tale of our latest saga: the makings of our first ever production batch of Lagerfeuer, a smoked butternut squash rauchbier. Though we brewed this beer in September of this year, the story really starts back in September 2013.
Construction hadn’t even begun on Aeronaut Brewing Co., but we were hard at work planning recipes. The whole team was sitting in a coffee shop, griping about how we were so overwhelmed by all of the pumpkin beers that had proliferated in recent years. We all wanted a nice autumn beer, and loved the concept of a pumpkin beer, but thought that pumpkins often took a backseat to their associated spices, like nutmeg and clove–pumpkin beers weren’t even pumpkin beers anymore, with a few notable exceptions. We decided to create our own answer to those beers by making a butternut squash beer. Yes, a beer featuring a different winter squash. This one was rich with fall flavors, possibly tastier than pumpkin, colored a lovely pink-beige, bearing deep orange flesh and distinctively shaped. Interestingly, the butternut squash we all love is actually a variety that was developed right nearby in Waltham, so it’s named the Waltham butternut. We chose to smoke the squash over hardwood and then use the smoked squash in the mash of our beer, which would be an Oktoberfest-style lager, reminiscent of a German rauchbier.
For our first prototype batch, we all prepped the butternut squash and then smoked the squash slices in brewer Mark’s backyard. They came out so aromatic and tasty, it was difficult to save them for the beer and not just eat them right away.
Steadfast, like the most devout of ascetics, we denied ourselves those delicious morsels so that we could keep a high proportion of them for the mash. The starches in the squash added to the gravity, the smoke permeated the brew, and the rich color and flavor of the squash was left behind as we separated the solids from the liquid. The beer lagered for a few weeks and in the end, was delightful beyond our wildest dreams. We added this one to the list of keepers.
This year, the autumn came in like the proverbial lamb. The butternut squash came into season and we were able to source them through Something GUD, a member of the Aeronaut Foods Hub. These squash were truly local, coming from Four Town Farm in Seekonk, MA. Unlike our prototype batch, this one required some serious logistics. To keep up the intense squash flavor we got in our first batch, we calculated that we’d need 750 pounds of squash. Yes. Here’s what that looks like:
For a few weeks, those butternuts became a fixture in our taproom–a much loved decoration, and a friend. Of course, the inexorable advancement of time took its toll on those unsuspecting squash (though their removal from the ground probably gave them an inkling). Yes, it was time to peel and seed the squash. A batch this size would require some serious elbow grease. We called in reinforcements and we were answered by a crew of 20 or so loyal volunteers.
They made short work of those squash. Everything was fully prepped in under 2 hours. Bins were piled high and ready to go. But go where? We couldn’t easily smoke that much squash in Mark’s backyard this time. Fortunately for us, our friends at Blue Ribbon BBQ let us use their giant smokers. Yep, we trucked the squash slices over there and popped them in the smokers for a much needed smoke bath. It was a site to behold.
After a thorough smoking, the squash were pureed and taken back to Aeronaut. The pureeing was quite an operation also. Hundreds of pounds of squash require some heavy duty gear. Thanks again to Blue Ribbon for helping with that.
Finally, it was time to brew. The squash puree was added to the mash, and the brew went forward. The squash did its job and aside from some snags with water flow, the brew was completed successfully. Little did we know that the next morning, tragedy would strike.
Eight thirty AM. The brew team is milling about, getting some cellaring done and the soon-to-be Lagerfeuer is bubbling away feverishly. Suddenly, we hear this loud clang from across the room, and we turn around to see a horrific sight: the fermenter door latch just snapped and the door slumped open. Beer was pouring out of the tank at a fast clip and there was nothing we could do about it but stand and watch. And take pictures.
The beer looked as lovely as ever, flowing to its demise. Unfortunately, one of our most difficult and labor-intensive beers to create fell victim to a used fermenter with a poorly constructed door. The good news was that the door was high enough that we managed to hold on to about half of the batch. So, we patched up the door and let it finish fermenting after a quick CO2 purge. Meanwhile, we got to eat tons of roasted squash seeds (which are waaaay better than pumpkin seeds).
A nice thorough lagering followed, and now, the beer is ready for drinking. We named it Lagerfeuer because aside from this beer being a lager, its smoky taste is reminiscent of a campfire, which is what “Lagerfeuer” means in German. This time round the taste is deliciously smoky and eminently squashy. We’ve only got half as much as we planned for, so don’t delay in getting here to try it. Prost!