Adventures in Brewing - Beer #6: Spiced Christmas Ale

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I really wanted to start this beer earlier, but due to a variety of factors1, I didn't get to this until now. All I really knew is that I wanted a winter warmery type of beer, which is pretty damn vague. My local homebrew shop owner was very helpful, despite my lack of preparation here. We discussed a bit, talked about Anchor's Christmas Ale (which, granted, changes every year), and eventually settled on a dark red ale with my choice of spices added at the end of the boil. I'm actually pretty happy with the recipe - it sounds really good. Now to find out if it will taste good!

Beer #6: Spiced Christmas Ale
November 5, 2011

1 lb. Crystal 40 (specialty grain)
2 oz. Roasted Barley (specialty grain)
3.3 lb. Golden Light LME
3 lb. Amber DME
1 lb. Golden Light DME
1 oz. Northern Brewer (Bittering @ 8.6% AA)
1 oz. Hallertau Hops (Flavor)
1 tsp Irish Moss
1 tsp Bitter Orange Peel
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Coriander
2 Cinnamon Sticks
3 Whole Cloves
Wyeast 1056 - American Ale Yeast

Nothing super unusual here, though there are only two hop additions. The reason for this is that the aroma will be derived from spices rather than hops. Speaking of spices, I have no idea what I'm doing. Everything I've ever read about spices indicates that it's very easy to overdo things. So I'm deliberately attempting to keep it down2. Looking around at some other recipes, I see people adding about 0.5 oz. (or more) of spices to beers, which works out to 3 tsp. I'm trying to do less than that (though it's difficult to tell with cinnamon sticks/whole cloves, but I'm using slightly less than most recipes I've seen), which will hopefully leave me with some spicy goodness without overwhelming the beer.

Not wanting to go in completely blind, I tried making a couple cups of spice tea (i.e. hot water and spice) using two different spice mixtures. I completely overdid the Nutmeg, which overpowered the other spices, so I cut that down in the recipe. But otherwise, it smelled pretty great. Of course, this doesn't even come close to approximating the final product I'm hoping for, but it seemed like a useful exercise. Alright, enough preamble, let's get this party started!

Steeped the specialty grains in 150° F - 160° F water for around 20 minutes, drained, sparged with another half gallon of water, and put the lid on to bring the wort to a boil. Once there, added the 3 pounds of Amber DME, stirred like crazy for a while, brought it back to a boil and added the bittering hops. Here starts the clock. 30 minutes into the boil, added the rest of the DME and LME. This brought the boil to a standstill, so I took some extra time to get it back to boiling (which took 5-10 minutes). After another 10 minutes, I added the flavor hops. 5 more minutes, added the irish moss. With about 3 minutes left, I started adding the various spices, removing from heat just when I was finishing with the spices.

Moved the pot to the ice bath to cool it off, brought it down to about 90° F, strained the wort (removing most of the spice and hops) into the fermenter, topped off with about 2.5 gallons of water, mixed it up real good, and took a sample and hydrometer reading. The wort was still about 75° F, so I had to wait a bit to get the temperature down (I moved it out of the kitchen, which was pretty hot at this point, and it cooled off after about 25 minutes so that it was in the high 60s). Not sure if the extra time sitting out in the open will be good for it, but it was definitely too hot to finish. I pitched the yeast, put the top on the bucket and installed the airlock. The temperature in my closet is in the mid 60s, which is perfect for this. Done.

Original Gravity: 1.060. Assuming 75% attenuation, that should bring me down to 1.015 and about a 5.9% ABV. I'm actually hoping for slightly higher attenuation (and thus a dryer beer with slightly higher ABV), but either way, this should be pretty good.

So I'm looking at two weeks in the fermenter, then bottling, and at least 2-3 weeks bottle conditioning. This will bring me to early/mid December, which is just in time for some Holiday celebration. Indeed, it should be peaking right around Christmas and New Years (though it may peak later).

I don't think I overdid it with the spices. I could clearly smell them in the finished product, but it didn't seem overpowering. I guess we'll see what happens after the fermentation. My guess is that it will become even less potent after the yeast has its way with the wort. Worst case scenario, if the spices aren't coming through, I'll throw a cinnamon stick in the bottling bucket to give it some extra oomph. But from what people say about these kinds of spices, I should be fine.

So there we have it. Not sure what's next. I've wanted to make a Belgian dubbel since I started (about a year ago), but winter is not the time for that. I should really make something that requires lower fermentation temperatures. I'm thinking perhaps an Simcoe single-hop IPA (or mixed hop IPA).

1 - And by variety of factors, I mean that I was lazy.

2 - But then I found that I had some leftover bitter orange peel from my saison, so I added a tsp of that too. I still think I'm under most other recipes when it comes to spices...

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)