How To Improve/Build Your Own Pumpkin Beer

It’s fall and if you are brewing with the season, this is the time of year where people start making the pumpkin brews.  If you are like me you’ve tasted lot’s of pumpkin beers.  I’ve found myself in the past making pumpkin beers even though I really don’t like them but rather because it’s, “What you are supposed to do”, as a homebrewer.  I told myself that this year I was going to do a pumpkin beer that I actually like, and it’s not really even a 100% pumpkin beer.

So how do I make a pumpkin beer without going all pumpkin?  What I do is, cut the amount of pumpkin with either : 1) Butternut squash or 2) Acorn squash.  I say either or, because some people like one over the other.  But if you don’t really care, then either will work.  I tend to lean towards the acorn squash when I make mine.

Why This Route May Be For You

If you are like me and in the past you have found that when you drink a pumpkin ale, all you can taste is the spices and not actual pumpkin.  If that is the case and you want to taste the squash, this route may be for you.  For me I actually want to taste the pumpkin itself, not the spices.  My personal opinion is if you can’t taste the pumpkin then what was the point of even adding it, so you can say it’s a pumpkin ale?  I would just say it’s a spiced fall beer.  That is why I’m adding and also suggest to add other types of squash to the pumpkin ale, these different types of squash really shine in the beer and will accent the pumpkin flavor to a point of being recognizable.

How To Build A Recipe That Will Accept A Pumpkin Flavor

We wrote a post a while back on how to build your own recipe.  In it we really talk about focal points.  What a focal point is, is the characteristic that you are trying to bring out of the beer.  For this pumpkin beer what we are going for is a strong pumpkin/squash flavor.  So how do we do that?  We strip down every thing that does not contribute to that pumpkin flavor.  Building a basic recipe for this beer is better, don’t go crazy.

Specialty Grains For This Beer

As a base recipe, I would use something that resembles a pale ale, standard bitter, brown ale, light porter or amber.  I would do minimal specialty grains and probably something that has malty flavors to really accent on the pumpkin also.  A rule of thumb for this would be  1 lbs – 1.5 lbs of specialty grains and something on the lines of, Munich, Vienna, Amber malt, victory, or biscuit.  If you choose to make a brown or a porter, I would suggest using butternut squash because not the acorn squash because it has a hazelnut after flavor when you brew with it.  If you want to use some recipes as a base recipe, check out beertools and just see what some look like, copy and tweak things you think look good.

Hop Addition For Pumpkin Beer

When I do the hops for pumpkin or squash beer, I do a first wort hop addition (FWH).  The funny thing is that I use to do these all the time when I first started brewing by, “mistake”, but I honestly like the way that they taste, and not sure why more people don’t use them.

A FWH addition is when you add the hops to the wort before it even begins to boil, then you bring it to a boil.  What this does is provides a less, “harsh”, bitter flavor to your beer.  There is a scientific reason for this that I won’t get into, but if your interested here is a link .

Going back to FWH, it will keep the hops uniformed for your main attraction, the pumpkin/squash.  Also for the hops with FWH I would go for something between 6AAU and 10AAU, that’s personal choice though; just a suggestion (If you don’t know what AAU are click here).  I honestly wouldn’t add any aroma hops with it if you were planning on spicing it because it’s going to take away from the spices or it’s going to be faded out by the spices.  For this beer, simple is going to be better.  Also last tip, since squash has an earthy flavor, use earthy hops not citrus hops. If you keep a common theme, it will be less chaotic.

How Much Pumpkin/Squash Should Be Added?

I usually go with 6 lbs – 10 lbs of pumpkin for a, “normal” pumpkin beer.  For this recipe though I want to use squash as well, so if you wanted to cut the pumpkin I would go with a 3:2 ratio of squash to pumpkin or even a 2:1 ratio. That goes for the total weight before it’s cleaned.  So for me I’m going use 3 acorn squashes (they normally weigh about 2 lbs -3 lbs each) and 1 small (and I’m talking I only want 2 lbs of pumpkin small) pumpkin.

How To Use Pumpkin/Squash In A Recipe

When using pumpkin/squash, heat your oven to about 350.  Cut and clean your pumpkin/squash and then put it in the oven until it turns a bit brown and starts to caramelize up.   A suggestion that a customer gave me that is worth sharing is, he said he does this the day before and then freezes it.  The reason for freezing it is, that it is easier to take the skin off the squash/pumpkin because you really don’t want to steep it with it.

When To Add The Pumpkin/Squash Into The Beer Recipe

Put the pumpkin/squash in with the specialty grains and steep them.  In the past though I really try to steep my grains and squash for about one hour if I can.  The reason for this is I want to get as much out of it as possible.  Also I’ll use a bit more water then I normally would, closer to 3.5 gallons (if I’m doing specialty grains) because the pumpkin/squash will absorb some.  If you are doing all-grain just add them in with the mash, and make sure to include about a 1 pound of rice hulls so you don’t get a stuck sparge if you don’t really trust your sparging abilities.

Pumpkin Spices

If you really wanted to add some spices to your beer (which I’m not), what I would suggest is wait until the very end.  If you add it in the boil, you will pick up flavors with it.  I would try to do it right before you bottle or keg.  This gives you a bit of a handicap.  You will just pick up on the smell of the spices, but the pumpkin or squash will be what you taste.  The hops at the end will be smooth and with out a, “harsh” bittering flavor.  So for me, I’m not doing any spices at all.  I don’t want this to be a pumpkin pie recipe, just pumpkin (and squash of course) recipe.

There Is Still Time

There is still plenty of time left for this recipe, you can make it and have it ready for thanksgiving or just a fall time beer.   Pretty soon, I’ll be putting up some idea’s for xmas brews that you can do – of course the typical with the spices but also what I plan on doing this year to avoid spiced beers.  Hope you enjoy.


Other Post We Have About Pumpkin Ale’s

1) Pumpkin Pie Recipe

2) Pumpkin Pie Recipe Variation

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7 Comments on “How To Improve/Build Your Own Pumpkin Beer”

  1. ajae Says:

    Good stuff I was in the brew shop this past weekend and I went with butternut squash. I did ass spices though 10 min left in the boil. I’ll bring a bottle in when it’s done!! Cheers


    • Jay's Brewing Blog Says:

      That’s awesome, let me know how it goes. Hope it turns out well for you, I think you’ll be pleased with the squash in and be able to taste it a bit more. Good luck!



      • Ajae Says:

        Thanks, I didn’t need the rice hulls by the way! I did bake the butternut squash but after I added them to a pot with some water and got the temp up to 154 added brown sugar and then added the mix to my mash. Only thing is I didn’t do a yeast stater and it was a big beer, SG @1.080. it was going really well within 12hrs though guess that dry english ale yeast does it’s thing!!

      • Jay's Brewing Blog Says:

        That’s great to hear! Yea a lot of people use starters for everything, me not so much. White labs has some good yeast!


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