Pumpkin Beers! Love them, hate them, drink them. – Monthly Brews
Pumpkin Beers! Love them, hate them, drink them.

Pumpkin Beers! Love them, hate them, drink them.

When Summer starts to come to a close, the smell of pumpkin spice hits the air and many industries are forced to add this polarizing spice to their products if at all possible, and craft beer certainly isn’t immune. To some, pumpkins invoke all things of autumn and a remind us there are other seasons than the long hot summer. To others, pumpkins are an inedible gourd that doesn’t elicit a second glance, and part of annoying marketing fad… Well, this post is more for the former, because spiced beer has a long tradition and can appeal to many beer drinkers if done well.

Pumpkins were a native plant to North America and early colonial settlers we quick to adapt the pumpkin into the fermentables of their home-made beer recipes. The first commercial example was made available in the young U.S.A in 1791, and has been a go to for American brewers ever since, although lost its commercial appeal sometime in the late 1800's. Homebrewers kept alive the tradition, and pumpkin beers made a big comeback in the craft revolution that started in the 1980's.

So what makes a pumpkin beer? Many current commercial examples, and homebrew recipes include only pumpkin pie spice, and no pumpkin at all. The fact is, many people associate the flavor of pumpkin to that of pumpkin pie, not the actual fruit (i’m using the botanists definition of the gourd) itself, which tastes like a very mild squash. I have brewed several variations of the modern pumpkin beer and have found that indeed the most universally liked versions that I have brewed are sans pumpkin fruit. Pumpkin can add a mildly bitter and vegetal flavor to the beer that isn’t universally liked, or what some people expect from a pumpkin ale.

Homebrewing recipes vary wildly. For competition purposes, pumpkin beers were just lumped into the Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer category in the BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines, although a change was made in 2015 that made pumpkin beers almost it’s own category in the Autumn Seasonal Beer - are beers that suggest cool weather and the autumn harvest season, and may include pumpkin or other squashes, and the associated spices. This category can vary wildly in color, ABV, maltiness, aroma and adjunct additions, so it is still hard to pin down what a pumpkin beer is “supposed” to be. But, ultimately, this is what I think makes it such an important style for homebrewers, it is totally up to the brewer to interpret the beer the way they want to, which is what the Monthly Brews is all about.

With all that said, here are some tips from what I have learned about the style:

  • The beer works a bit better in malt forward beers especially if real pumpkin is being used.
  • Munich malts work great for their malt forward flavor and the orange color they can produce.
  • Dont’ over do the pumpkin pie spice. A little can go a long way, and it’s better to err on the side of subtlety.
  • Blending pumpkin beers work well too. Take your pumpkin ale and mix it (in glass) with an imperial stout, or other beer you like during the fall months. You can dial in the ratio you like, but this is a way to find new versions of the beer style to try down the road.
  • Cutting up pumpkins, (make sure to use the pie kind, not the Jack-o-Lantern kind) mashing them, baking them on a tray then adding them to your mash tun, and or boil kettle can be fun, and certainly more “hands on”, but a can of pumpkin puree seems to work just as well while minimizing effort.

Super easy pumpkin beer recipe:

5 Gallons

2 - 3.3lb cans of Munich LME

1 oz Hallertau (5%AA) @60 min

1 can pumpkin puree @60 min

1 Tsp pumpkin pie spice @0 min

London ESB yeast (1968)

October 29, 2017 by Ross Metzger

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