September 1, 2011

Pumpkin Beer Time

I've talked a lot this year about not brewing because I have so much beer on hand, only to then brew more beer. I was really hoping to be through much more homebrew as the summer begins to wind down. My wife and I are both big oktoberfest fans and she is a big pumpkin beer fan. That means with all the great commercial seasonal releases, our homebrew is barely touched during the fall. That leads into winter, which is chalk full of winter warmers and other winter seasonal releases.

Additionally, late fall and winter are the ideal seasons to brew in Texas since it gets cool enough that wort chilling water comes out of the tap cool and it's much easier to keep a fermenter cold, since I don't have an electronically controlled fermentation chamber. That means I need to brew at least some beer this winter to make sure we don't get into late summer next year with nothing to drink. It also means the lambic solera must be emptied and refilled, which will add another four gallons or so to our collection, even if they will be slowly drank. I'm also contemplating an oud bruin solera, using two corny kegs, but that idea is still just something I am kicking around. I don't even want to start in on it until I have drank through the current four gallons or so of oud bruin from my last batch earlier this year.

So in spite of all of that, here I am again looking at brewing more beer. Last fall my wife declined an offer to make pumpkin beer since she wanted to try all the commercial options. However, last year it seemed like we didn't get a great turn out of pumpkin beers. She even took a trip to Boston last October and was fairly disappointed. So this year when I brought it back up she agreed to it and insists she will drink through it very fast. For that reason, I have constructed a two gallon recipe, which should be enough for me to have a few and her to have just enough to enjoy it without getting bored with it. Two gallons should yield between 3-4 six packs, which is a good amount of beer.

I have never made anything like a pumpkin beer. It's a fairly unique brewing experience. For one thing, it's heavily spiced and I'm not a fan of using a lot of spices in brewing, but that's something I would actually like to explore more. For another, you are adding a big portion of starch to your mash that isn't grain-based, so you have to consider conversion. I started off looking at several homebrew recipes to see what was typical and what people were doing to make them particularly interesting. For my first recipe I want to try something middle of the road to let the pumpkin flavor sing. What I noticed is that almost all the recipes are based on an English brown ale/Newcastle sort of grain bill. There are some pumpkin porters, pumpkin stouts and pumpkin IPAs out there. (If you saw the first episode of Master Chef season 2 you saw fellow homebrewer Ben Starr talk about using his pumpkin IPA to marinate fish for fish tacos. Very interesting concept. His website is I made his goat cheese crab cakes. Extremely tasty.)

So making a basic brown ale is fairly simple. Pale malt, crystal 60, biscuit malt, maybe some wheat for body. Around 15-25 IBUs. Then we have to start making it a pumpkin ale. First, let's talk about non-pumpkin adjuncts. All the recipes I saw included either brown sugar or molasses. Brown sugar is basically white sugar with a little molasses mixed in. So clearly it is the molasses flavor that is desired. Whether you want to use molasses or brown sugar depends on the desired flavor, mouthfeel and alcohol content. Molasses is slightly lower in sugar (1.036 instead of 1.046) so it will contribute less thinness and less alcohol but considerably more flavor. For my recipe I went with molasses because I want the alcohol content to be just a touch about session levels and have some body. You have to be careful with molasses because if you overdo it there's no way to undo the bold and recognizable flavor of molasses.

Ok, now let's talk pumpkin. There's two ways to add pumpkin -- whole, fresh pumpkin or canned. Since we are still in summer time, I don't have access to fresh pumpkin. I do have access to canned pumpkin, so I will be using that. In the future I'll probably try using fresh but for only two gallons I would be left with a lot of unused pumpkin flesh. I hate to be wasteful. So either way, you should bake the pumpkin to give it some roasty flavor and caramelize some of the sugars. That will help develop a more round flavor in the beer. The pumpkin will actually be a sizeable part of the grist in order to get a predominately pumpkin flavor. For my recipe I am going to go with a quarter of the grist.

