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Feature: Brewing Pumpkin Beer at Capitol City Brewing Co

Mike McCarthy has been up since sunrise roasting pumpkins. Chopping up potential jack-o-lanterns and caramelizing their sweet and vegetal sugars in the Capitol City Brewing Company’s ovens. Along with the pumpkin preparation, Mike’s been grinding pale barley malts and specialty grains to fill his mash tun for today’s batch of beer. Mike’s hard at work when I arrive at the brewery, but at the moment he’s nowhere to be found.

I park my car out back of Cap City’s Shirlington location and stop off at the coffee shop nearby to grab a double espresso to make sure I’m in fighting shape for a day in the brewery. Since the brewpub doesn’t open until lunch the front doors are of course locked and peering in the windows I see signs of past activity including a decorated jack-o-lantern sitting by the brew kettle. The brewers seem to be hiding. I sneak into the side door and snoop about the restaurant for a bit before I retreat back to the patio chairs outside. Eventually Matt Hagan, the brewery’s rep arrives and behind him, the missing brewer. Mike sports a Dickies-style workshirt emblazoned with the Cap City’s Statue of Freedom logo on the front and on each sleeve a patch for either DC or Virginia. His colorful tattoos down the sleeve of his left arm add a punk rock edge–matching the band stickers decorating various pieces of equipment in the brewery’s basement–to his knowledgeable task-at-hand demeanor. He got his start at West Virginia Brewing Company before coming to Capitol City Brewing and working his way up to Director of Brewing Operations.

“I just got back from Harris Teeter buying pumpkin spices,” Mike McCarthy explains. He’d been down the street and has returned with a shopping bag filled with containers of cinnamon, clove, allspice, and ground ginger. For a lot brewers, these spices are all they put into their pumpkin beer. He later piles the mix in a large metal measuring cup destined to be dumped in to the wort at the very end of the brew session to make sure the beer keeps all the precious flavors and aromas that would otherwise evaporate out of the beer during the long 90 minute boiling process.

With the spices in hand we head back to Capitol City Brewing Company’s modest 15 barrel stainless steel brew house.

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