The road to ruin – in pursuit of that perfect pumpkin ale

IMAG2365_1 When the weather turns and it’s dark, cold and wet, my thoughts immediately turn to homebrew for the season. With Halloween and Thanksgiving with friends followed by Christmas, I want a deep, rich beer that reflects the weather outside. Usually this means turning to our Autumn staple of Pumpkin Beer. But there is a split in the camp about what makes the perfect Pumpkin beer.

For me, last years recipe, Stingy Jack was my favourite pumpkin beer from all our batches. It’s was a glorious deep red colour, had hints of toffee apple and just enough spice to kick you in the backside and toast your cockles. For my friend Luke (who hosts Thanksgiving, the reason we make the pumpkin ale) his favourite is our Cinderella’s Ruin recipe. A much sweeter, fuller bodied brown ale which has a much more subtle spicing regime.

So what’s the trick, which is a good pumpkin beer? Well either really, it’s about personal taste, but one thing that’s for sure it all has to start with a good, strong, malt backbone.

Giving your beer some backbone

Any good beer always starts life with a good base recipe. Pumpkin beers are no different. You can load it up with pumpkin and spices but it’s not going to fix a mediocre beer, it will however, if done well, accentuate a good beer. Recipe wise, I’m a fan of the traditional amber beer. I just think if has the right amount of sweetness, the right body to be a satisfying beer on a cold night and of course the colour is everything about crap weather that is good. It’s the beautiful colour of the leaves changing on the trees, the crackling fire in the grate on a cold night and the warmth we all look for when you come home from work with cold rain drops trickling down the back of your neck.

You don’t have to go along with my preferences though, you can have your pumpkin beer made from a stout recipe, which I have done or even a pale beer but there are a couple of things to think about before you decide.

Hops

Pumpkin is a really subtle flavour and it’s very easy to lose it in a beer that’s full of hops, especially big American hops. So pick a base recipe where the malt is a key feature and tone down any hop additions to be little more than a way to combat the sweetness.

Pumpkin, whole or puree

So you’ve decided on your base beer style but you’re not done yet. There are some choices to be made about adding your pumpkin. I always add the pumpkin to my mash, I haven’t tried adding it to the boil but I figure that pumpkins are full of sugars so adding it to the mash and letting the enzymes work is a good thing. I also always roast my pumpkin before adding it. I can’t imagine adding raw pumpkin will give you those lovely roasty flavours we’re after but I’m pretty sure that raw pumpkin will add unwanted vegetative flavours.

But, do you add chunks of pumpkin or do you add purée?

Murky beer
Murky beer

Well I’ve tried both and adding chunks of whole, roasted pumpkin to the mash is my favourite way to do it. I just feel like although puréed tinned pumpkin is a time saver, I don’t like how it disappears into the mash and I can never get beer to clear if I’ve used pumpkin purée, meaning you get a murky beer which is less than appealing. Chunks also mean you are not so worried about causing a stuck mash and I may be wrong but I think you get more recognisable, roasted pumpkin flavour from whole pumpkin. I may be wrong but just my opinion.

Shhh it’s a secret.

Now this bit is a secret, so shhhh. Just between you and me, ok? No telling anyone. Although I keep talking about pumpkin beer, pumpkins aren’t known for their fantastic culinary flavour. Gourds however as a group give you some amazing options and I admit to doing a little experiment a couple of years ago and using butternut squash instead of pumpkin. That year I got a lot of comments about how the pumpkin flavour was much better in that beer 🙂

Spices

 

The amount of spices you add to your beer is personal taste, but be careful, if you overdo it you risk overpowering your beer and wasting all that effort you went to, to make sure your beer had the right base recipe.

Also when do you add the spices? I prefer to add them to the keg rather than in fermentation. I just feel you get a better flavour although remember that like hops, spices will mellow over time so don’t panic if your first taste slaps you in the face. It will mellow.

I add two teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice mix to an 18 litre corny keg and I’ve found this is enough. I wouldn’t go any higher than that.

So armed with all that knowledge… here’s my favourite version of my pumpkin beer recipe.

Stingy Jack

IMAG2646_1Batch Size: 18 litres
Color: 30 EBC
Bitterness: 25  IBUs
Boil Time: 60 min
Mash: 66C for 60 mins (roasted pumpkin goes in the mash)
ABV: 4.8%

2kg Pale Malt
300g Crystal Malt – 40L
200g Crystal Malt – 60L
1.5kg Munich Malt
50g Black (Patent) Malt
40g Goldings, East Kent [5.0%] – Boil 60 min

Notes
4kg of roasted pumpkin in the mash
Add 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice

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