Brewing with Pumpkin: Tips from the Pros

Brewer: John Tully of Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“Our malt bill makes the base beer used in our pumpkin beer something between a pale ale and an amber lager. In other words, it’s a slightly amber-colored pale ale, but we ferment it as a lager.

The hops we use are Mt. Hood, and we target a very low bitterness profile. About 12 IBUs. We want just enough hops to counteract the sweetness from the malt, but we don’t want to overwhelm the spices, which contribute to this beer’s unique flavor.

We use canned pumpkin in five-pound cans. They’re easy to get. Homebrewers can find something similar in their grocery store, but probably in smaller sized cans. We use about one hundred pounds of pumpkin in a fifty barrel batch. That’s only about .064 pounds per gallon, so a five-gallon batch of homebrew would need roughly one-third of a pound of canned pumpkin. (With fresh pumpkin, you’d use more because it’s not as concentrated.)

We add the pumpkin during the mash. We have experimented with this a lot over the years. For a while we thought we could pre-boil the pumpkin, kind of to gelatinize it and make it more manageable in the mash-tun, but it ended up making no measurable difference. So now we just add it straight into the mash-tun, and leave it in for the total length of the mash.

Pumpkin makes for a tough mash. It’s necessary to constantly rake the top of your mash because the pumpkin forms a gelatinous layer that stops the sparge water from flowing through.

Once we’re in the kettle we’re adding the hops, plus cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice, which is a proprietary mix from a local spice house. For a fifty barrel batch we’re adding three-and-a-half pounds of cinnamon, one pound of nutmeg, and five pounds of pumpkin pie spice. (For a five gallon batch, this equals only .016 pounds of pumpkin pie spice, .011 pounds of cinnamon, and .003 pounds of nutmeg.) Obviously, the spices you add are very limited in quantity.

After the boil we whirlpool and let it sit a bit longer than normal so that the spices settle out. Then we transfer over to the fermenter. Some of the spices will go with it, but we don’t worry about that. It will settle out during fermentation anyway, and will not hurt the brew. We use a German lager yeast from White Labs.”


Brewer: Geoff Harries of Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, California.

” Our pumpkin beer is brewed at several locations for us, but one definite rule is that we always use fresh, whole pumpkins. The kinds vary depending on the season and what is ripe, but we like to use Atlantic Giants and Big Macs. Both are jumbo in size and have lots of fiber. Especially the fiber makes for easier mashing.

We roast the pumpkins, since a raw pumpkin is really nothing but a squash and if you try to use them raw, nothing comes out of them. Roasting converts some of the starch inside the pumpkin, and lets us extract sugars and sweetness. We cook them to the point where they’re kind of done—maybe a little brown around the edges, just when they are starting to caramelize. But we don’t want them turned to mush. Since pumpkins come in all different sizes, cooking times will vary. Once they are ready we cut them open and pull out the seeds.

For six-and-a-half barrels, we use about thirty pounds of pumpkins, though this will depend greatly on the pumpkin. This is a bit more than one-half pound for a five gallon batch, but once you start brewing you’ll realize you don’t want that much pumpkin anyway. Remember, this is a beer, not a vegetable beer. The pumpkin is there to complement the malts, not take them over. Besides, too much pumpkin makes for a tough sparge.

We always experiment with the base beer, but it’s generally a red ale/amber beer. We are looking for something with an orange to red hue. All the color in the beer comes from the malt. None comes from the pumpkin.

We go through the standard sparge. We have had trouble with this stage in the past, and what we have discovered is if you overcook the pumpkin it gets all mushy and causes the stuck mash. So, it’s important to not over roast.

Hops should be low-key. Be subtle, just to balance the malt sweetness. You don’t want the beer to be bitter. Think pumpkin pie in a glass, and shoot for that flavor profile. The dominant character will be the up front malt flavor, followed by a finish that highlight the spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. And speaking of spices, we use whole spice. This year we’ll put them in a big sparge bag, and then hang them in the conditioning tanks, after the boil. This is the way to get that nice, spiced character because it’s kind of like dry-hopping.”


Brewer: Brett Vanderkamp of New Holland Brewing Company in Holland, Michigan.


“The first thing to remember with pumpkin beer is that it’s going to be a long brew day. The way pumpkin is used in the brew plays a big role in what kind of troubles you’ll have making it, and the ultimate flavors you will get, but it is a difficult brew. If you put the pumpkin in the kettle and boil it, you’ll get some pumpkin flavor and body, but not as much as if you had put it in the mash. Plus, you get everything that comes with it, the good and the bad.

In the mash, you’ll get all the by-products of the pumpkin you’re looking for. Flavor, body, some fermentable sugars. This is the good stuff. We put our pumpkin in the mash-tun but, of course, this method comes with a cost. That cost is the mash you’re going to deal with. Pumpkin is sticky as hell in the mash and a pain in the butt to run-off. Count on needing two to three times as much time to run-off the wort to the kettle.

We use rice hulls in the mash and this helps a little, though the mash still gets gummed up. The rice hulls provide more husk material to make the bed more porous, but they don’t add flavor to the mash.

Initially we used fresh pumpkin but after some experimentation we found we got better results from canned pumpkin. Now that’s all we use, and it requires much less labor. When you’re brewing large batches, cutting up fresh pumpkins is too much extra work. Homebrewers could probably go for it though.

We add the pumpkin at mash-in and use about 400 pounds of pumpkin for a 1600 pound grain bill. That’s about twenty-five percent of the total grain bill. I’d suggest that for homebrewers it’s better to start off doing pumpkin beers with less pumpkin than more. This way they can get used to what they are doing and the impact that pumpkin has on the beer.

We use Mt. Hood hops, which is a Hallertau seedling. We hop lightly, just under 20 IBUs. There are two strikes, one at 30 minutes and one at 75 minutes. The latter hopping adds only a touch of flavor and aroma, but not much.

More important are the spices. We use ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. I recommend spicing with 30 or less minutes left in the boil. Add it before this and you’ll boil away flavor and, most importantly, aroma. Then we pitch with American ale yeast and ferment at standard ale temperatures (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 21 Celsius).”

Issue: October 2001