Elysian Brewing Co. loves their pumpkin beers. The Seattle-based brewery produces and bottles four pumpkin-themed beers annually—Night Owl pumpkin ale, The Great Pumpkin imperial pumpkin ale, Dark o’ the Moon pumpkin stout, and Punkuccino coffee pumpkin ale—as well as various other tap-room offerings that showcase the orange gourd. They also hold their annual event the Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, now in its tenth year.
We caught up with Elysian founder Dick Cantwell (editor’s note: Cantwell is no longer with Elysian Brewing Co.) and head brewer Steve Luke to ask for some tips on brewing beer with pumpkin. Here’s what they shared.
1) Use pumpkin throughout the brewing process.
Using pumpkin in a pumpkin beer may seem too obvious for tip #1, but there are “pumpkin beers” out there utilizing only spices to trick the senses into perceiving pumpkin. Ideally, pumpkin should be evident in both flavor and mouthfeel.
For the most pumpkin-like profile, pumpkin can be added during the mash, boil and even in the fermenter. “For additions to both the kettle and fermenter, keep in mind that pumpkin has a lot of water—single-strength pumpkin is typically around 8 brix—and should be liquefied with wort rather than more water, since you don’t just want to plop it in un-thinned or have it negatively affect the your starting gravity,” says Cantwell. “You may need to use more malt to hit your target gravity.”
2) Control your spice regimen and think outside the (spice) box.
When using spices in conjunction with pumpkin, pre-blended pumpkin pie mixes are available at stores, but for the most control you’ll want to add spices individually. Elysian uses what they call the “faithful 5” which include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and clove. Sure the pre-blends can work, but to tailor the spice regimen to your specific recipes, pull a sample after fermentation as you near conditioning and try different spice ratios until you find what works well for your recipe.
“At Elysian, we’ve also used dozens of different spices in our pumpkin beers—vanilla, mace, dill, lavender, cumin, coriander, epazote, different chili varieties, etc.—but not all at once…that would be gross,” shares Luke.
Cantwell emphasizes thinking outside the spice box and exploring spices in world cuisines that use pumpkin, like certain Mexican and Indian dishes. Take the time to experiment with different spice additions prior to conditioning. You may be surprised what you’ll favor!
3) Experiment with other non-spice ingredients.
Pumpkin beers don’t require additions of cooking spices to add more depth and character. Other ingredients can be used to create spice-like qualities, like phenolic, fruity and clove-y yeasts as well as a gamut of flavor-commanding microorganisms.
Various fruits and vegetables can also compliment pumpkin, like sweet potatoes, yams, zucchini, squashes and even cucumber. Bigger pumpkin beers lend themselves to aging in barrels of all types.
“One of our favorite pumpkin beers, brewed by Silver City Brewing in Sliverdale, Wash., is made from pumpkins smoked on a steel drum smoker,” shares Cantwell.
4) Stray from the traditional pumpkin ale style.
Moderately hopped and spiced, amber-colored ales with a bit of maltiness tend to be the benchmark for the pumpkin beer style. However, pumpkin can be added to a much wider variety of beer styles with great success. It will not always be as easy as adding pumpkin to your favorite recipe, though. Consider what further additions are suggested to tie the pumpkin in with the style you pursue.
“Cucumber-pumpkin beer cries out for dill and Sorachi Ace, Saaz-laden pilsner for the spice and heat of ginger, chocolate pumpkin beer for orange or chilies or cinnamon,” says Cantwell. “This year we’re going to brew a pumpkin Sahti with juniper-infused brewing liquor and whole juniper branches in the mash.”
5) Serve your beer in a pumpkin.
You heard us right! Many commercial and home brewers, including Elysian, are taking pumpkin beers to the next level by serving them from an actual pumpkin. The process is fairly simple. First hollow out a pumpkin. Then take a welding torch and scorch the interior of the pumpkin until it is black. This helps mitigate the astringency of raw pumpkin, while the caramelization simulates the char of a bourbon barrel. After filling it with beer, seal it shut with beeswax to allow for flexibility since gourds swell and contract.
If you do pursue this “pumpkin keg,” Cantwell suggests kicking the keg within two days. A pumpkin is porous and the beer will begin to depreciate after a day or two.
Check out some more tips from the pros and bring your homebrewing skills to the next level: