Why It Works
- Using a less hoppy base recipe like a simple amber ale allows the pumpkin and spices to shine.
- To mitigate potential problems with fermentation, use only natural, preservative-free canned pumpkin.
- A classic pumpkin spice blend like McCormick's gives the beer a pleasantly familiar flavor.
The pumpkin madness that autumn brings lasts just a few short months, but there's still plenty of time to make and enjoy a delicious home-brewed Pumpkin Ale. Brewers have been using pumpkin in beer for a long time, and the list of commercial versions gets longer every year. But with no clearly defined style, and limitless spicing choices, pumpkin ale is a fun opportunity for beginning and experienced brewers alike to flex their creative recipe skills.
There's no defined base style for a pumpkin beer. You can start with an amber, pale, wheat, porter, stout, or any other style, and simply add pumpkin and spices. Really, it's that easy. The only essential rule of thumb is to start with a recipe that isn't very hoppy, and limit the amount of flavor and aroma hops. Hop additions for all my pumpkin ales typically consist of a single 1/2 to 1-ounce addition at 60 minutes, and nothing more. This keeps the hop flavors and aromas from getting muddled and confused with the pumpkin pie spices.
The base recipe I used is probably the most common: a simple amber ale. It was an extract batch, so I used light dry malt extract, a pound of crystal 20L, and a pinch of chocolate malt. Nothing fancy, and it allows the squash and spice to shine.
Selecting a pumpkin for beer is the same as selecting a good pumpkin for making a pie. Ignore the large, carving pumpkins and select a smaller variety that is specified for pie making. Or, if you're like me, skip the pumpkin selection altogether and pick up a can of your favorite 100% natural pumpkin. Be sure to use a canned pumpkin that is completely free of preservatives; otherwise, it may cause issues with fermentation later down the road. Libby's pumpkin works fine, as does the organic Farmer's Market brand that's sold at Whole Foods. How much pumpkin should you use? It's up to you. One pound of pumpkin for five gallons of beer is the bare minimum needed to impart character, while some flavor-heavy beers can have five pounds for a five-gallon batch.
Methods for adding pumpkin to beer vary widely, and professional brewers and homebrewers will offer all sorts of different advice, ranging from adding the pumpkin to the boil or the mash or even tossing it into the carboy after fermentation is complete. Many people even swear that the best pumpkin beer is made without any pumpkin at all, and advise only using pielike spices. While there may be some good pumpkin-free brews out there, to me it seems like a creative cop out. Instead, I see the lack of consensus as an opportunity for homebrewers to experiment with different techniques to maximize the potential of the pumpkin.
One thing that most brewers agree on is that the flavors come out the best if the pumpkin is cooked and caramelized. Whether you're chopping and mashing the pumpkin yourself, or you get it out of the can, it should be spread in a thin pan and baked for at least 60 minutes at 350°F (180°C). This will allow the sugars to start to cook, and give the beer the pumpkiny character that we're aiming for.
Spices can make or break this style. You have to add some spice to get the flavor that people will be looking for, but it is way too easy to go over the top and make the beer undrinkable. I've always used the quick way and gone with McCormick's Pumpkin Pie Spice. It may not be the most original, but it gives the flavor that everyone is familiar with. I add one teaspoon in the last five minutes of the boil of a five-gallon batch to give a noticeable, but not overpowering flavor. It's a good idea to start with a small amount of spice and add more later if needed. If it comes time to bottle and you don't think there's enough flavor (which almost never happens), you can easily add more spices to the bottling bucket.
Other recipes may call for a more creative blend of spices. Nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and ginger are the common additions. This time around, I even added 14 ounces of dark maple syrup to my recipe, which gave a fantastic rich flavor to balance the pumpkin pie spice. If you have a favorite blend of spices that you like to add to pumpkin pie, you can't really go wrong putting it in your beer. Just stick to no more than one teaspoon of dry spice for five gallons of beer until you have the chance to taste and make adjustments.
This recipe is designed for beginning homebrewers. It can be brewed by anyone with the basic equipment setup and a pot large enough to boil six gallons.
I've adjusted this recipe to produce 4.5 gallons instead of the usual 5-gallon batch. The fermentation of this beer tends to be more active than most, and the pumpkin makes it a little sticky. A 4.5-gallon batch will ensure that your fermentation vessel won't overflow during the first few days of fermentation. When you bottle, remember to reduce the amount of priming sugar to account for the smaller batch, or your beer may end up overcarbonated.
- 30 ounces 100% natural canned pumpkin
- 12 ounces crystal 20L malt, crushed
- 3 ounces chocolate malt, crushed
- 4.8 pounds light dry malt extract
- 1/2 ounce Northern Brewer Hops - 60 minutes
- 14 fluid ounces grade B dark maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon McCormick's pumpkin spice
- 1 package Safale US-05
Spread pumpkin into a shallow pan and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 60 minutes.
Tie crystal 20L and chocolate malt in a small mesh hop bag. Place the bag in 5.5 gallons of water in a 7.5-gallon pot and immerse the grain.
Begin to heat, making sure mesh bag isn’t sitting directly on the bottom of the pot. Remove grain bag when temperature reaches 170°F (77°C).
Bring wort to a vigorous boil. As water is heating, slowly add 4.8 pounds of light dry malt extract and baked pumpkin, stirring constantly until completely dissolved. When the boil begins, add 1/2 ounce Northern Brewer hops in a mesh bag.
After a total of 55 minutes has passed, add maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice.
After total of 60 minutes of boil, remove from heat. Warning: After wort cools below 180°F (82°C) everything that touches it should be sanitary, and exposure to open air should be limited as much as possible.
Cool wort by placing pot in ice bath or by using a wort chiller until it is at 65°F (18°C). Transfer to a sanitized fermentor (either a carboy or a fermentation bucket).
Use a sanitized auto-siphon racking cane to remove enough wort to take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. Make a note of this number, since you will be using it to calculate the actual alcohol content when it's done fermenting. The reading should be around 1.057. Cover fermentor with a sanitized stopper and airlock.
Agitate vigorously for at least 5 minutes or aerate using pure oxygen for 1 minute. Add 1 package of Safale US-05.
Ferment for at least 14 days at 64 to 68°F (18 to 20°C).
Bottle after conditioning is complete, using enough priming sugar for a medium level of carbonation.
7.5 gallon kettle (or bigger), basic homebrewing equipment setup