Brewology—Tis the season for homemade pumpkin ale

Posted: November 21, 2012 by cjax33 in Beer Science

Editor’s note: Stoutmeister here again with another entry from Derek. Yes, we’re working on getting him his own sign-in for the site, but we wanted to get this post up before fall morphs into bitter winter. Derek is the most experienced home brewer among the six of us, so you’re darned right we wanted to get him writing about the process and the experience. If anyone out there takes this recipe and makes their own pumpkin ale, let us know how it turns out. Who knows, the Crew could even stop by and sample your creation.

Original recipe I modified from:

A pumpkin ale starts best with real pumpkin instead of stuff from a can.

Original Recipe Ingredients:
* 6-10 pounds of pumpkin
* 5 gallons bottled water
* 1 pound of Vienna malt, 4L
* ½ pound crystal malt, 60L
* ½ pound malted wheat
* 6 pounds light or amber malt extract
* 1 cup brown sugar (optional)
* ½ cup molasses (optional)
* 1 ounce Mt. Hood hops (boiling)
* ½ ounce Hallertauer hops (finishing)
* ½ teaspoon vanilla
* ½ to 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spices (see below)
* Wyeast 1056, American Ale

Partial Mash: My main goal of this brew is to actually taste the real pumpkin. Most pumpkin ales you’ll try barely register any pumpkin flavor over the ridiculous amount of pumpkin pie seasoning instead.  My modifications included more real pumpkin (canned tastes fake and is a horrible mess to clean) and I used a more specific style of malted wheat and a different Vienna malt.  They were slight changes, but all due to tasting each of the malts at the beer store and deciding what flavors I wanted for my beer specifically.  Instead of typical priming straight corn sugar, I primed with more brown sugar.

All other options I used in my recipe, including molasses and extra brown sugar during the boil.  These create a rich, thick, dark beer, which was my goal.  For the pumpkin pie spice mix, I took all the elements separately and mixed my own until I was happy with the taste and scent. I then added it in, rather than use a muted premade pumpkin pie spice mix from the store.  I mixed allspice, cinnamon, a tiny bit of ginger, and nutmeg. The vanilla I used was an extract liquid separately to taste.

Roast your pumpkin to bring out the flavor.

Start by cleaning all your brew gear, including the pots and your carboy or primary bucket and rinse thoroughly. Bacteria will be your biggest nemesis in creating a quality beer.  I cut up and gutted the pumpkin into manageable-sized pieces.  I scraped the seeds and guts out but left the rind on.  Putting the pieces in a shallow dish with water, enough to bring to the rim of the shallow dish, I roasted the pumpkin for about an hour. The pumpkin should be obviously cooked through — you can tell by the color and nice and soft texture. Feel free to eat a piece and enjoy; then you’ll know how prominent your pumpkin flavor should be coming through in the beer by knowing the strength of the flavor of the pumpkin itself. If you are using a liquid yeast, now may be a good time to pop the packet (directions are on the bag) so it can expand by the time you’re ready for it.  Now that my ingredients are ready, it’s time to start my boil.

Add the pumpkin in muslin sacks to the mixture.

I bring up my water (2.5 gallons distilled and spring water mix) to a rolling boil, in this case right up to 170 degrees Farenheit.  Then I added both the fresh roasted pumpkin, split into about three muslin grain sacks, and all of my crushed grains also split into two or three muslin sacks, to my heated water.  Make sure to watch the temperature and give an occasional stir to keep the water immersing through all the bags to extract all the flavor it can.  You need to regulate or even cut off your heat to keep it between 160-170 degrees. This process should be about an hour.  The year before when I followed the original recipe more specifically I let the pumpkin by itself immerse for an hour and then did the grains separately.  This all depends on the amount of flavor you want to pull, and this will also affect the color of the beer in terms of darkness.  Either method is acceptable and also depends on the size of your brew pot if you can fit all of the muslin sacks in one sitting.  Remove your muslin sacks one at a time using your brew spoon to help extract a bit of the water from each sack before disposing of them.

The beer begins to take form.

Bring the mix back to a soft, rolling boil and slowly pour your dry extract while stirring constantly.  It really helps to have a friend to pour while you stir or vice versa to prevent it from piling onto and settling or sticking to the bottom and burning.  Add your brown sugar and molasses and keep stirring.  Add your boil hops that you’ve chosen and boil for one hour.  Fifteen minutes before the boil is done add your finishing hops.  As you cut your boil at the end of the hour, add your vanilla (I like a touch more than the recipe calls for) and the pumpkin pie blend you’ve made — it all depends on how much you’ve created and also to taste depending on how much you want to taste.  My goal is for a start of pumpkin pie seasoning off the top where you settle on real pumpkin flavors on the back of your palate.

Cool your beer in a sink filled with ice and water plugged up.  Keep it in the brew pot and don’t put ice or water directly into your batch, just surround it and add more ice and keep checking the temperature until you’re about 70 degrees.

When your water is cooled enough, use a disinfected funnel and pour the rest of your water (you should have five gallons total, bottled and ready to go). Slowly pour your beer from your brew pot into your carboy.  If the pot is too heavy to pour slowly, disinfect a small pot and dip it into your brew pot and pour that way until its manageable to pour from your pot itself.  You want to avoid causing as many bubbles as you can while pouring. Aerating your beer at this stage will promote bacteria growth and stunt the ability for your yeast to live properly.

