Saturday, September 22, 2012

Homebrewing Pumpkin Beer

Fall is in the air and that can only mean one thing... the words "pumpkin" and "spice" are being added to the names of all things edible. And I seriously can't help myself. I see a pumpkin latte and it pulls me in like a neodymium magnet.

Last weekend I went to the Westside Community Market off of University Avenue (which is a great Saturday farmer's market alternative if you don't want to fight the crowds on the capital square), and I scored a beautiful 16 lb pumpkin. MTC co-author, Greg, and I decided to brew a pumpkin ale under the supervision of my fiance (and master homebrewer), J. Incase anyone wants to try our recipe, here's the play-by-play for brewing a malty, spiced pumpkin beer.
 Here's our pumpkin! We purchased it from Don's Produce booth--their farm is located in Arena, WI
 In addition to a 12-16lb pumpkin, you'll need the following ingredients:
6 lbs golden light malt extract
1.5 lbs crystal malt 60L
1 cup brown sugar
2 oz williamette hops (for boiling)
1 oz mt. hood hops (for aroma)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, chopped
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon powdered Irish moss
American Ale WYeast
For those of you who live in the Madison area, we like to purchase all of our homebrewing supplies at the Wine and Hop Shop on Monroe street. The staff there is super friendly and very knowledgable! 
 It takes about an hour to roast the pumpkin, so you want to get that prepped and in the oven before you start your beer. The first step in preparing a pumpkin is removing the stem. This will help the pumpkin fit in the oven a little better and the stem won't burn during the roasting process. Greg used his Conan-like braun to rip the stem off. A knife will work, too.
 After removing the stem, wash off any excess dirt from the skin of the pumpkin. I'm not sure if this step is totally necessary because you end up scooping out the pumpkin flesh and the skin isn't even part of the brew. But the inner germaphobe in me thought it would be best if our gourd was squeaky clean. You never know, right? 
 Next, you'll want to slice the pumpkin in half. This can get tricky, so make sure that you're using a REALLY sharp knife and that you're stabilizing the pumpkin on your cutting surface (you don't want your gourd rolling away on you). We had a box of bandaids on hand just incase this step went awry, but luckily we didn't have to bust them out. 
 Phew! After slicing your pumpkin in half, you're going to want to scoop out the guts.
We used a spoon to scoop out most of the innards (halloween jack-o-lanter style), but to get all of the other strings and seeds out, nothing works better than getting your hands in there.
 Here's what the finished, prepped pumpkin will look like. Put the pumpkin on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 1 hour at 350 degrees. (added bonus: it'll make your house smell awesome)
When you pull your pumpkin out of the oven, make sure to check that it's done by poking it with a fork (it should feel tender, kind of like a baked potato). If your fork doesn't go in easily, it might be a good idea to put your pumpkin back in the oven for a few minutes. 
Here's where it get's really fun (read: really messy. Seriously, wear an apron or a poncho or one of those golfing rain suits with the waterproof pants). Scoop out all of the pumpkin flesh into a bowl and beat it with a hand mixer on the highest speed. This step increases the surface area of the pumpkin which will help add pumpkin flavor to the mash. For a glossary of brewing terms, scope out this handy link.
This is the desired consistency you want for the pumpkin pulp. Get a load of that vibrant, yellow color!
   Now, you're ready to brew!! You want to bring 2 gallons of water up to 150 degrees. Add the pumpkin pulp and the grain bag (filled with your crystal malt) to the water. Keep this mixture at 150 degrees for aprox 30 minutes.
Remove the grain bag and bring the mixture to a boil. Add in your malt extract and the "boiling" hops ("boiling" hops are used in the boiling phase of brewing. You'll still have some "aroma" hops left over for the end of the brewing process).
It's really important to STIR STIR STIR after adding the malt extract because you don't want the sugars in the malt to burn to the bottom of the brew kettle. You want to boil this mixture for 60 minutes total. After the first 50 minutes, add your spices (cinnamon, ginger, allspice, vanilla bean, etc.) and the Irish moss. After 58 minutes, add the "aroma" hops.

Once the 60 minutes is up, you want to cool the mash. We filled our kitchen sink with cold water and ice cubes, then plopped our brew kettle in there-- it worked great! At this point, you'll want to sanitize your carboy and tubing. It's important to note (just incase all of this pumpkin man-handling and ingredient adding looks like the hard part), homebrewing is 90% janitorial work and 10% brewing. Awesome sanitation means awesome beer!! So spending a little extra time up front scrubbing and rinsing is totally worth it in the long run :)

After your carboy is sanitized, fill it with 3 gallons of cold water. Then, pour your mash through a funnel (with a mesh filter in the bottom) into the carboy. Because the mash is so thick from the pumpkin pulp, it's going to take a little longer to filter the liquid into the carboy. It took us almost 90 minutes to get the mash liquid into the carboy. If needed, you can pour a little extra water through the funnel in order to bring your batch up to 5 gallons total. Once the contents of the carboy cools off to 80 degrees, you can pour in the activated WYeast.

Finally, put a stopper and air lock in the carboy and place it in a dark location to ferment for two weeks! You'll want to find a dark place because sunlight oxidizes the hops which can alter the taste of your brew.

If you have any other questions about homebrewing, is a great resource. Also, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian is considered the beginning homebrewer's bible. There are some seriously great tips in there!

Happy fall everyone! :)


  1. That looks fabulous. Hope it ferments into a tasty brew. Thanks

  2. That sounds delicious! Hope it turns out.


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