Home brew: Pumpkin beer

7 mins read

My favorite time of the year is Fall. The weather gets cooler, the days shorter, and pumpkins magically appear at the supermarket. That means it’s time to brew some pumpkin beer!

I have never brewed a pumpkin beer so this will be a learning experience. I bought a pumpkin ale ingredient kit from Austin Homebrew Supply and grabbed an 8 lb pumpkin from the grocery store. The pumpkin is optional but is a pumpkin beer brewed with no pumpkin really a pumpkin beer? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The instructions say you can use canned pumpkin instead of fresh but that sounded messy.

[Note: This will not be a step-by-step home brewing post. Check out the Belgian dubbel post for more detailed instructions. The steps are basically the same except for mashing the grains as described below.]

I decided to try brewing a mini-mash which is between all-extract and all-grain brewing but does not require any extra equipment. Basically, you use more grains and less extract than an extract recipe but the mashing takes place in the brew kettle rather than a mash tun.

Pumpkin beer ingredients (hops not shown)
Pumpkin beer ingredients (hops not shown)

Here’s the recipe:

1.5 lb 2-row
1 lb Vienna
.5 lb Crystal 60L
.5 lb Cara-Munich

Liquid Malt Extract (LME):
4.5 lb extra pale
1 lb Munich

1 oz First Gold hops(6.9% alpha acid), .5 oz @ 60 minutes, .5 oz @ 45 minutes
3-4 lb pumpkin
Spices: 1 tsp cinnamon, 3/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/8 tsp mace, 7 g sweet orange peel
Wyeast London Ale 1028 (or White Labs British Ale 005 or Windsor Ale dry yeast)

Gut it, cut it up, and bake it
Gut it, cut it up, and bake it

The first step is to prepare the pumpkin. Cut it in half and gut it. Then cut it into small pieces and bake in the oven at 350? for about an hour, or until the pumpkin starts to soften. Let it cool then separate the meat from the shell with a knife or spoon. My 8 lb raw pumpkin yielded about 3.5 lb of prepared pumpkin which was just right.

Grain and pumpkin mashing at 155
Grain and pumpkin mashing at 155

I didn’t have a grain bag big enough for both the grains and pumpkin so I put them in separate bags. In fact, the grain just barely fit in my largest bag. The pumpkin can be added during the mash (first), to the boil, or to the primary or secondary fermenter if it has been pasteurized. I chose to add it to the mash. To extract the sugars from the grain (called mashing), soak the grain in 2.5 gallons of water at 155? for 45 minutes. Then turn off the heat and dunk the grain bag in and out of the water a few times like a giant tea bag. Place the grain in a strainer over the kettle, heat the mash to 170?, and evenly pour 1.75 quarts (1 quart for every 2 lbs of grain) over the grain. Allow the grain to drain then bring the mash to a boil.

Pour 170 degree mash through the grain
Pour 170 degree mash through the grain

Once the mash starts to boil, remove it from heat and stir in the LME until it is completely dissolved. Return to a boil and add .5 oz of hops for bittering. After 45 minutes, add .5 oz of hops for flavor. After 55 minutes, add the spices. After 60 minutes, remove from heat and cool to less than 80? as quickly as possible.

Pour the wort into a carboy and add enough water to bring the volume to about 5.25 gallons.? When the temperature is around 75?, aerate and mix the wort by shaking vigorously and take an original gravity reading. The target for this beer is 1.055 but mine was well shy of that at only 1.044. My guess is that not enough sugar was extracted in the mash because the grain was so tightly packed in the too-small grain bag.

Yeast pack before and after smacking
Yeast pack before and after smacking

After taking the gravity reading, pitch the yeast. This was the first time I had used Wyeast, which comes in a “smack pack.” Inside the pouch is a packet of yeast fuel which you “smack” to pop it and release the fuel. You can see that after 5 hours the pouch had swelled due to the yeast consuming the fuel. This is kind of like a miniature starter which is why I did not make a starter as I did for the Belgian dubbel. I regretted this when fermentation didn’t start as quickly as I had hoped. Once it started, it was pretty vigorous so hopefully I’ll reach my target 1.012 final gravity which will give a respectable 4.2% – 4.7% ABV.

After I was finished brewing the beer I had 3.5 lbs of pumpkin which had been soaking in a barley malt stew for 45 minutes. What to do with it? Make pumpkin pies! Bonus! My wife was able to make 3 pies out of the pumpkin. I honestly can’t taste the malt but you can’t beat 5 gallons of pumpkin beer and 3 pumpkin pies out of a $2 pumpkin. Man, I love the Fall!

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