Pitch your yeast. Follow the directions on the packet depending on the brand you buy and if it’s a liquid yeast or powder dry yeast.  If it’s a liquid you may need to pop your yeast to start warming to room temp up to three hours in advance before pitching. Pour your yeast into your batch in the carboy, using the funnel to help. Let your beer receive as much of this packet as you can; each bag contains billions of live yeast, but it only takes one single one to start fermentation, so the more that reach it and have a chance to live the better.

Roll your carboy slightly while it’s still upright, just rocking it on the base of it. Don’t create more bubbles. Typically you’ll see the yeast swirling — that means you have a live beer! If it doesn’t swirl right away continue on to the next steps regardless; sometimes it takes a bit for it to live. You want your beer to stay around 70 degrees or so during your primary fermentation.

Use a little H2O to get the CO2 out of your carboy.

If you are using a bottling bucket instead of a carboy, this is fine. Put a triple-step disinfected cap onto the grommet with either a bit of vodka or a quarter of a cleansing tablet. My method is going straight into a carboy, then take one of the bottles of water you already used, cut it in half and fill with water with some room to spare.  Take your blowoff tube you bought from your beer store and stick in the top of your carboy, with the other end down into the bottle of water you cut up.  This will take the Co2, siphoning it out of your carboy during fermentation and extracting it out and then into the air though the bottle of water sitting next to it.

Fermentation begins for the pumpkin ale.

Ferment for one week. By the next day your bottle should be fermenting, you’ll see it growing on top and bubbling like mad, either from the airlock or into that bottle of water next to it. Once you’ve reached no bubbling in about 24 hours, usually around a week, then you’re into secondary fermentation. Remove the airlock from your bottling bucket and the lid slowly (still avoiding bubbles) and get your beer into your carboy. The best method is to use a siphon tube and hose.  You need to be careful not to get any of the turbo (dead yeast and grains and other such that have settled into a cake at the bottom of the primary fermentation). If you are using a carboy for primary, use the same siphon and hose and still be careful to avoid the turbo.  If some gets into your secondary don’t sweat it; it won’t affect the beer’s taste or quality, but the point of secondary is to take it out of that element of the turbo. You always have a third option, too.  This only matters if you used a carboy for primary fermentation, and that is to remove your blowoff tube, and leave the beer as it is in the same carboy, and still move to the next step.

Take your cleaned rubber stopper that fits your five-gallon carboy, and your s-lock airlock and put them together, with water and a quarter cleanser tabled crushed to a powder filling up to the medium line on the airlock, or in lieu use vodka again. These prevent bad air and elements of bacteria from going back into your beer as it grows and ferments and lives.  Keep your beer in your secondary for one week. A calendar or brew schedule helps to keep your dates straight and know when it’s time to do what.

The bottling process means your beer is nearly ready.

Welcome to bottling day! You’re almost to your final stage, which is drinking your new concoction.  Slowly siphon or pour your beer from your secondary into your bottling bucket, still avoiding getting any trub in there if you didn’t swap to a secondary fermenter. Keep the top of your bucket covered with paper towels as much as you can to avoid anything from getting inside. Once your beer is into your bottling bucket you need to prep your priming sugar. Mix your sugar into already boiling water and keep stirring with a disinfected whisk for five minutes. Let the solution cool a bit, then pour into your bottling bucket, stirring all the while to mix it into the entire batch. Use your bucket and the beer store should have sold you a bottler, caps, and a capper, to fill each of your disinfected and rinsed bottles. Push your bottler (sneak) into each of your bottles, pressing down on the bottom. The beer should go through your bucket tap down into your bottle. When it reaches the brim of the bottle, remove the sneak and you’ll have a perfectly proportioned bottle of beer.

If you have an assistant or friend around I recommend you take turns bottling and capping at the same time so no beer is just sitting around unbolted.  After your caps are on, store in a cool, dark area for two weeks. This is about your bare minimum for any beer before tasting to have a proper time to prime. I recommend for this batch to sit from at least one month to up to three months and then you’ll have the best flavors.

Wait your allotted time and then enjoy!  You should have ended up with a flavorful amber or darker beer, with a small head from a top pour with a light carbonation.

Stoutmeister holds up his first pint of Derek’s pumpkin ale.

As for my pumpkin ale, some of the other members of the Crew were around to sample it when it was ready. Only Stoutmeister seems to remember it, however, so here are his thoughts:

Stoutmeister: Darker, burlier than I expected, this was a welcome treat. Unlike a lot of the pumpkins (looking at you, Chama River), the spices were relatively subtle and confined. You could pick up actual pumpkin flavor on the back end. A good, smooth beer, the kind you can drink and enjoy for a long time while hanging out with friends.

All right, well that is all on my latest home-brewing experience. If you have any questions or suggestions for my next brew, leave them here or on our Facebook page.


— Derek

  1. Josh says:

    Great article Derek. I also really enjoy pumpkin ales that actually taste like pumpkin. As an aside another problem with using canned pumpkin is it likely not pumpkin at all but rather squash. Why they do this i could not tell you. Two problems with this is ; it IS pumpkin ale you’re after right?, and squash does not have nearly the sugar content that pumpkin has. So anybody who wants to follow this recipe. Follow Derek’s lead and do not cut corners with he canned stuff. Cheers!

    • Derek says:

      Thanks Josh, If you end up using my recipe I really would love to know how yours comes out as well! My typical problem has always been all you taste is fake flavors of spices and NO pumpkin at all. Most “pumpkin” recipes dont use any form of pumpkin at all, just the spices, this one is really nice because you’ll really be able to taste actual pumpkin in the tail of it. I think next year I may make changes again, such as trying smaller “pie” pumpkins because of their stronger flavors instead of using one large pumpkin. Wish me luck!

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