As Fall arrives, the days get shorter, the leaves start to change colour and a sense of dread comes over craft beer drinkers who know all too well what lies ahead.
Lots of pumpkin beer.
Just under a decade ago there was a pumpkin-spiced beer furor of sorts, which had a few good years before the tide quickly turned. Today, pumpkin beer seems like a tradition many beer geeks would prefer to see disappear altogether.
In the eyes of this homebrewer, it’s still good enough to try once a year. As such, a pumpkin-flavoured beer has become a September staple.
The key to good pumpkin beer is balance; this may be stating the obvious, but all too often the vegetal or spice characteristics can overwhelm beer character and lead to undesirable perceived off-flavours.
The approach taken to this recipe over a number of years has been to start small and tweak each attempt until the ideal balance is achieved. Ironically, the most successful beers made with this recipe have leaned away from pumpkin and toward butternut squash. For all intents and purposes, the pumpkin in this recipe is used for colour. Butternut squash supplies a lot more of the roasted, sweet gourd flavour we’re looking for.
To start, we want a neutral, malty ale with enough hops to balance the malt but leave room on the palate for the spices.
Using Golden Promise malt as a base tends to produce very clean, lightly sweet wort. Low alpha-acid hops such as Willamette and Fuggle will supply a low-level of spicy, floral and herbal notes. Nottingham dry yeast is cheap, simple and tolerates low-temperature fermentation to produce a malty beer without the fruity esters typical of many British yeast strains.
From our simple ale base, the real fun begins.
Some brewers insist on using fresh pumpkin, but as it will be going into the mash and mostly used for colour, I prefer the simplicity of canned puree. Make sure it’s pure pumpkin and not a pie filling.
The butternut squash will need to be peeled, cubed and roasted in the oven (this can either be done before brew day or during the mash). This will be added just after halfway through the boil. More details within the recipe below.
Spice selection and accurate quantities can mean quite a lot to this beer. It’s important to use spices that blend well together, and in amounts that are perceivable but not dominant. This recipe calls for nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and fresh-ground ginger. We’ll add these toward the end of the boil with some Irish Moss to encourage clarity.
When all is said and done, this should be a slightly sweet, gourdy, spicy ale which is refreshing and easy-drinking.
Harvest Ale (BJCP Category 30B, Autumn Seasonal Beer)
(all-grain, 5.5 gallons)
8 Gallons tap water (treated w/ campden tablets) or spring water
Add 1 tsp Calcium Chloride and ¼ tsp Gypsum to mash
9lbs Golden Promise (mash)
1lb Crystal 45L (mash)
14oz Pumpkin Puree (mash)
2lbs Butternut Squash (cubed and roasted, boil 30 mins)
0.33oz Willamette (60 mins)
0.66oz Willamette (10 mins)
1oz US Fuggle (10 mins)
0.25oz (7g) Nutmeg (15 mins)
0.25oz (7g) Cinnamon (15 mins)
0.125oz (3.5g) Crushed Cardamom (15 mins)
1oz (28g) Ginger, freshly-grated (15mins)
Danstar Nottingham Ale Dry Yeast (re-hydrated)
Brew Day Instructions
Mash-in grains and pumpkin puree with 5.5 gallons of water to reach 149F (65C) and hold for 75 minutes. Infuse with boiling water or use direct heat to rise to 169F (76C) and sparge with 169F water until you have 6.75 gallons of wort in your kettle.
During the mash, peel and cube butternut squash, sprinkle with brown sugar and place in oven for 45 mins at 375F.
After sparging, bring the wort to a boil for 60 minutes, adding hops, spices and butternut squash at the times noted above. I prefer to use muslin bags for all of these ingredients to ensure not too much gets into the fermenter.
With 15 minutes remaining in the boil, add 1oz Irish Moss to help beer clarification.
After flameout, rapidly cool wort to 68F (20C) and oxygenate vigorously before pitching yeast. Ferment as low 59F (15C) or as high as 68F, with higher temperatures encouraging more fruity yeast character. I prefer to ferment low and focus on the malt and other flavour additions, and then rise to 68F for three days as fermentation slows to allow full attenuation and clean up off-flavours.
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