You can totally screw it up and still wind up with some awesome beer.
This is certainly the case with this year's Pumpkin Ale. I've already written about my first two attempts at a Pumpkin Ale. The first one was pretty good, and the second one was excellent. This year, I wanted to continue the experimentation and ramp it up a couple of notches. I basically wanted something kinda like a Belgian Dubbel, but with pumpkin. Also, unlike last year's, I didn't want to use a whole lot of pumpkin spice, figuring that the spicy taste created by the Belgian yeast would provide the balance that I desired. My last thought was to add maple syrup. This would be the second time adding that particular ingredient. The first time, I added it really early to the boil of a strong Brown Ale that I made. While it didn't contribute any kind of a maple flavor, it did create a really nice dry taste to it. I figured it might be even more appropriate for a Belgian style, as typically those have you add candy sugar to them, and maple syrup isn't too far off from that.
Before I give my fellow homebrewers the recipe, let me tell you a bit how this turned out. Essentially what I have tastes a lot like a Doppelbock with a Belgian yeastiness to it and a faint maple flavor that arrives in your nose once it's gone down your throat. For those of you not familar with all the beer-nerd jargon, it's got a spicy (not caliente-spicy, but more like gingerbread where they didn't spare the ginger) smell and initial taste when you take a sip. In your mouth, it's thick and bready - somewhat reminiscent of pumpernickel. And as I already wrote, you can catch a bit of that maple flavor once you've swallowed it down.
In short - it's a tasty beer. It's great for cold weather, and it stands up to all kinds of food - either something really rich or something spicy. It's also a good one to have when the day is done and you're looking to just relax and watch some TV while sipping a yummy brew that gets more interesting as it warms up a bit.
Then why is this a "Pumpkin Fail"?
'Cause you don't taste the pumpkin. Like...at all. I'll include it in my list of ingredients, but if you're looking to make this beer, save some money and skip the pumpkin. I'm not sure what went wrong. It's quite possible that the strong flavors of the malt, along with the Belgian yeast and maple syrup, just completely overpowered it. Another possibility is that I used a white pumpkin this year instead of the green one that I used last year (which gave me a great, smooth pumpkin flavor). More likely than that last reason, I didn't keep the pumpkin in for the entire boil. I put it in my grain bag (with the rest of the flavoring grains) for the first half hour - before it all went to a boil. I then tried my best to squeeze as much pumpkin juice/pulp from the grain bag, but that probably wasn't enough to get the full flavor.
I also added a few dashes of cinnamon about halfway through the boil, and I really can't taste that at all.
So, here are the ingredients. I recommend making this beer if that description sounded good, but again, skip the pumpkin (and cinnamon too) and you'll probably get basically the same thing.
1 medium pumpkin - sliced, baked (at 400 degrees for one hour), and turned to mush in the food processor
.5 lb. chocolate wheat
1 lb. Belgian biscuit
.5 lb. honey
.5 lb. chocolate
6 lbs. Munich malt extract
2 lbs. dried malt extract
1 oz. Experimental - bittering (used for entire hour long boil)
1 oz. Herrsbrucker - flavoring (put in during the last few minutes of the boil)
32 oz. maple syrup - added one minute before the end of the boil
Wyeast Saison - This is a high-alcohol beer, so either pitch a couple of packages or re-use from a previous batch (which I did with a Saison that I made).