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.
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!