That thing up there? That's Gretchen.
As you can see, Gretchen is a big gal. Heavy, too: The Hallock, Minnesota-born pumpkin is a hefty 1,609 pounds.
Imagine how wide a grin you could carve on a gourd that big. Though, with this one, you can't.
You'd spill all the beer.
The big orange lady has been lovingly adopted by Finnegans Brew Co., where head brewer Ryan Mihm and assistant brewer Logan McLean promptly cut her open, scooped her out, and put her to work. This month, a brown stout called Gretchen the Super Gourd is fermenting inside of her.
If you're thinking, "Well, that's different," you're not wrong. To Mihm and McLean's knowledge—and to ours—Finnegans will be the first-ever brewery to ferment beer inside a pumpkin.
"Elysian may have done it," Mihm says. Their co-founder, Dick Cantwell, is a big pumpkin beer guy, and the Seattle brewery still hosts the Great Pumpkin Beer Festival every year. "When he was there, pre-AB In-Bev buyout, they used to serve out of a giant pumpkin. But I don't know about anybody else that's fermented beer in one."
How'd this massive pumpkin situation come to be? In addition to having a tendency for hatching wacky beer-related schemes, McLean has a family friend in Charlie Bernstrom, who grows giant pumpkins for fun. Usually, Bernstrom raises but two a year. They're later dropped several stories by crane onto cars below, to raise money for the local library.
This year, Bernstrom tended to three. "I said, if you have one extra, I would love to have it, and here's my idea," McLean says. Thus, the latest from Finnegans' new-ish downtown Minneapolis R&D brewery was born.
The brewing duo decided on a brown ale—Mihm says it's actually a bit darker than your usual brown, but it's not quite a stout, either. They didn't want to do a pumpkin-spice beer, so there's no nutmeg or coriander, but Gretch'll get some cinnamon towards the tail end of fermentation. A hint of chocolate should give her some toffee notes and help with color.
As for the ABV? Probably 5.5 or 6 percent. Though again, there's no blueprint for this.
"We're hoping the beer's gonna taste delicious," Mihm adds, chuckling. "But honestly, we have no idea. Neither of us have ever done this before."
They're at least confident that Gretchen herself can stand up to the pressure. The pumpkin's walls are about 12 inches thick—they had to use a Sawzall to cut into it—so it shouldn't be an issue to sustain all the energy being built by the yeast during fermentation. They left a hole up top just in case: "And of course, Logan came back last night at 9 p.m. and it was overflowing, just frothing at the mouth."
The plan is to have Gretchen the Super Gourd on tap this Halloween, when Finnegans will also launch its first bourbon-barrel-aged Dead Irish Poet. There should be about six kegs total on tap (barring any more dramatic frothing incidents). McLean hopes this is something they'll do every year... though his gourd guy does have another kid on the way and might not have time to babysit three giant pumpkins in 2019.
And if it doesn't work?
"We're excited we got to do something totally random as all hell," Mihm says. "This one's gonna make us laugh for a long time."