Well the red leaves on my Victoria Creeper tell me that Summer has well and truly gone now, time to pack away the shorts and t-shirts and embrace the Autumn. Coming from Australia, I have to say that I like the changing of the seasons. Autumn means that it’s OK to sit inside and curl up by the fire. It means hearty stews with root vegetables. If you’re a Yankee – like Posy – it means that Thanksgiving and Pumpkin Pie will soon be here … but have you ever tried a pumpkin beer ??

At this time of year many American Home Brewers make a staple “pumpkin ale” to be enjoyed around Thanksgiving celebrations… Although most of us here on the Motherland doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, we are getting more and more involved with that other American Pumpkin-filled celebration – Halloween.

There are essentially 2 approaches to pumpkin ale; the first is to use actual pumpkins in your homebrew. Contributing a very subtle flavour, real pumpkin gives more to the body and mouthfeel of the beer, this approach is best in a pale ale with low hop bitterness. The pale ale shows the lovely amber colour of the pumpkin.

The second approach is to use spices that we associate with pumpkin such as cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, clove, ginger and even allspice, to trick the senses. For this you’ll want a darker beer with more roasty flavours to complement the spices.

Pumpkin Ale was traditionally brewed in the US during Autumn when malt was hard to find. The style eventually died out but was resurrected at the beginning of the current Craft Beer Movement in the mid-1980s. Now a popular “seasonal” beer, many commercial examples can be found at this time of year – especially in the States… With the ever-growing popularity for Craft Beers in the UK, expect to see more seasonal pumpkins ales over this side of the pond. Why not give it a go yourself?

How to get started:

Using Real Pumpkin In Your Homebrew Beer

As mentioned earlier, pumpkin provides a very subtle flavour so you’ll want to use a simple base recipe. Ideally something that uses only 1 or two pale malts (our American Pale Ale or Australian Pale Ale recipes would work well here or for a slightly more malty base try our Best Bitter). Ensure you get a sweet pie pumpkin – not the massive ones for jack-o-lantern carving.  Or you can skip the below and get a can of pumpkin puree (Posy recommends Libby’s which you can get from Waitrose).

Cut your chosen gourd in half and bake in the oven at about 160oC for 2 hours to help caramelise the sugars. Remove the skin and mash the flesh so there are no lumps.

Add your mashed pumpkin flesh to your MASH (!) … you’ll want to add around 500g of pumpkin flesh to a 5L batch. This is where the Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB) method really shines – at the end of the MASH you can just remove your brewing bag along with your grains and pumpkin – no fuss… Be aware that if you’re not using BIAB then the presence of pumpkin flesh can greatly increase your risk of a “stuck sparge”….

You may like to consider reducing the bittering hops at the beginning of your boil to give your pumpkin flavour the best opportunity to shine through. If using our American or Australian Pale Ale recipe, look to halve the first hop addition – let the malt and the pumpkin be the heroes of this beer.

If you have some roasted flesh left over, you could also add it to the BOIL during the last 15 or so minutes. It’s also worth considering cutting back on the flavour and aroma hop additions. Use your own discretion, but remember that the pumpkin flavour will be easily overpowered by the hops.


Brewing Your Beer with Spices

This is a somewhat simpler approach. Take a good dark ale – (I’d recommend our  American Brown Ale or Milk Stout here). In this method, you’re looking to mimic a pumpkin pie so you can mix the spices that you like. Generally, the spices can be added at any point during the brewing process although most commonly they’d be added at the end of the BOIL.   The difficulty here can be judging the right amount to add. Some experimentation may be required to find your preferred balance but start with a teaspoon or two.

Another less risky approach is to brew as normal but add the spices before bottling. For this method, mix your spices with a neutral spirit like vodka. Add small amounts to your beer and taste as you go … once you’re happy with the flavour, carry on with bottling as normal. A word of advice – add in small increments … you can always add more!

Why not give one of the above methods a go and let us know how you get on?

Tried a pumpkin brew before? – please send us your tips.


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