Whether you are an all grain, partial mash or extract brewer will determine how you can use the pumpkin. Because pumpkin has a lot of starch in it, it can and should be mashed to convert some of the starch to sugar. Pumpkin does not convert well, so you can't get a lot of sugar out of it but you probably don't want too much starch floating in your beer if you can help it. The problem with mashing pumpkin is that since it doesn't convert well and has so much starch you need a lot of excess diastic power in the mash to make sure it doesn't screw up grain conversion. For extract brewers, this won't be an issue. For partial mash brewers, I recommend NOT mashing the pumpkin at all. For extract and PM brewers, you can add your pumpkin 10-15 minutes at the end of the boil. I wouldn't add it at the beginning of the boil because it's going to cast a lot of starch into the beer and you're going to get something that looks a lot like a wit with all the haze. AG brewers can also add some of the pumpkin towards the end of the boil to get some fresh pumpkin flavor if desired.

I won't go into how to calculate diastic power of your mash but I will say you need to calculate it with the assumption the pumpkin will convert but has no enzymes, so include it in the overall grain bill if you are adding it to the mash. (This blog post from will explain the calculation: With 60% base grain and 25% pumpkin, I will have more than enough diastic power to convert the whole mash.

Ok, so we have a few more key boil additions to discuss. First, this is a beer you should consider fining, since the pumpkin will give you a lot of starch haze. You can use gelatin or the fining of your choice. I'll use irish moss. Second, we need to look at spices. Some people used pre-mixed pumpkin pie spices, others use individual spices. The most common were allspice, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. Cinnamon is definitely the most prominent spice so it needs to be used the most. Allspice was also included in all recipes so that should be used as well. Nutmeg and ginger are optional, but I will use all of them. Many recipes indicate that after fermentation you may need to do a spice tea to bump up the spicing. If necessary, I will add spices in the fermenter but since I'm not a fan of overly spiced beer I hope to avoid having to do that.

Alright, so that's about everything we need to put the recipe together. I know this beer is going to have a lot of sweetness to it and caramel flavors so I need to make sure it is hopped enough to give it a good balance. There shouldn't be any detectible hop flavors, so all hopping is done as a bittering addition. Again I am using Fuggles to burn out my stock but in the future I would try Northern Brewer, EKG or a similiar English hop.

Although decoction mashes are not typically used for English style beers, I wanted to give it a try on this beer to help conversion and develop more of that great caramel flavors from the decoctions. I have never seen anybody else do this, so I think you would be fine doing a straight infusion at 153 or 154F for an hour.

I thought about fermenting this with kolsch yeast since I need to rebuild my supply but I don't think the lemony-peppery esters from kolsch yeast (especially when they ferment too warmly, as it probably would at this time of year) would be of any benefit to the beer. I went with my usual 1338 strain.

Keep in mind this is a two gallon recipe. You may want to scale up or down.

Est. ABV 5.24%
SRM: 12
OG: 1.053
FG: 1.013
IBU: 20


1 lb, 5oz canned pumpkin, oven roasted at 350 until signs of caramelizing
3 lb Maris Otter pale malt
4 oz Crystal 60L
4 oz Munich malt
2 oz Biscuit malt

Mash: Triple decoction at 122F for 30 minutes, 148F for 15 minutes, 158F for 15 minutes, mash out at 168F

Boil additions:
1/2 oz Fuggles at 60 min
.10 tsp Irish Moss at 10 min
1.5 oz Molasses at 10 min
1/3 tsp Cinnamon at 5 min
1/4 tsp Allspice at 5 min
1/4 tsp Nutmeg at 5 min
1/8 tsp Ginger at 5 min

Yeast: European Ale 1338

Ferment at 65F for 3-4 weeks as necessary. Add additional spices as desired.

If you are reading this to develop your own recipe, I hope that helps make some sense of what you're seeing online and gives you some direction on your own recipe. Once I bottle the scottish 60 shilling ale and mead in two of my gallon fermenters I will be making this beer and I'll try to add a follow up post of the process with some pictures.


Post a Comment