Seasonal Pumpkin Alternatives: Tips from Pros

Breweries across the country turn to pumpkins for their fall seasonals. However, a few brewers are treading their own paths and finding seasonal alternatives such as sweet potatoes, yams, and squash. Here are some tips so you can break the mold too.

Brewer: Leslie Henderson, Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, Mississippi

Jefferson Stout was inspired by pumpkin stouts, but we like to try new things so we decided to try sweet potatoes in a sweet, lightbodied stout. Additionally, we try to highlight and celebrate Southern culture by using local ingredients and of course sweet potatoes are a part of traditional Southern gardening and cuisine. Pumpkins, not so much.

Sweet potatoes are not a major source of sugar, but they do have a big impact on flavor and body. We use cooked, pureed, canned sweet potatoes because it is easy to work with and very consistent from can to can. We have experimented on the amount we use, but found too much caused huge headaches in the lauter tun and filtration. We have dialed in the amount so that we use the maximum that our equipment can handle.
We do not add any spices — this is a sweet potato stout, not a sweet potato pie stout. We do add a small amount of lactose to ensure a sweet, creamy background to enhance the sweet potato flavor. We use Nugget hops to provide bitterness, but any clean high-alpha hop will do for this style.

If you want to brew a beer like this at home, know that sweet potatoes can gum up the lauter tun if you’re not careful. Some rice hulls and glucanase enzyme helps to thin things out and keep it flowing. Keep the mash as close to 170 °F (77 °C) as possible during run-off to maintain low viscosity. Another tip: Don’t even think of using uncooked sweet potatoes. My first batch was with shredded potatoes, and it was a huge mess to clean up. I’m willing to bet you could use cooked sweet potatoes for up to 50% of the fermentables, but you’d need lots of rice hulls. Sweet potatoes are such a mild flavored vegetable that should fit nicely into many different styles of beer.

Brewer: Tyler King, The Bruery in Placentia, CA

We brew our fall seasonal Autumn Maple in 15 barrel batches using 17 pounds of yams per barrel. For the most part we have always used fresh yams. We hand roast them on our barbecues and puree them with some sweet wort from the mash. We’ve tried pre-packaged puree once and really liked the results. I thought we would have had a big difference in flavor since the puree wasn’t roasted, but it seems everyone liked these batches more than the others.

I’m not a fan of having to describe “base styles” of certain beers we make. When we’re developing a new specialty beer I’m not thinking of what classic style can we make and add ingredients to, I’m thinking what does this beer need to taste like and then I build the recipe around that. When you’re confined to styles you limit yourself; when you don’t have boundaries anything is possible.

We’re currently using Magnum hops for bittering but have used Columbus in the past. There’s only one hop addition at 60 minutes because we want the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and vanilla bean), maple syrup, molasses, yams and Belgian yeast to shine through, not the hops.

When developing a recipe like this at home, taste your ingredients while creating the recipe; you control how much of that flavor is going to end up in your final product. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out once it is in. Finally, always use temperature-controlled fermenters. No matter your system, your beer is going to suck if the yeast isn’t happy.


Brewer: Phil Wymore, Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis, MO

We use fresh, locally grown cushaw squash in Peace Offering because they are naturally sweeter and more flavorful than pumpkins. Our reliance on fresh squash is why the beer comes out in October. Most producers of pumpkin beers seem to be trying to beat each other to the market, which means they have to use last year’s pumpkins to make this year’s beer. Pumpkins and squash are ready to harvest when they’re ripe — not when marketing says so.

The base beer for Peace Offering is an American brown ale that is 6.3% ABV and 42 IBU. We thought this would be a good vehicle for the squash and spices. The idea for the beer is to be reminded of the flavors of Autumn and due to the timing of its release, I also like to think of Peace Offering as a great Thanksgiving table beer. We bitter Peace Offering with Warrior® and use Cascade and Columbus for the late kettle additions. We don’t want it to be perceived as a particularly hoppy beer, but we also don’t shy away from them on this one.
We use 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of squash per barrel of beer, or about 5 oz. per gallon (0.14 kg per 4 L). To prepare the squash we peel, cut, de-seed, and bake the squash until the sugars start to seep out of the flesh and caramelize. After cooling, we puree them with maple syrup (0.8 oz. per gallon/6.3 mL per L), using an immersion blender, and add the puree to the primary fermentation. This can be a little messy, but I personally feel that it yields a greater flavor impact than adding it to the mash.

After fermentation, we steep the beer on cinnamon and clove. For cinnamon, we use about 2 grams per gallon. For clove, we use about 1 gram per 5 gallons. Those rates seem small, but the spices (clove in particular) are very impactful. Our goal is for Peace Offering to be perceived as a beer first, not a spice bomb.

Issue: September 2014