When Halloween comes around what is the first thing you think about – dressing up the kids in some scary costume or as a super hero? Spending a fortune at the store on candy/sweets? Maybe carving pumpkins is your thing? Well for us the smell of cinnamon and crates of jack lanterns at the store means only one thing – it is time to brew a batch of Pumpkin Ale!
For us this year marks version 4 of our evolving recipe which originated from The Home Brewer’s Companion by Charlie Papazian (p. 316). Here is how the beer has progressed:
- Version 1 (Nov 2011) – 5 gallon batch made with a 13 Lb Jack Lantern pumpkin, 4.7% ABV.
- Version 2 (Sep 2012) – 5 gallon batch made with 2 large cans of pumpkin pulp, 5.0% ABV.
- Version 3 (Oct 2012) – 10 gallon batch made with 20 Lb of pulp taken from 2 Jack Lantern pumpkins, 4.5% ABV.
- Version 4 (Nov 2013) – 10 gallon batch made with pulp taken from a 15 Lb and a 17Lb Jack Lantern pumpkin, 6.2% ABV.
Version 2 differed from the other 3 by not only adding canned pulp but it was added to the boil rather than the mash which was a big mistake because it then settled in the bottom of the primary fermenter as a thick sludge to significantly reduce the amount of beer that could be siphoned off into the secondary fermenter! This shortage of beer was what led to a repeat batch the following month BUT going back to Jack Lantern pulp being added to the mash.
Version 4 posed some new issues; firstly cooking the pumpkins took 6 hours due to the size of the pumpkins (see later in this article for more details) and secondly a stuck mash. Versions 1 & 3 had sparged without problem but version 4 was a nightmare, instead of taking approx 45 minutes to run off the wort into the boil kettle the pulp seemed to have broken down into a less fibrous consistence which proceeded to continually clog the screen at the bottom of the mash tun resulting in a dribble of wort leaving the vessel. I tried stirring the mash whilst scraping the screen with the paddle as well as blowing back up the run-off pipe. Both would only sort the problem for a short while. On the positive side however as can be seen by the ABV percentages the resultant sugars was much higher than the previous 3 attempts so all was not lost from 3 hours of sparging!
Next time either some rice hulls or separate sparging of the pumpkin pulp may well be called for…
One thing that has remained a constant with each version has been the right balance of spices, some commercial versions can be over the top but there are some exceedingly good ones out there that we love such as Southern Tier’s Imperial Pumking, Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale and Old Forge Pumpkin Ale to name but a few. For spices we use cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and vanilla – note no cloves as these tend to overpower everything else!
For our Pumpkin Ale we opted for the readily available Jack Lantern pumpkins, I have read a number of suggestions that pie pumpkins are better due to the higher sugar content and with the lower volume of pulp I can imagine that stuck mash problems would be less likely. Unfortunately to date I have not managed to locate pie pumpkins but next year a wider search may be called for…
Baking the pumpkins
Here is our approach for cooking the Jack Lantern pumpkins.
- Step 1 – cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and fibrous ‘spaghetti’. An ice cream scoop works well for this.
- Step 2 – place each half face down in a deep baking pan (e.g. roasting tin for cooking turkeys) and fill with 3/4 inch of water. If you have a large tin you may be able to fit 2 halves into a tin depending on the size of the pumpkin. For our version 4 we only had a smallish tin and 2 big pumpkins so each half had to be cooked separately over 6 hours!
- Step 3 – cover the pumpkin with aluminum foil so that the pumpkins can steam then place them into a 350 deg F (180 deg C) oven and cook for 90 minutes. The pumpkin is cooked when you can easily pierce the skin and flesh with a knife and the skin is ready to come off. Another sign is that often the center of the pumpkin will fall in on itself.
- Step 4 – once the pumpkin is cooked remove it from the oven and take off the foil so it can begin to cool. Be careful not to burn yourself from the hot steam under the foil or from inside the pumpkin!
- Step 5 – remove the skin from the outside of the pumpkin, this can be done by either cutting it off with a large knife or using a fish slice which is my preference. If the skin does not come off easily then cook the pumpkin for another 15-20 mins until it does.
- Step 6 – once the skin is removed, break up the flesh and place it into a large bowl and cover it with water. After it has fully cooled place it into the fridge to keep it until you next brew though only for a day or two so that the pulp remains fresh.
Once you get to brew day you can just add the pulp and water it has soaked in because the water will include sugars that have leached out of the flesh. Do remember that if you remove the pumpkin straight from the fridge and add it to your mash the chilled water and pulp will make your strike water in the mash tun drop significantly so you might want to take it out of the fridge a few hours early to come up to room temperature or you could even warm it in a large stock pot.
Many people think that Pumpkin Ale only tastes of the spices that are used but if you keep the amount down and add them within the last 10 minutes of the boil the pumpkin in our opinion does come through in the flavor and certainly contributes to the mouth feel.
Good luck if you are brewing a Pumpkin Ale and please feel free to add comments or ask questions below.