Beer Tasting: Pumpkin Ale 2015

My latest pumpkin ale is nearing the end of its run this year, so I wanted to do a tasting before the keg was kicked. I’ve served this beer to a number of friends, to rave reviews (well, except for one person who doesn’t like any pumpkin beer, period, but I accept that the style isn’t for everyone!). It has done a good job of satisfying my pumpkin beer cravings for another year.

  • The Basics
    • Original gravity = 1.064; final gravity = 1.017; abv = 6.2%; estimated IBU = 13
  • Appearance
    • The beige head is of a medium consistency on the bubbles, moderate in size, and quite persistent. The beer itself is clear and medium amber in color, with no evident haze.
  • Aroma
    • This beer smells just like pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top! I pick up vanilla and nutmeg fairly prominently, with a faint vegetal/pumpkin background. Somewhat surprisingly, I don’t get any cinnamon immediately on the aroma, but I think that’s my nose. A freshly poured glass sampled later had a very prominent cinnamon aroma. I detect no distinct malt or hops aroma.
  • Flavor
    • The flavor is moderately malty, with a light caramel character. Bitterness is moderate too, and evenly balanced against the malts. I don’t really pick up much spicing, if any, in the flavor itself, except perhaps a hint of cinnamon at the finish.
  • Mouthfeel
    • The body is moderate, with good carbonation as I would like in a beer like this. It has a slightly sweet finish, which pleasantly lingers.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes! Overall, this beer drinks quite smoothly and has the spices very well balanced (to my palate), so it’s more than the typical pumpkin ale which is just a lager with some cinnamon and nutmeg. This is a very solid recipe, and the beer was well-received by most people who have sampled it. My only minor change might be to dial back the cinnamon a touch next time, but that’s an easy fix.
  • Overall
    • 8.5/10

Pumpkin Ale 2015

Pumpkin beers are perhaps one of the most divisive styles I know, and for good reason. Too many take the “just add spice” approach, and are basically a light lager with an overdose of cinnamon and nutmeg. However, I know that there are good pumpkin beers out there, as evidenced by some reasonable success on last year’s pumpkin ale. Following a string of successes with recipes from Gordon Strong’s Modern Homebrew Recipes, I opted to give his pumpkin ale recipe a try (in very slightly modified form to adjust for ingredient availability). His recipe is intriguing for its sheer amount of pumpkin–9 pounds–as well as for its complex grain bill that I think will make the background beer more interesting in its own right.

Pumpkin Ale 2015

  • 5 lbs. Golden Promise malt
  • 3 lbs. Vienna malt
  • 2 lbs. Munich II (“Dark Munich”) malt
  • 0.5 lbs. brown malt
  • 1 lbs. flaked oats
  • 1 lbs. flaked wheat
  • 1 lb. Belgian Caramel Vienne malt (17 SRM)
  • 0.25 lb. pale chocolate malt (225 SRM)
  • 9 lbs. Libby’s pumpkin puree (5 large cans, added at vorlauf and transferred to boil kettle in bag)
  • 3 oz. Grandma’s Original Molasses
  • 0.5 lb. Turbinado sugar
  • 1.65 oz. Hallertau hops pellets (4.3% alpha, 5.6% beta), 20 minute boil
  • 1 tbs. 5.2 pH stabilizer (in mash)
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet (10 minute boil)
  • 1 vial English Ale yeast (WLP002), in 1.5 L starter
  • Spice blend including:
    • 6 large sticks cinnamon, broken up and crushed
    • 1.5 tbs. crystallized ginger, chopped up
    • 1 whole nutmeg, coarsely ground
    • 10 whole allspice, coarsely ground
    • 2 vanilla beans, split, scraped, and chopped
    • 4 black cardamom pods, peeled from husks and crushed
    • 0.25 tsp. ground mace
Procedure
  • Prior to brewing, I put the pumpkin puree into a few baking dishes, so that it formed a layer 1-2″ thick in each. I roasted the pumpkin in a 400° oven for 1.5 hours, stirring it up every 15 to 20 minutes. By the end of this, a lot of the excess moisture had been driven off and the pumpkin had darkened up a bit too. After it all cooled, I placed it in a big mesh grain bag and set it aside for the mash
  • I mashed in the grains with 5.1 gallons of water at 168°. The mash stabilized at around 156°, and was down to 154° after 40 minutes. After 60 minutes, I added the pumpkin and 1 gallon of water at 180°. I vorlaufed after 15 minutes, drained the mash tun, and added 4.1 gallons of water at 185°. I let this sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and drained the rest of the wort. I transferred the pumpkin over to the boil kettle, and let it steep while the wort came to a boil.
  • In total, I collected 7.5 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.050, which equates to 68% efficiency.
  • I brought the wort to a boil, and at this point removed the pumpkin. I saved the pumpkin to recycle for a pumpkin soup. The wort boiled for 60 minutes total. I added the hops during the last 20 minutes, a Whirlfloc tablet during the last 10 minutes, and the spices at flameout. I let the spices sit in the hot wort for 10 minutes, before removing them and chilling the wort as usual.
  • Once I had cooled the wort down around 80°, I transferred it to the fermenter and pitched the yeast. (The yeast had been cold-crashed, so I decanted most of the spent starter).
  • Starting gravity was 1.064, a touch higher than initially predicted (1.060). The cinnamon is pretty prominent–I am a little worried that it might be too much so (I suspect the recipe’s 6 cinnamon sticks were smaller than the one’s I used!), but maybe that worry will be unfounded. I started fermentation on October 3. The beer was happily krausened when I checked on it ~12 hours later, and had a robust fermentation. I will leave it in primary for at least 2 weeks.