November 4, 2014 Christmas Brewday

My wife recently reminded me that if I was going to have a Christmas ale ready for Christmas, I better brew it now especially if I wanted to have it age a little bit to mellow.  She then went out for a Christmas sampler so I can get a feel for what is out there.  I had an idea what I wanted to do, a Christmas based on a Scottish ale recipe putting in many spices I feel represent the season: clover honey, cider, cinnamon.

Battle of the Christmas's
Battle of the Christmas’s

My untapp’d profile gives notes on these but the overall conclusions were:

  • Great Lakes Christmas ale was the winner.  Best balance of alcohol, spice and body.  I can drink a few of these at one sitting.
  • Thirsty Dog’s 12 Dogs of Christmas was 2nd, a little thinner on body but still good.
  • Deschutes Jubelale could have been #1 if it had a tad more spice.  Incredibly rich, dark red body and malt profile.
  • Brew Kettle’s Winter Warmer and The Mad Elf by Troeg’s were a little much for me.  Alcohol was too dominant.  I believe a lot of honey went into these which, from when I made mead, gives it an oily-alchoholish flavor.  My wife thought it tasted ‘Nyquil-y’.

So with those ideas in mind, I went about crafting a Christmas for 2014.  I looked back at the last time I made a Christmas ale, it was back in 2012 (not sure what happened to 2013) but I clearly had in my notes, ‘DON’T CHANGE A THING, IT’S PERFECT.’  Well…let’s see how we can tinker with it…just a little.  My 2012 recipe was more like a Thirsty Dog/Great Lakes Christmas.  I wanted to try something a little different…something a little more powerful WITHOUT the dominant alcohol of lot’s of honey.  I also want to be able to age this in barrels as the first Christmas ale at the brewery if I make it early 2015. I recently had a Scottish Ale with cloves from Jeff that surprisingly worked very nicely together.  So I decided on a Scottish ale base and yeast using the amount of clover honey I used in 2012 which appears to be about half of what Mad Elf uses.  Christmas is also about wassail which I loved as a kid – so I wanted a gallon of apple cider.  Cinnamon is my favorite Christmas spice so that went in at the 2012 recipe level.

But I needed something a little different…something that most Christmas’s don’t have.  Something that will make this unique.  Christmas is about roaring fires.  I decided to incorporate some Briess cherrywood smoked malt too…at a low level…this is not supposed to be a smoked beer.  I also wanted a longer boil time than just one hour.  In reality we want two hours to get some good caramelization in the kettle.  Armed with that, Jesse and I brewed!

Malt bill.  That smoked malt is yummy.
Malt bill. That cherrywood smoked malt is yummy.
Jesse milling the grains.
Jesse milling the grains.
Jesse mashing-in the grains.
Jesse mashing-in the grains – two full 5 gallon buckets worth.
With nearly a 50# grain bill, the kettle was filled to the brim and was hard to do the final mash-in.
With nearly a 50# grain bill, the kettle was filled to the brim and was hard to do the final mash-in.  I had the foresight to pull a gallon of water back out knowing that we may not have enough room.
Jesse finishing the final sanitation work on the fermentor.
Jesse finishing the final sanitation work on the fermentor.
We had a boilover of epic proportions.  It's ok, I love that smell.
We had a boilover of epic proportions. It’s ok, I love that smell.
Freshly grated ginger...mmmmm....
Freshly grated ginger…mmmmm….
With the boil done, time to add the extra ingredients.
With the boil done, time to add the extra ingredients.
It's HOT up at this altitude.
It’s HOT up at this altitude.
Final gravity is spot-on.  1.080 is a theoretical alcohol level of 10.5% though knowing that I usually ferment out to 1.015-1.020 that will have the final beer around 8%.
Final gravity is spot-on. 1.080 is a theoretical alcohol level of 10.5% though knowing that I usually ferment out to 1.015-1.020 that will have the final beer around 8%.
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One thought on “November 4, 2014 Christmas Brewday”

  1. Nice synopsis of the Holiday christmas Beers. I like your added grated ginger! Nothing better than fresh ingredients.
    I look forward to trying your 2014 christmas brew and seeing if you write the same comment…
    “Don’t change a thing, it’s perfect” 🙂

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