Out of all of the beer styles I have made, pumpkin beers may be one of the most controversial. They tend to be either beloved or despised, with no middle ground in sight. My opinion is that good pumpkin beers are good and bad pumpkin beers are horrible. In this post, I will walk you through how I brew my pumpkin beer, along with some tips I have learned along the way. Unfortunately, the style for pumpkin beers varies widely as you can try (keyword is try) to make any beer style a pumpkin beer. For this recipe, we use a light amber ale as the base beer.
Pumpkin Beer Ingredients
Even though the pumpkin flavor is the star of this show, it cannot shine without a strong malt backbone. To do this, we are beefing up the grain bill with malts that are rich in maltiness and toastiness. The base is a mix of Maris Otter and Munich malts, with Maris Otter making up 60% – 70% of the grain bill and Munich making up 15% – 20%. These two malts will add a rich malty flavor, along with some toastiness and nuttiness.
In addition to the base malts, I also add 5% – 7% of Victory malt, around 5% of a dark caramel/crystal malt, and 0.5% – 1% of chocolate malt. The Victory malt will add to the toastiness and breadiness. For my caramel/crystal malt, I use Caramel Munich III from Bestmalz. This will add a bread crust flavor to the beer and a toasty aroma. Last, but not least, the very small amount of chocolate malt works wonderfully as a color adjuster.
We do not really want any hop flavor or aroma in our pumpkin beer, so choose a clean hop. For this recipe, I use Magnum. We also do not want much bitterness – just enough to counteract the malt sweetness. To achieve this, add between 17 – 20 IBUs at the 60-minute mark of the boil.
We cannot have a pumpkin beer without pumpkins! While you can cheat and use the store-bought canned pumpkin, I only use fresh pumpkins. This way, I get to have complete control over the type of pumpkin, the spices/flavorings added, and an assurance of no additives.
When choosing your pumpkins, it is important to note that not all pumpkins are created equal. For our purposes, we want a pumpkin that is suitable for baking. This does not include the traditional jack-o-lantern pumpkins. These have almost no flavor or fermentables, and there is hardly any of the flesh that we want. The following varieties are all good choices.
- Dickinson Pumpkins
- Pie Pumpkins
- Crookneck Pumpkins
- Butternut Squash
Preparing Your Pumpkins
Once you choose your pumpkin, you have to decide on how much you want to use. I recommend using between 3 – 5 pounds of pumpkins per 5 gallons of beer. For this recipe, I lean towards the higher end. These pumpkins are not ready to be added to the boil yet, though. They must first be prepared. To do this, start by slicing the pumpkins in half and removing all of the seeds. On a tin foil-lined baking sheet, arrange the pumpkins and sprinkle them with brown sugar. We use about 8 ounces of brown sugar per 5 pounds of pumpkins. Bake the pumpkins at 400 degrees for about an hour, or until they are soft. The brown sugar will caramelize onto the pumpkins, adding a wonderful flavor. Once the pumpkins are finished baking, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Make sure you save all of the juices that were produced during the bake. These juices will be added to the boil at the same time as the pumpkins. Once the pumpkins have cooled, remove the skin and store the pumpkins and the juices in airtight containers, and refrigerate them until your brew day.
Adding Your Pumpkins
Let your pumpkins warm up to room temperature during your brew day. This will prevent them from dropping the temperature of your system when you add them in. You can add them to either the mash or the boil, but I prefer to add them to the boil. Pumpkins are low in starch, so adding them to the mash will only increase the gravity by a couple of points. It will also greatly increase the risk of a stuck mash. If you decide to add them to the boil, I highly recommend adding them via a mesh bag. This will keep the pumpkin contained and prevent it from clogging up your valves and heat exchanger. I used plastic mesh bags from Amazon that are marketed for seafood boiling and they worked very well. This will allow the wort to access the pumpkins, but the filter is fine enough to keep all pumpkin components contained. I add the pumpkins and juices with 30 minutes left in the boil.
