Nick Carr on October 7, 2015 0 Comments History of Pumpkin Beer It’s early Fall and that means the march of the pumpkin beer is well underway. Like every other iconic holiday sale, be it Christmas or Halloween, pumpkin beer graces our grocery shelves earlier and earlier each year. Some wait with baited breath for the coming of these most hailed of the seasonals, others curse their coming and hunker down to wait for the inevitable turning tide bringing a different season. But pumpkin beer did not always hold the popularity that it enjoys today. It has made a slow climb over the last 30 years, from a strange specialty brew, concocted by only a handful of craft brewers; to the reigning king of the seasonal lineup, brewed by almost every microbrew in America. It is not overly surprising that this beer has done so well. I mean, think of the images coming to mind when pumpkins are mentioned. Blossomed warm orange eyes upon the vine heralding Falls Harvest, a time to lay in stores, an excitement in seasons coming change, sweet pumpkin pies devilishly topped with thick whipping cream, and yellowed and reddened leaves tossed in the nipping touch of Fall air. Then there’s Thanksgivings’ hardy meal, warming conversations, and children running about; or the fun of carving grinning, garish-masked faces into ochre flesh and then those Jacks’ vestiges a-laterned, brought to dancing life under the glow of fired flame. Pumpkins bring memory and the excitement of coming change. They breed good things upon the American psyche. And no wonder for their use in beer and as a simple food stretches to the vary foundations of America. Pumpkins are native to North America with the earliest evidence of pumpkin related seeds coming from Mexico and dating to between 7000 and 5500 BC. The pumpkin and most other squash were completely unknown in Europe until the establishment of early American colonies. Native Americans introduced early settlers to pumpkins, other squash varieties, and corn; and the settlers very quickly realized the importance of the squash. Winters were hard. In fact, half the colonists died during the first winter, those that survived, only survived through Native help. These harsh winters, no doubt, quickly taught the colonists the importance of the very abundant and easily storable native foods. This same abundance and a lack of quality barley made pumpkins’ use in brewing rather inevitable. To brew a beer you need fermentable sugar and the settlers found this sugar in the meat of the pumpkin. Along with pumpkin — persimmons, maple sugar, molasses, and parsnips — were often used in some combination as sugar sources. These beers would remain popular until the late 18th century when farmers started to grow more barley, giving easy access to malt. Today’s resurgence began in 1985 when Buffalo Bill’s Brewery decided to revive a recipe written by George Washington. They have been brewing their Original Pumpkin Ale from this recipe ever since. This “original” along with the rest of the new batch of pumpkin ales bears little resemblance to their early ancestor. The pumpkin ales of today are pumpkin flavored beers, not pumpkin beers. Fall spices (clove, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cinnamon) have become common additives to the beers in a search of a more memorable Fall-like flavor; namely that of pumpkin pie. Over the next 30 years pumpkin ales slowly built steam, erected a die-hard following, until finally we find ourselves here, in a veritable cornucopia of pumpkin ales, ranging from the much copied “new” original style, to full on experimentals. Every brewery seems to be kicking a pumpkin down the Autumn road. Style Profile & Characteristics Quick Characteristics Color Range: 5–50 SRM Original Gravity: 1.030 – 1.110 Final Gravity: 1.006 – 1.030 IBU Range: 5–70 ABV Range: 2.5–12% Serving Temp: 50°-55° Aroma: Pumpkin or squash should be prominent; Spices often add to aroma; Hop aroma should be low to none; Malty aroma should be low to medium; Will range based on base style you choose. Flavor: Malty sweetness & Pumpkin/Squash should be low to medium-high; Hops should be low; May differ depending on base style you choose. Appearance: Depends on the base beer style you choose; Can range from pale to black; Can be hazy or clear. Mouthfeel: Depends on the base beer style you choose to add pumpkin to. Food Pairings: Creamy spinach salads; Roasted lemon-pepper chicken; Steamed veggies; BBQ turkey; Meatloaf Appearance: The beers appearance will be dictated heavily by the underlying beer style and can range from pale to almost black. The beer can appear hazy or crystal clear. Aroma: Pumpkin