There’s no denying when “spooky season” comes around that pumpkin beers will be available. A popular autumnal seasonal, pumpkin beers are still a dominant force in “seasonality” in beer.

On this episode of the All About Beer Podcast two brewers  – Tyson Arp of Nebraska Brewing Company and Chad Henderson of NoDa Brewing Company – who make pumpkin beers go into great detail on how they are made, why they are a conversation starter, and their lasting impact in the world of craft beer.

Chad Henderson, is the co-owner and head brewer of Charlotte’s NoDa Brewing and began experimenting with pumpkin beers as a homebrewer around 15 years ago after he found what was commercially available was not to his liking.

That original recipe would morph into Gordgeous which has since won two gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival.

Homebrewing Pumpkin

“The very first time I ever brewed it, it was a stupid idea,” he says. “We just kind of ran with it and it had heart and soul that made the project move forward. It was in my garage and I told some of my friends that were going to come over to look out for the largest pumpkin they could find in town. One of my friends found a 78 pound pumpkin and they grabbed it, brought it over, emptied it out and used it as the mash tun. We actually sort of mashed in in this big ass pumpkin and then poked a hole in the bottom with a screwdriver to filter it out.

I noticed that when I dumped out that grain the inside had caramelized from the heat, so I carved out the meat, covered it brown sugar, and baked it in the oven to make a pumpkin soufflé, and then I bagged that up and steeped it in the actual boil.”

Scaling Up Pumpkins

“When we scaled it up we originally had a 15 barrel brew house and we choose canned pumpkin – just hundreds of cans of pumpkins that we would roast in a convection oven and bag it up, and that was a horrible idea,” he says.

“Now on our 60-barrel system we buy large buckets of puree and we added a batch mixer, so it’s like a giant pancake mixer and we mix it in there. We don’t do anything to it. We discovered when we were on the 15-barrel system that whether we roasted it or not didn’t seem to do anything.”

Brewing Gordgeous

“Gorgeous is our is our main pumpkin beer. And it has an imperial version that is 8.5% ABV, it’s essentially a more concentrated version. It’s the same recipe, just done at a reduced volume batch,” says Henderson. “Then we have have little random one offs infused with vanilla or with different spices in it.”

Water Chemistry for Pumpkin Beers

Henderson said that one thing the brewery is constantly looking at is the water chemistry for the pumpkin beer.

“We really dialed in our water salts because the astringencies in the spice load can be just right or overpowering. Every year we have to take a step back and say ‘OK, do we want to repeat exactly what we did last year with our salt loads and mash temperatures, or not.’ All the subtle things can make something taste super nuanced and balanced or go astringent and bitter.”

The Gordgeous Malt Bill

“In the beginning I knew I was going to use real pumpkin which adds subtle complicity, but I wanted it to be in a fall, dark strong amber beer. Fifteen years the pumpkin beers were very light in amber color for the most part, so I wanted mine to be really deep mahogany red,” he says.

“The malt bill is designed to be a really robust beer so we have Caraamber in it, and Special W, which is Weyermann’s version of Special B. We use carafoam and a ton a Caramunich. So it’s got this awesome really nice high caramel raisin character and that gets emphasized from that pumpkin.”

Pumpkin Beer Spice Blend

Courtesy of NoDa Brewing.

When I was making this beer for the first time I realized that I was tired of the cinnamon that had been in every one of the pumpkin beers I tried. So I did my own spice blend that was inspired by pumpkin spices but accented. There is no cinnamon or nutmeg in Gordgeous at all. Every year someone tells me there are, but I promise that there is not. It’s a blend of ginger, all spice, clove, brown sugar and cardamom.

The cardamom, I think, is the secret ingredient to it because it adds a nice cola pop.

The above transcript was condensed and edited for clarity.