Pumpkin Beer

Yes, yes... thinking about pumpkin beer can make you go a little crazy.

Well… it’s that time of the year for home brewers… time to start thinking about late fall. We homebrewers  have to think about two months ahead. From the time we brew, we have to let the beer ferment for two weeks, carbonate in the bottle for two weeks, then condition and age for a month, or so, until all the flavors of the beer meld together and taste good. (Yes, if you keg your beer, you can shave about a week of that time line… and some beers, like hefeweizens, are better without a ton of conditioning time… and lagers take longer to ferment… so in some ways, that “rule” about two months in advance is a rule for a reason… it’s meant to be broken)

But, anyways, pumpkin beer is great. A lot of people like it… so you can hook even the most discriminatingly close-minded Bud/Miller/Coors drinker… everyone has that uncle, right? The one that prefers Keystone Light, or Coors Light… or God forbid, Old Milwaukee… maybe you can get them to try something out of the ordinary because pumpkin beer is pretty unique. One of my favorite brew pubs I’ve ever been to, Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville, PA, serves a great pumpkin beer… a nice body, a little but of the gord taste, nice spices… cinnamon, nutmeg, maybe a little ginger… nice sweet maltiness with the earthy and spicy hops taking a back seat. They even “salt” the rim of the pint glass with sugar and cinnamon. It’s cliche to say “it’s pumpkin pie in a glass”, but it really is. Awesome. And that’s what I am modeling my first pumpkin beer recipe after.

Punkin' Chunkin'... another glorious celebration of the pumpkin. Flinging and shooting things through the air and tailgating in a field all day in the Fall? Don't mind if I do.

Some breweries realize that pumpkin, in and of itself, is very delicate and hard to obtain flavor… which it is. It’s very hard to capture pumpkin in a beer, so some breweries try to replicate the experience of pumpkin pie by relying on the spices to kind of trick your taste buds into tasting pumpkin, even though they don’t use it. I just  had Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale, and I think they try to do o just that… a cinnamon, and nutmeg bomb to make you think there’s pumpkin in there. It was WAY over-spiced. And, no pumpkin in a pumpkin beer? I think that’s crap.

Here’s my thoughts…

Maris Otter and 2-Row as the base malts to get a little breadiness coming through from the Maris Otter, while getting good conversion power and “crispness” from the 2-Row.

Crystal 60 for color and a little caramel sweetness.

Honey malt… never used the stuff, but supposedly it lends a really nice sweetness. I think it’ll make it have the sweetness associated with pumpkin pie, but not so much that it’s overly-cloying.

Oats… to lift the body of the beer and give it a nice creaminess and round mouthfeel.

Pumpkin… two small cans of Libby’s canned pumpkin… roasted in the over at 350°F for about 30 minutes. I think this’ll help bring out the “pumpkin”ness of the pumpkin, so that the delicate flavor will be detectable when all is said and done.

A teaspoon, or two, of pumpkin pie spice… can’t have pumpkin pie without pumpkin pie spice.

Lightly hopped, with only a bitterness addition, of East Kent Golding hops… let the malts and the pumpkin and spices come through.

So, using those thoughts, I crafted a recipe for my Chunkin’ Punkin’ Pumpkin Ale…

2.5 gallon batch

3 lb Maris Otter
2 lb 2 Row
1 lb Rice Hulls
.50 lb Crystal 60
.25 lb Instant Oats
.25 lb Honey Malt
2 small cans Libby’s canned pumpkin, roasted @ 350°F 30 mins.

BIAB Mash, 60 mins, 152°F

.50 oz EKG @ 60 mins
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice @ 5 mins

S-04 yeast, ferment at room temp in wet swamp cooler.

If I brew this within the week, it should be ready by the end of October. And… a few bottles will likely survive until Thanksgiving dinner with the family.

By the way, for those still scoffing at the goodness of pumpkin beers… Sam Calagione, the founder and master mind of Dogfish Head Brewery, got part of his start by winning the Punkin’ Chunkin’s pumpkin cooing contest with his home brewed pumpkin beer way back in the 90’s… before Dogfish Head was even an idea, let alone one of the most integral breweries in the craft beer movement.

Brewmaster’s (a great show about craft beer on the Discovery Channel… that, of course, was cancelled) went to Dogfish Head as their Punkin’ Ale was rolling down the bottle filling line… or not.

A little extra homebrew fun with pumpkin…


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  1. #1 by sean on September 6, 2011 - 7:22 PM

    If you are in the Midwest like I am (you know, that “abyss” of craft beers that East Coast breweries and West Coast breweries don’t quite distribute to), then look to one of more regional craft breweries, O’Fallon Brewery, and their Pumpkin Beer. Perfectly spiced… nice and malty… and a nice hint of an earthy pumpkin taste (very slight, like most pumpkin beers, but it’s there). It’s awesome! If I had one criticism, it would be to alter the grain bill with more wheat, or oats, to have a creamier and rounder mouth feel. But, it was great! Absolutely on my “To Drink” list.

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