or squash are essential to the style and should have been used either in the mash, kettle, or fermentation. The resulting aromas should be a main player in this beer and can range from a subtle but noticeable whisper to a more intense and uncompromising, but still harmonious character. Spices or other ingredients often supplement the profile, but these are not necessary for the style. Any hop and spice aromas present should not overpower the underlying pumpkin/squash aromas or over-scale the overall balance. Hop aroma is low ranging from none at all to medium. Sweet malt aromas may be present at low to medium levels. Mouthfeel: Body and mouthfeel will range across the spectrum depending on the underlying beer style and should fit the guidelines for that style. Taste: A combined backbone of malt sweetness and pumpkin/squash will range from low to med-high, though the pumpkin should always be higher in the balance. Hop flavors will range from low to medium and never overrun the pumpkin/squash flavors. Hop bitterness should be just enough to balance some of the sweet, in a range of low to medium-low. The best examples of the style will have noticeable pumpkin/squash character that is balanced, but never overwhelmed by the presence of hops or spices. *Reference: The 2014 World Beer Cup style guidelines Examples of the Style Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale from Otter Creek Brewing Company (Middlebury, VT)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2014. Available: Fall Seasonal. Spiced Harvest Ale from Fordham & Dominion Brewing Co. (Dover, DE)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2014. Available: Fall Seasonal. Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale from Stevens Point Brewery (Stevens Point, WI)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available: August – September. Imperial Pumpkin Smash from Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling (Ste. Genevieve, MO)World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available: Fall Seasonal. Saint Arnold Pumpkinator from Saint Arnold Brewing Company (Houston, TX)World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2012. Available: October 15 until gone. The Great Pumpkin from Elysian Brewing Company (Seattle, WA)World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2012. Available: Fall Seasonal. Tips for Brewing Your Own Pumpkin Beer So, you want to try your hand at brewing a pumpkin beer. Well get set for a long and, possibly, frustrating brew day. Here’s a few tip to help you along. The Base Style: Nowadays, pumpkins find their way into almost every beer style you can imagine. Traditionally, and probably still the most often used style is some sort of pale or amber. But the robust malts in stouts, porters, and browns can also work well, even contributing a more complex canvas on which to ply spices and bigger pumpkin character. Ingredient kits are a great way to lay a good foundation for your to experiment with. For a base style, I’d suggest starting with one of the following kits: True Brew Oktoberfest BSG Handcraft Brew Nut Brown MoreBeer Amber Light True Brew Porter Really, the one rule of thumb when choosing a style is the hop quantities. You want a low hopped recipe. Too great a hop bitterness, flavor, or aroma will clash with the other spices and pumpkin character. So, choose a favorite recipe with low hop additions or you can lower hopping rates of a highly hopped beer to accommodate the additional ingredients. Pumpkin Selection: The pumpkin you decide to use might be largely decided upon by what’s available. Fresh pumpkins are great but they take some preparation. Also you don’t want to get the generic Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin. These are mostly hollow and have very little usable flesh (what you need for your beer). Instead go for the smaller pie pumpkins. If you’re not sure what to buy, now might be a good time to go shopping with your grandmother… she’ll know the right ones. If you want to take an easier route or fresh pumpkins aren’t available yet. Use canned pumpkin. You will lose a little of the authenticity of the style, but that’s ok. Be sure pumpkin is the only ingredient on the cans you buy. No preservatives or added sugars. Also avoid the pie fillings. These contain added sugars and spices, things you do not need. They often also contain only very small quantities of actual pumpkin. How much pumpkin should you add? How much pumpkin you add is dependent on a couple factors. Fresh pumpkin will not be as concentrated as the canned stuff so you will have to use more of it. Your base style will also come