Brewing the Pumpkin Ale
It was at about this time last year that I started putting together my ideas for what a pumpkin ale should taste like. Granted, I was not sure if I would actually be able to deliver on the vision, but I was willing to give it a go. My pumpkin ale in 2010 was my first recipe from scratch; meaning, for the first time I was not brewing my beer from a kit, but instead with a crazy concoction of extracts and grains that I felt would generate the right flavors and characteristics. A year has passed and I have used each new homebrew since then as a chance to hone skills and further develop my process.
The New Brew
I created a Pumpkin Stout last Fall. This year I decided I could not make the same beer again, but instead I would make two new beers. I could have reused and followed my recipe from last year but I will tell you why I did not. First, I have not brewed all too many beers in the past year. I like to keep things interesting and once I really feel comfortable with my technique then I will try the same beer again and look for improvements. Secondly, I actually still have a few bottles of last year’s Pumpkin and it is drinking very well. So I did not see much need to try making the same beer again, yet. Instead my fervor for creating a pumpkin ale this year really came down to reading a few reviews and press releases of what other breweries were doing. The release that excited me most for the season was Oak Jacked Imperial Wood Aged Pumpkin Ale by Uinta Brewing Company.
Jacked is brewed with fresh pumpkin and fall spices and has been aging in Oak barrels for 6 months. The oak barrels add subtle nuances of toasted vanilla and bourbon notes. With an ABV of 10.31% (a play on the date of Halloween), Jacked is a big, unique pumpkin ale.
My mouth could not stop watering. I have not tried this beer and I doubt I will, sadly. But it gave me the Brewer’s Itch™ and I knew I had to recreate this beer for what my mind thought it should be. Again, though, today’s story is not about my take on this beer. That idea will become pumpkin beer number two for the season. It did however fuel the flames and lead us to today, where I present the story of a desire for an Oktoberfest, but with pumpkin.
I love a traditional, German Oktoberfest. My favorites have a rich, malty backbone. If one were to look at the grain bill for one of these beers, I would venture a guess that very few different grains are used. Last year I decided on brewing something of an Irish ale, with dark malts and an Irish ale yeast. This year I wanted a lighter colored beer, but still the rich body.
Pumpkin ale and Oktoberfests are the two popular seasonal beers available at this time of year, but they can be quite different. A pumpkin ale can choose to embrace its unique flavor and delve into the world of sweet and spicy by mimicking the flavors of pumpkin pie. Other brewers instead choose to make their pumpkin ales using the fruit as a way to add a bit more earthiness and body to what is usually an Amber lager. These are two different interpretations (and there are more) of the seasonal beer, and I think both can be great.
The other idea floating around was to make a traditional Oktoberfest. This presented a number of problems for me as well. I don’t have the proper lagering facilities. I cannot control the temperature of my fermenting beer enough to really get it in the range that lager yeast do their work, roughly 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The other problem in my mind is that I believe Oktoberfests to be a fairly simple grain bill and probably more appropriate to be brewed using all-grain methods as opposed to extract. I did not rule out the idea, however, and decided to conduct some unofficial research by sampling whatever Oktoberfests I could find at the local store. It was in the Victory Festbier and Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest that I found my answers. These wonderfully malty, and nutty beers were the flavors I craved. I would recreate them, but I would not be creating an Oktoberfest. I would instead use their recipes and inspiration and brew an ale with pumpkin.
Putting It All Together
Maybe I was making an Oktoberfest. By any traditional means, and especially by the reinheitsgebot, this was no Oktoberfest. But the flavors I tasted in the Hacker-Pschorr and Victory cemented in my mind that I needed to use a simple grain bill to build out that malty backbone. I lacked the proper fermenting temperatures to lager the beer, or did I?
Wyeast 2112 California Lager ferments in the range of 58 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and will help me retain some of the lager characteristics I seek if I can keep the temperatures just a little bit lower. This was my answer going forward. In choosing my yeast it was important to try and find something that wouldn’t necessarily impart a lot of flavor but at the same time perform respectably at these early Fall temperatures. I had also considered using Wyeast 1338 European Ale but it gets very active and likes a bit higher gravity than what I was aiming for, I believe. Even when I first started conceptualizing the beer I had considered a Scottish Ale yeast. Rich and malty? You bet. It’s homebrew and it’s pumpkin; why not be crazy?
In researching the Oktoberfest beers I scrounged for clone recipes and tidbits residing on brewers’ websites. It became evident that one of my main grains would be Munich. Fortunately it seems that Northern Brewer, a local homebrew shop, recently added Munich Malt Syrup to their inventory. This would become my “base malt”. In keeping true to the idea of a simple grain bill, I didn’t stray far from the German malts and included a small amount of Vienna as well.
- 6.0 lbs Munich Malt Extract
- 0.5 lbs Dark Dry Malt Extract (DME)
- 0.5 lbs German Dark Munich
- 0.5 lbs German CaraMunich II
- 0.5 lbs Vienna
- 45 oz. Canned Pumpkin @ 15 min left in boil — pre-baked for one hour in oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- 1 oz. Cluster (6.8%) @ Sparge
- 1 oz. German Tettnang (3.7%) @ 60 minutes
- 1 tsp Nutmeg @ 15 minutes
- 1 tsp Cinnamon @ 15 minutes
- 1 packet Wyeast 2112 – California Lager, pitched from a starter
- Batch Size: 5 gal
- Original Gravity: 1.054
- Final Gravity: 1.013
- ABV: 5.5%
- Bitterness: 24.4 IBU
- Color: 10.9 SRM