Pumpkin Ale is an American original, invented in the 18th century by English colonists in the New World. Pumpkin is a New World plant that is rich in starches and sugars. Pumpkin ale was brewed in England only after the introduction of pumpkins there from North America. The brewing methods for pumpkin ale are about as varied as there are breweries making it. As a general rule, pumpkin ale has an orange to amber color, a biscuit-like malt aroma, and a warming pumpkin aroma. Modern pumpkin ales are almost always made with “pumpkin pie spices,” which usually include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and sometimes vanilla and ginger. The finish tends to be dry because of many fermentable sugars derived from the pumpkin. Pumpkins belong to the family of squashes and zucchini, the family of Cucurbitaceae. The English word “pumpkin” is derived from the Greek word pepon, meaning large melon. In old English, this fruit was often spelled pumpion or pompion. Apparently, the term was coined around 1550, and the oldest written reference to pompion appears only 100 years later. The oldest known recipe for “pompion ale” is made only from pumpkin juice and, unlike modern pumpkin ale recipes, does not call for any addition of cereal malts. It is thus more a recipe for a pumpkin wine than for a pumpkin beer. The recipe dating precisely from February 1771 was published anonymously by the American Philosophical Society:


Let the Pompion be beaten in a Trough and pressed as Apples. The expressed Juice is to be boiled in a Copper a considerable Time and carefully skimmed that there may be no Remains of the fibrous Part of the Pulp. After that Intention is answered let the Liquor be hopped cooled fermented & as Malt Beer.

Later recipes started to include malt as well, leading to the modern version of pumpkin ale. There can be little doubt that the American association of the pumpkin with the holiday pie recipe has influenced today’s interpretations. Hops are not really the point of most pumpkin ales, so either English or American varieties can be used. The malts are often a combination of grain pale malt, pilsner malt, Munich malt, and caramel malts. The pumpkins, too, can be used in many ways. Some brewers add the pumpkins raw, cut up in small cubes and macerated; others bake the pumpkins first, for about 90 min at about 190°C (375°F), and then remove the seeds, stem, and skin, before macerating the meat to a pulp. Yet others press the pumpkins like apples and add just the juice to the kettle or the fermenter. In terms of process, there are also great variations. Some brewers add the pumpkin to the mash, which has the advantage of allowing the mash enzymes to convert the pumpkin starches. In this case, the pumpkin must be cooked first to gelatinize the starches, allowing the conversion. Others add the pumpkins to the kettle, which may increase the finished beer’s turbidity. Larger commercial brewers often use pumpkin puree. Some brewers add the spices to the kettle, often wrapped in cheesecloth and boiled for only 15 min; others add the spices to the fermenter, which can give the beer a harsher, more astringent flavor. There is also a technique of soaking the spices in vodka for several days and then just adding the strained extract to the fermenter. Pumpkin ale can be made by single- or multistep infusion, even by decoction. Given the greater turbidity of pumpkin ale wort, many brewers use plenty of Irish moss as a kettle fining. See carrageenans. After the kettle, it is pitched with a warm-fermenting yeast and treated like any other ale. Variations in flavor are wide; many pumpkin ales are sweet and heavily spiced, straining for the pie associations. Others taste more like ordinary ales with a nutty background flavor of squash and a light dash of spice. Most appear in American bars, restaurants, brewpubs, and shops in late summer, acting as an annual harbinger of the coming autumn.