I know not everyone likes pumpkin beer. But I do. A lot. Maybe to the point of obsession. Last year I went on an adventure to find and try as many new varieties of pumpkin brew I could find, which looked something like this:
-Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
-Bluemoon Harvest Moon
-Southern Tier’s Pumking
-Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
-Wolaver’s Organic Pumpkin Ale
-Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale
-Harpoon UFO Pumpkin
And, being the kind of beer drinker I am, I loved all of them. I still argue that DFH Punkin Ale is my favorite, but at $7.99 for a 4 pack (and that’s shopping around quite a bit) I can’t justify buying much of it each year.
A few others are comparable in terms of pumpkin taste, but there is something about the spiciness of the Dogfish Head variant I love.
The spices make the beer warm and cozy. They remind me of a night outside in the woods with my buddies, telling stories, drinking beers, keeping the chilly winds of late October at a distance with a pillar of fire and the warmth of fun and cheer.
Being all overwhelmed by sentimentality, but also very cheap, I decided to try my hand at making a Punkin Ale clone, with a little bit of LitLib spice (read: unprofessionalism) dashed in for good measure.
How to Brew Spiced Pumpkin Ale:
The recipe isn’t straight forward, but it also isn’t difficult. There is a good amount of prep time because you have to cut up and roast the pumpkin before you even start your boil. The boil itself takes at least two hours, and cooling the wort can take a while if you’re not setup correctly, like me. Make sure to set at least a six hours aside if you want to do this right.
Stuff you’ll need:
-Pumpkin (I used 10 lbs, which equals about 4 smallish pie-pumpkins once all cut up.)
-Butternut squash (these add to the pumpkin flavor, and tend to be more fragrant than pumpkin alone. I cut up two large gourds, about 3lbs each, and added it to my pumpkin.)
-Cracked Malt (I used 1lb of Vienna, 1/2lb of Crystal 20, and 1/2 lb of wheat. You could sub in any malt that blends well with an American ale, so feel free to be creative here.)
-Liquid Malt (I used 6.6lbs of liquid light malt extract. You could use anything you want here, but the amount of sugar is going to dictate your final ABV.)
-Hops (I used 1oz of Mt. Hood for the primary, as I wanted something to compliment my spices. I also used 1/2oz of hueller bittering hops right at the end of my boil. You could certainly change things up here if you wanted a less citrusy/less spicy final product)
-Yeast (I used a liquid American ale blend. Not a lot of give here if you’re making an ale.)
-Spices (This is where you can go crazy, or not very crazy. I used cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, ground cloves, vanilla, brown sugar, and a tiny bit of molasses. I wanted heavy, sweet, and hearty. You could leave any [or all of these] out and still have a nice, pumpkin flavored beer, but it would lack the things that make it taste like you’re drinking a liquefied pumpkin pie.)
-A big, sharp knife (seriously, butternut squash is no joke. It will make lesser blades look silly.)
-All of your brewing stuff (I won’t harp on [too much] about what you need to brew, as hopefully it is a given if you’re reading a brewing recipe.)
-Water (this is something I always forget when I collecting my ingredients, and it makes a big difference. Grab five gallons of filtered spring water. Any one who drinks your beer will thank you for starting with fresh, clean water.)
-Beer (I chose Harpoon UFO Pumpkin because it is really, really good.)
Step 1: Chop n’ Bake
Before we can even start our primary boil, we have to prepare the fruit. Gourds. Vegetables. Whatever the hell pumpkins and squash are. We’re going to roast everything in the oven for about an hour at 350 degrees, so get to preheating. While the oven slowly bakes itself, start cutting your gourds into manageable chunks. You want them to be small enough to bake quickly and fit into a muslin bag or cheesecloth.
When you’re done, spread them out on a cookie sheet and add a bit of water to the bottom of the tray. I ended up having to use a shallow Pyrex container as well, because it turns out 10lbs of pumpkin and squash is a lot of fruit-flesh. If you’re going to use cinnamon, sprinkle a liberal amount onto the raw chunks before they go into the oven. If you’re not using cinnamon, don’t.
Step 2: Bag n’ Boil
While the pumpkin roasts and fills your house with the delicious smells of autumn, you can start your primary boil. Fill a large stock pot with as much water as you can effectively cool down later.
