Cheers to cooking with beer

Here’s to adding pumpkin ale to your holiday recipes

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“Holiday creep” is getting ridiculous. The calendar hadn’t even flipped to fall this year and the words “pumpkin spice” started showing up everywhere—on coffee menus, vodka labels, Pringles cans and on many, many bottles of beer.

As much as I like beer, I’m not a fan of pumpkin ales. I’m not a pumpkin-spice hater or anything; I like pumpkin pie and other desserts incorporating its key ingredients—pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. But I’d prefer to keep the source dessert and the beer separate and enjoy them side-by-side in a complementary pairing: say a slice of maple pumpkin pie with a nice brown ale or maybe a barrel-aged stout.

With that said, I’ve found a use for the very popular seasonal beer: as an ingredient in holiday food. A couple of years ago, I received a copy of Beer Advocate magazine that featured a recipe for bacon, pork and beer stuffing (you had me at “bacon, pork and beer”) cooked in a pumpkin and using pumpkin ale as a key ingredient. I made it for a Thanksgiving dinner with family, and the bubbling meat oozing from the top of the pumpkin made for an impressive presentation, while the beer (I used Dogfish Head’s Punkin’ Ale) added a deep richness to the decadent stuffing.

This year, I want to add a beer-based dessert to the spread, so I experimented with a recipe I found on the beer-food blog at for pumpkin-beer cupcakes with stout frosting.

I used Coronado Brewing Co.’s Punk’in Drublic imperial pumpkin ale and the cupcakes came out amazingly moist with the perfect balance of spices. For the frosting, I added a reduced Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis, an oatmeal stout with vanilla, and though it is an amazing malty, toasty complement to the cupcake, there is a little residual bitterness from the concentration of toasted malts after reduction. I enjoyed the bitter quality, but it can easily be avoided by switching out the reduction for some brewer’s malt extract (available locally, in dry or syrup form, at the Home Brew Shop, 1570 Nord Ave.).

For the ideal pairing with these cupcakes, I’d seek out a gigantic bourbon-barrel-aged stout (Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal comes to mind), and for the rich stuffing (recipe below the one for cupcakes), maybe something bright and light like Victory Beer Co.’s Prima Pils.

Pumpkin beer cupcakes (adapted from

Cupcake ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs

2 cups canned pumpkin puree

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup pumpkin beer

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar, packed

Frosting ingredients:

1 1/2 cup stout beer, reduced to syrup (or replace with 1/4 cup brewer's malt extract, dry or syrup)

2 cups confectioner's sugar

3/4 cup salted butter

Start stout reduction for your frosting. Pour stout beer into saucepan. Cook over medium heat until reduced to syrup. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 and line cupcake trays (makes 24).

Sift together all dry ingredients except for the sugars, set aside. In another bowl beat together wet ingredients with the brown and white sugars. Mix dry and wet mixtures until well combined. Spoon batter into cupcake trays (nearly to the top of each). Bake 25 minutes.

Beat together cooled stout-beer reduction (or brewer’s malt extract) with butter and powdered sugar. Frost cooled cupcakes.


Bacon, pork and beer stuffing (adapted from Beer Advocate magazine)


1 loaf Tin Roof Bakery Chico sourdough bread (cut into 1-inch cubes)

1 cup salted butter

3 leeks (washed, halved and sliced—about 5 cups)

2 yellow onions, large (peeled and chopped)

4 shallots (minced)

4 stalks celery

6 garlic cloves (crushed)

3 tablespoons kosher salt

1 lb. bacon, cut thick (2-inch pieces)

2 lb. pork, ground

1/2 cup fresh sage (chopped)

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas, shelled

18 oz. Dogfish Head Punkin' Ale (or any preferred pumpkin ale, bock, doppelbock or brown ale)

2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

1 medium pumpkin (between 10-14 lbs.)

Dry the bread. Hollow out pumpkin; remove seeds. If more than 1 1/2 inches thick, parbake at 350 for 20 minutes. Clean and cut vegetables. Slightly brown the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and sautée until tender. Add onions, shallots and celery and cook another eight minutes or so. Add garlic, cook another minute, season with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Remove mixture from pan and place in large bowl.

Add bacon pieces to skillet. Cook over medium heat until rendered and edges slightly crisp. Remove pieces with slotted spoon and add to bowl with vegetables. Add pork to pan with bacon drippings, breaking up lumps and adding remaining kosher salt. Cook thoroughly. Add sage and pumpkin seeds and cook another minute. Add the pork and dried bread to the bowl with the rest and mix well. In another container, blend beer and stock together, then pour over stuffing. Fully saturate bread, using hands if needed. Adjust seasoning as needed. Add stuffing to the pumpkin. Lightly stuff—do not over-pack.

Put oven rack low enough to allow for clearance for the pumpkin. Place pumpkin in roasting pan or on a sheet pan and bake at 350 for 60-90 minutes (depending on thickness). Stuffing is done when internal temp is 160 and pumpkin is fork-tender. Note: taste stuffing before removing. If it’s too boozy, continue baking until alcohol has cooked off.