Okay I’ll admit that, though it gets easier with time and experience, home brewing is never quick. but jazzing up your beer into a more hearty holiday offering may be easier than you think, and if you have an un-carved pumpkin sitting on your doorstep like I do, you can still use it before it rots or gets smashed. It could help you get smashed!
Spiced Holiday Ales and Pumpkin Ales
A simple way to spice things up is to add some spice to your pale ale, brown ale or porters and you’ll create a nice winter warmer for the holidays. Add pumpkin puree to your fermenter, or near the end of the boil, and you’ll get a nice spiced pumpkin ale.
When adding fruits or spices to your beer you first need to adjust your hops. Bitterness and various floral components of hops can interfere with the effect you are trying to achieve. To keep it simple, stick with hops that have a mid to lower alpha acid content (8% or less) and also have complimentary aromas.
Good Hops for Spiced Holiday Ales and Pumpkin Ales
Hops with pine, spice, citrus or floral notes fit right in with Fall and Winter ales. Some good choices for this type of beer might be Cascade, Athanum, Fuggles or Kent Goldings. A suitable yet more fruity and floral, and somewhat spicy hop would be Crystal. While some of these may be used for bittering, their AA% is lower than more aggressive bittering hops. Also, you will add less hops than usual, only an ounce or so for a 5 gallon batch, and add them in the last 10 minutes of the boil, to extract only aromatic compounds.
What Spices Should You Use, and How Much to Add?
Common spices used for making holiday ales are clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. Even some corriander or ginger can add a nice spicy note to a beer. Use spices sparingly though, especially the heartier nutmeg, clove and cinnamon, they can ruin a beer if too much is used.
Spices can be very overpowering, and will continue to spice the beer as it sits, so consider steeping the spices within the last 10 minutes of the boil, or add the spice to the secondary, whole in the case of cinnamon, or coarsely ground nutmeg and clove, in hopsacks or nylon stockings.
If you add them in powdered form and leave them in suspension they will continue to add spice, making the beer eventually undrinkable.
Since we’re trying to affect the nose, it’s probably a better idea to just steep the spices in the last 10 minutes of the boil, as you would with aroma hops. This will also cut down on potential contamination that is possible when adding things to the fermenter.
For cinnamon, nutmeg and clove keep the addition below an ounce or so for a 5 gallon batch. You can use a little more, 1 1/2 ounce say, for things like corriander and ginger.
Adding some orange peel is also a good way to compliment the spice and add a pleasant citrus note to the finished beer. You can zest an orange yourself or find dried orange peel at your local homebrew supplier or try the Sweet Orange Peel at MoreBeer.com.
A blend of these spices, along with the orange peel and hops mentioned above, makes for a very interesting and fulfilling experience.
Making a Spiced Pumpkin Ale
Now that you have some spice, take your beer to another level by adding some pumpkin notes to the flavor and aroma.
The easiest way to do this is with a can of pumpkin puree, but in some cases pumpkin puree may lead to a sweet, rich pumpkin pie flavor, which might not be what you’re shooting for. In my opinion, residual sweetness in an ale, especially holiday ales, should come from the malt, not adjunct sugars.
For a true pumpkin flavor and aroma try using a real pumpkin. If you’re brewing your seasonal in the early fall you should be able to find one around.
If you’re brewing an extract recipe you will add the pumpkin to the boil. Pop the top, scoop out the pumpkin guts and take out some meat, cut it into 1 inch cubes and carmelize to strengthen the flavor. You will want to use about one pound of pumpkin, that’s a good starting point.
To carmelize the pumpkin, heat a large skillet over medium heat and arrange the pumpkin in a single layer if possible. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring or rolling the pumpkin to heat it evenly. After that, let it cool, then mash it up and you can store it in the fridge until you use it.
Add the carmelized pumppkin to the wort during the last 10 to 15 minutes. Longer time in the boil will impart more pumpkin flavor and aroma, less time will have more effect on the aroma.
If you’re doing an all grain batch you can roast the pumpkin and use it in the mash. There is a great guide to making an all grain pumpkin ale at the American Homebrewers Association website.
What else can you do with a pumpkin? Why not make it into a keg!
Hope this helps you get a good start on holiday brewing. Enjoy, and as always, Happy Brewing!