into play here. If your base recipe consists of a low hopped pale ale or amber, you will obviously be using less pumpkin than if you are brewing a more robust and complex brown or porter. It will also depend on how strong you want the pumpkin flavors to be. Do you want just that subtle smoothness with only whispers of actual pumpkin flavor or do you want a bolder more recognizable character? A good starting point is around 3/4th of a pound of canned pumpkin for every gallon or one pound of fresh pumpkin per gallon. Using The Pumpkin: Ok, you’ve made it home from the store with either fresh pumpkin or canned pumpkin. But how and when do you use it? If you’ve gone with fresh pumpkins you have to prepare them. You can bake the pumpkins whole and cut them up after they are done, or slice them first then stick them in the oven. Either way, bake them at around 350°F until the skin begins to turn brown and the flesh soft. At this point you’ll remove the skin (and seeds if you cooked it whole) and either cut it very small or mash it. This may take some experimentation to figure out which works best for you. If you mash it you will likely extract more of the sugars, but at the same time mashed pumpkin (if you’re going to use it in the mash) can turn sparging into a nightmare… and that’s putting it mildly. If using canned pumpkin you have no choice. Your pumpkin will be mashed. Spices: Spices are what makes or breaks a pumpkin beer. Add too much and you go over the top with its pumpkin “pieiness,” but at the same time some spice usually is added because without it the pumpkin remains muted and often unnoticeable. Some brewers even make good examples of the more pumpkin pie-like beers by only using spices. But, I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not this should even be called a pumpkin beer. The spices used are much the same as a pumpkin pie; cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, and ginger. But, it isn’t necessary to stick to these. There’s a whole world of spice out there. Don’t be afraid to explore it, even if it means messing up a few batches. Add your spices during the boil, about 5 minutes before flame out. Which ones and in what proportions are largely up to the brewer, but it is important to remember that spices go a long way. More than the pumpkin, spices are the dominant character in these beers. This is precisely why it’s possible to make a likeness of a pumpkin, without ever touching a pumpkin. Be safe, start small. Remember you can add more later, even adding directly into the bottling bucket if you suddenly find the flavor unsatisfying. When To Add The Pumpkin: Generally, the pumpkin will be added before racking into the primary fermenter, but this is not a hard and fast rule. For those doing all-grain brewing, adding pumpkin to the mash is popular, but you’ll have your work cut out for you. The gelatinous pumpkin mixture will create a stuck sparge in a heartbeat. Constant vigilance is key here. To keep a stuck sparge from happening consider using rice hulls, keep your mash at the right temperature by insulating your mash tun well (above 145°F), and sparge, oh so slowly. Also, sparge with water around 170°F to help prevent gelatinization of starches and glucans. Pumpkin is also often added to the boil and this is the only option if you are using an extract kit or brewing extract only. How much you add to your kettle during the boil will depend on how much you used in the mash (if any) and how much of a pumpkin character you are going for. You can also add pumpkin to the fermenter or even let the beer sit on pumpkin for a time after it is done fermenting. Some Final Considerations: Remember, pumpkins are mostly water and you might have to raise your malt bill a bit to hit your starting gravity. The yeast used can bring greater depths to the beer even to the point of adding spice-like dimensions, i.e. clove. Other adjuncts such as honey, molasses, and maple syrup fit well in the style and are authentic to colonial brewing. Explore other dimensions of the pumpkin. Roast and add the seeds, smoke the pumpkins, etc. Add different nuts or other fall vegetables which can complement the pumpkin flavors. Obviously some experimentation and sampling of beers is in order to find a style you like and a setup that works. Homebrewing is about exploring though, finding new ingredients, combining ingredients in new ways, and working on brewing practices. This is a fun style to play around in and wouldn’t it be nice to set a newly homebrewed pumpkin beer down at that Thanksgiving table, to be shared by all, or drink up that scary experimental as Halloween looms. Cheers!