When autumn leaves turn to shades of gold and the nights bring a chill, thoughts rightly turn to a fully satisfying pumpkin beer. This mild ale or lager traditionally offers slightly spicy indulgence with notes of ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Subtle hints of pumpkin pie are kindled in the depths of finely crafted pumpkin beer. Rounded out with rich mouth-feel and easy going malty undertones, it becomes a beer to remember. Regardless of which recipe is chosen, these steps and tips can help each brewmaster get the most from their efforts.
Choosing a Recipe
Recipes abound for pumpkin beer. Each brewmaster has their own preferences, as does each drinker. The uninitiated might believe that every pumpkin beer recipe must have pumpkin somewhere among the ingredients. That’s not true, however. Beware when recipe shopping, because some brewmasters feel the pumpkin itself is optional, as long as spices are incorporated. For those who want true pumpkin beer, with authentic taste, make sure to include pumpkin or at least another suitable type of squash.
Purist Path or Short-Cut
There’s a lot to be said for choosing the slower, kitchen-splattering, purist method of freshly harvesting, carving, and roasting pumpkins. It really is the time honored way and offers control over the smallest of nuance. Yet, if it isn’t possible to be quite that precise, there are excellent beers made via the less messy and shorter path to glory, thanks to pre-processed, canned pumpkin. Either way, the result will be non-bitter brew that is incredibly pleasing.
If you feel the need to create from the very rawest of ingredients, as the purists do, then you’ll want to seek out the best pie pumpkin one can lay hands on and buy it. Pie pumpkins, sometimes called cooking pumpkins, tend to be somewhat flat, nothing like the taller jack-o-lantern. Jack-o-lanterns are out for this brew, since they’re intended purely for display and carving and do not have the flavor or sweetness that a good pie pumpkin can impart. Display pumpkins are not worth the effort that the purist method requires. If you can’t locate a pie pumpkin, a substitution could be a buttercup or hubbard squash. These squash are kissing cousins with pumpkins and make fabulously tasty, sweet pies. Barring being able to find suitable pumpkins or squash, skip the purist approach entirely. Instead, opt for the quick method, which makes fine use of canned pumpkin. Be sure that the sole ingredient on the label is pumpkin.
If you’re working hard to create a memorable beer, every ingredient counts. In this case, spices are critical. Purchase new spices for the task. Those lingering in the kitchen cupboard might be past their prime, since their essential oils tend to degrade quickly. For those after perfection, consider buying freshly ground spices from specialty companies that offer nothing but herbs and spices. The difference in freshness, aroma, and taste really is astounding.
Prepare the Pumpkin
Those beginning with a pumpkin or squash will start here. If using canned pumpkin, this step will not be necessary. Wash and dry the pumpkin. Cut it open and scrape out the seeds along with the stringy membranes. Whack the remaining pumpkin into more manageable sections of relatively equal size, so that they will roast at a similar rate. Sprinkle the meaty portions with brown sugar, if desired. Place them skin side up on a baking sheet, in a low to moderate oven for an hour or two. They’re ready when a fork inserts easily into the flesh. Cool the pumpkin, then scrape the flesh out for brewing, but discard the shell.
Pumpkin beer is not a fad, nor is it a new creation. American colonist came up with the idea. For those who’ve never tried it, brewing up pumpkin beer can be a great adventure. It rewards the patient brewmaster with complex, yet subtle tones. From its first hints of spice to its malty goodness, the brew is intensely soul satisfying.