Note: There is some debate in the home brew world about doing a partial boil (in which you boil as much as you can of the actual beer, then add water to reach the desired final quantity) or a full boil (in which you boil the full volume of the beer and don’t add any water afterwards). A full boil is usually preferred, but if you’re doing this in your home kitchen and don’t have access to a fancy wort cooler, you can’t really get away with boiling 5 gallons and cooling it quickly enough to pitch your yeast. That, and heating 5 gallons of liquid on an electric stove top takes approximately one epoch of time.
I did a 3 gallon boil, and saved another 2.5 gallons of water to add afterwards.
Place your pot on the stove and set the heat to high. While the water very, very, very slowly heats to a boil, put your cracked malt into a muslin bag. I dumped all of mine into one bag because I overestimated how many bags I had left in stock, but feel free to separate them to make them easier to dispose of when you’re finished. Drop the bag(s) into the pot of water. Let the flavors seep into the delicious pre-beer as the water reaches a boil.
By now, the timer on your oven should be letting you know that your pumpkin is hot and roasted. Remove the trays, forget that Pyrex gets very hot, burn your hands. After swearing and pressing the cold glass of your Harpoon UFO Pumpkin against your burn, transfer the newly roasted foodstuff to a muslin bag or large swath of cheese cloth. You’re going to put this into the pot with the malts, so you want it to be relatively contained by the cloth. If a few pieces escape, don’t freak out. You can always scoop them out.
Your setup should look something like this by now:
Step 3: Sit n’ Sip
Now comes the idle part: waiting for the pot to boil. I heard that if you try to watch the pot boil, it never will. Seems crazy to me, but I’m not one mess with tradition. This is a great time to collect the spices for the next step, or just sit around watching a ba movie on SyFy, nursing your burn and breathing deeply the aromas of primordial beer that are filling your house. Your wife will tell you that it smells like breakfast cereal. Take that as a compliment.
It took about an hour and a half for my boil to get rolling. Once it’s there, remove the malt and pumpkin. They will hold onto a lot of delicious liquid, so do your best to press or drain the bags before you throw them in the trash. They’ll be scalding hot, so do your best not to add a trip to emergency room to this guide.
You can now pour in your liquid malt and add your Mt. Hood hops, sugar, and molasses. Even though the mixture is boiling, be sure to give it a good hearty stir (with a sterilized spoon) to make sure none of the malt sticks to the sides or bottom. Stuck malt can lead to scorching which can leading to burnt taste which can lead to “gross beer face.” Nobody likes burnt beer, not even me.
More sitting and waiting. You want to let the whole concoction boil for about an hour, so set your timer accordingly. After 45 minutes, you can add your bittering hops. At the end of the hour, add your other spices and vanilla.
Your final product (sans yeast) should look something like this:
Step 4: Cool n’ Drool
This next step is arguably the trickiest; you have to cool your work down to ~75 degrees as quickly as reasonable so that you can pitch your yeast. Letting the beer sit around and cool works in theory, but it can also lead to the unwanted creation of sulfurous compounds that make your beer taste all funky-like.
An ice bath is the easiest solution. I tried a rapid cool-down by adding the rest of my water (slightly chilled) but it didn’t work as well as hoped. To cool it down even more, I used my kitchen sink (with the wife’s permission, of course) as a beer bath. You can do the same, just make sure you have enough ice on hand to keep the bath cold.
I didn’t have enough ice. I used frozen 2 liter bottles of water instead. Ingenuity!
Every fifteen minutes or so check the temperature of your wort. You can use a cooking thermometer, but be sure to keep it clean, as you don’t want to contaminate your beer.
Or, if you’re a DIY dork and IT nerd like me, use your infrared laser thermometer to check the temperature. It’s hyper-sanitary, and the cats love it.
You’re almost done! Once the wort is sub-80 degrees (or so) you can pitch your yeast. Any higher temperature and the heat might kill the yeast, so don’t rush it.
You’ll also want to make sure the wort is aerated appropriately, so give it a nice big stir just before you pour in your liquid yeast.
Now, seal your bucket, add an airlock, and put it in a nice, darkish corner to ferment. Primary fermentation should start in 6-24 hours. If you hear crazy fast bubbling, you’re in business. If you don’t, you did something wrong. Repeat steps 1-4 and do better this time.
This is what your airlock should look like ~15 hour after you add the yeast: Bubbles!
I’ll post again when it’s ready for kegging and I can tell you what it actually tastes like. For now, fingers crossed.