While the pumpkins will add some flavor and mouthfeel, I recommend enhancing that flavor with pumpkin pie spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. I add 3.5 tsp of cinnamon, 3/4 tsp of nutmeg, and 3/4 tsp of ginger for this recipe. Do not be afraid to get a little aggressive with the spices. It may take some experimenting, but the right dose of these spices does wonders for this style. Being too conservative with the spices will not ruin it, but it could leave you with a somewhat bland beer.
For the pumpkin beer, we want a lower attenuating strain. This will help increase the body and sweetness of the beer, which pairs nicely with the pumpkin flavors. The following are good choices
- English Ale Yeast – White Labs WLP002
- London Ale III – Wyeast Laboratories 1318
Last but not least, the water. For all beers we brew, we use a reverse osmosis filtration system and build up our water profile from scratch. Our water profile is below.
- Calcium: 50 ppm
- Sodium: 10 ppm
- Sulfates: 60 ppm
- Chloride: 70 ppm
The following is a 5-gallon version of our pumpkin beer. The numbers for this beer are listed below.
- Original Gravity: 1.047
- Final Gravity: 1.012 – 1.018
- Alcohol by Volume: 5.0%
- Bitterness: 17 IBU
- Color (SRM): 11.7
- Maris Otter – 5 lbs 8 ounces (65.1%)
- Munich – 1 lb 8 ounces (17.8%)
- Victory – 8 ounces (5.9%)
- Caramel Munich III – 6.4 ounces (4.7%)
- Chocolate – 0.8 ounces (0.6%)
If you are wondering where the additional 6% is, it is the 8 ounces of brown sugar I allocated to covering the pumpkins with during their preparation.
- 0.4 ounces of Magnum at 60 minutes (17 IBUs)
- 5 lbs of prepared pumpkins and juices at 30 minutes
- 3.5 tsp cinnamon at 5 minutes
- 0.75 tsp nutmeg
- 0.75 tsp ginger
- English Ale Yeast – White Labs WLP002
Add any brewing salts and enough acid, if needed, to get the mash pH to 5.4. I mashed the pumpkin beer at 156 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes to cater more towards the mash enzyme alpha-amylase. This will produce more dextrins, or unfermentable sugars, and add body and sweetness to the beer. Have your strike water at the required volume and temperature for your system to drop the mash to 156 degrees. For me, it is 2.5 gallons at 167 degrees. Mash for 40 minutes and proceed to mash out. Sparge with 5.25 gallons of water. Pre-boil gravity should be around 1.042.
Boil the wort for 90 minutes and add the hops in at 60 minutes. At 30 minutes, I added my pumpkins and the extra juices. At 10 minutes, I added yeast nutrients and at 5 minutes I added whirlfloc tablets as my clarifying agent. Also at 5 minutes, I added the spices. Once the boil is complete, whirlpool the wort for 10 minutes and then let it wind down for 10 minutes.
Knock the wort out in your heat exchanger so that the pitching temperature is 64 degrees and then measure the gravity and pitch the yeast. Initial gravity should be around 1.047. I let the temperature free-rise to 67 degrees as fermentation starts. Hold the temperature at 67 degrees for 5-7 days until the primary fermentation is complete, and then let the temperature free-rise up to 72 degrees to finish off fermentation. Once your fermentation is fully complete, cold crash to 33 degrees for at least a day and then transfer to the brite tank to carbonate it to 2.6 vols. If you feel like your pumpkin beer is missing a little something, try adding some vanilla extract into your secondary vessel at a dosage of about 1 – 3 tsp per 5 gallons. After 3 days in the brite tank, keg it, and enjoy!
If you decide to try this recipe, or another Pumpkin Beer recipe, feel free to send us a comment and let us know how it went! And if you want to see more recipes like this, sign up for our newsletter below to be notified when a new post is released. Cheers!