There are two types of pumpkin beers out there, great ones and terrible ones. Brewing up a great pumpkin beer can be easy if you know what you are doing and I have put together a few tips to help you out if you are brewing up your first batch of pumpkin homebrew!
1) Most importantly, start with a great base beer recipe!
Pumpkin Beer Recipe Kits are great because they take all of the guess work out of it and the good ones are well balanced when it comes to pumpkin flavors. There are a bunch of great pumpkin beer recipe kits out there including these ones which are two of my favorites:
MoreBeer Pumpkin Beer Recipe Kit
Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown Ale
But if you want to design your own recipe, make sure that you start with a great base beer that will showcase your pumpkin beer well. I personally enjoy the malty flavor of darker beers for a pumpkin ale, like a nice brown ale. I also try to keep the ABV down if it will be for a party where people will be enjoying several pints. The following is a great kit to start with, just make sure you pay attention to tip #2.
Nut Brown Base for a Great Pumpkin Beer
2) Highly important, DO NOT over hop your pumpkin beer!
Trust me on this, I have made this mistake in the past. The last thing that you want is for your hops to compete against the pumpkin and spice flavor in your beer. The hops should just add a very subtle bitterness to your beer. I would recommend an IBU of around 10 – 20 for a pumpkin ale, but it will depend on the estimated ABV of your beer so that it is balanced. If you use the Nut Brown Ale listed above, you may want to consider halving the amount of hops used.
3) This is pretty important too, DO NOT over spice your pumpkin beer!
Okay, so I may have made this mistake in the past as well. You do not want your pumpkin beer to taste like someone accidentally dropped a spice rack in your kettle. A great pumpkin beer is flavorful but not overpowering. I will leave the quantity of pumpkin spice that you use up to you, but will give you this advice. You can always add more! What I do is add a moderate amount of spice at the start of fermentation and then add the spice to taste at the end of fermentation. I will slowly add more spices to the fermenter and sample the beer until I am pleased. Since I keg, I will even sometimes add additional spice to the keg once the beer has been conditioned if I feel that it is lacking in flavor.
4) This is kinda important, DO NOT rush your pumpkin beer!
Pumpkin beer is just like every other beer that a home brewer creates, it requires time to properly ferment and condition. If it is 7 days before your Halloween party and you are thinking of brewing a pumpkin beer for it, you may want to brew a Thanksgiving pumpkin beer instead. Give yourself at least a month. Make sure your ferment at an appropriate and stable temperature that is right for your yeast and give your beer time to properly carbonate, clear and condition.
5) I guess this is important as well, if you are going to use fresh pumpkin, then use pie making pumpkin, not your sons Jack-o-lantern.
So there are different types of pumpkins out there, the type you carve, the miniature type that is the size of a muffin and the type that you make pie out of. If you want to go all Martha Stewart on me and use a fresh pumpkin, then make sure that you use a pie making pumpkin and not some little ornamental pumpkin or some giant jack-o-lantern style pumpkin that you got from a bin in front of Walmart. If you use fresh pumpkin, clean and cut the pumpkins flesh into cubes. Bake those cubes at a low temperature (about 325 F) until the cubes become nice and soft and start to brown. If you are not an over achiever, I use Libby’s Pumpkin Pie mix and add 2 large cans per 5 gallons of beer.
6) Okay, so this is really important, add your pumpkin to secondary fermentation!
There is much global debate in the world on when to add your pumpkin to your brew, in the mash or at fermentation. I personally add it at the tale end of primary fermentation, I simply add my Libby’s pumpkin pie mix and pumpkin pie spice to a clean fermenter and transfer the beer onto it. I allow the beer to complete fermentation for an additional 2 weeks or so and then cold crash for another week before racking to a keg.
7) This is not too important, give your beer a cool and festive name!
Some brewers enjoy naming their beer as much as they enjoy brewing it. If this is you then go for the gold! If you come up with a good one, I would love to hear it.