The fall season is upon us. As the chill is in the air, the leaves begin to change color and the smells and sights are evocative of the seasonal shift. My favorite part of the fall season isn’t the cooling weather or the Halloween candy piling up on the shelves at my grocery store; it’s the much-anticipated return of pumpkin ale.
Pumpkin brews originally started as a radical brewing experiment that teased local connoisseurs, but has since grown into one of the best-selling seasonal brews with wider distribution than ever before.
How Brewers Make Pumpkin Beer
Most craft beer brewing follows a general theme in terms of ingredients and recipes. The idea is to soak grains, add them to fermented malts and allow the mixture to season itself or take on the flavors of the vessel in which it rests. Most brewers use wooden kegs for the fermentation process. Others use vats, barrels and even actual pumpkins as kegs in which a secondary fermentation occurs.
While the brewing process is relatively standardized, the ingredients in each brew differ greatly, especially in terms of seasonal offerings. Some brewers chop up fresh, raw jack-o’-lantern bits and toss them into the fermenting mash to impart that squashy flavor. Others prefer to roast the pumpkin with a method similar to that of making a pie, bringing out the sugars and subtler flavors through heat and caramelization. Yet others still opt to use pumpkin extracts, syrups or flavorings and rely on wooden kegs to impart an earthy essence.
Each brew master has their own different process. One brewery in particular chooses to use roasted malts instead of caramelized malts in their pumpkin beer. Although the caramel flavor seems like the obvious choice in terms of pairing the sugars with the pumpkin, the roasted malts bring to mind a likeness of pie crust. Another brewery has found that that tossing whole vanilla beans into the kegs brings out the sweeter notes of natural pumpkin and likens it to the whipped cream atop a warm slice of pie.
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