The Enhancement of Heat Miser’s Mild Christmas Ale

What is the helper monkey doing with syringes and a strange looking liquid? Is he doctoring his beer with nefarious substances like the brewers of old? Will this beer grant an experience beyond what Alcohol normally grants?

Of course! It will give you Christmas Cheer.  If you read my post about the brewing of Heat Miser’s Mild Christmas Ale, you know I threw a bunch of spices in at the last 5 minutes of the boil. I did not know exactly how much to put in, so I erred on the side of too little, since you can always add spice. Taking it out is another story.

I tasted it last week and got some orange and a tiny amount of vanilla, but nothing of the other spices. There are several ways to add spice after fermentation. One popular method is to make an extract by throwing some spices in a bottle of cheap vodka and letting it sit for a while. This is essentially how you would make vanilla extract. Then you filter out the spices and pout out a measured amount into the beer. I did not have awhile, so my options were basically to throw some crushed up spices into the bottling bucket and hope it was the right amount, or to brew a spice “tea” and pour in a measured amount.

What do I mean by a measured amount? I took a cue from Randy Mosher’s “Radical Brewing” and the Spiced Beer episode of the Jamil Show on The Brewing Network. Both had similar methods for determining the correct amount of the vodka extract. I figured something similar could work for my tea, which doesn’t seem nearly as popular a method, even though Gordon Strong mentioned it for adding more spice to his Christmas Beer if it needed it. Of course he did not mention the specifics, so I (re)invented that myself.

Since in my original recipe, I only used half the spices, I took the other half of the spices and brewed it in 2 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes. Then I filtered out the spices into a measurement cup. I took a sample of my beer, and divided it into several 1 ounce samples. One sample remained undoctored. The other samples received between 0.5 and 3 ml of the “tea” dosed out by small syringes I bought for 25 cents a pop at American Science and Surplus the day before.

The Sous Helper Monkey Amy and I both smelled and tasted each sample and determined that 2 ml tasted the best. There was a good amount of spicy aroma and taste, especially cinnamon and nutmeg, without being overpowering. We then made several samples with 2ml of the “tea” spice addition for the purposes of determining how much vanilla extract. The first sample had 1 cl in it, the smallest measurement the syringe could handle, and it was far too much. Therefore, we scratched the idea of adding more vanilla and the proper amount of spice “tea” was calculated. Since there are 640 ounces in five gallons, this means the beer requires 1280 ml of spice “tea”. That is 5.4 bloody cups. Time to brew more tea I guess.

I got worried that with so much extra liquid we were going to thin out the beer. We didn’t think the samples tasted too thinned out. To make sure, I calculated it out, and the gravity would drop less than 0.7 of a point. Plus, I decided to use two cups as the water for the priming solution. We’ll see if that affects anything.

I poured the tea/priming solution in the bottling bucket, racked off the primary and bottled as usual. This is probably the lowest carbonated beer I have ever had. Jamil (from the Jamil Show mentioned above) suggested carbonating to 1.5 volumes, and my little table in the chapter on priming and bottling of my “How to Brew” book claimed I only needed about 1.5 ounces of corn sugar for the temperature the room is at for this amount of carbonation. This is much less than any other beer I have made. Now it’s time to design the label.

Heat Miser’s Mild Christmas Ale

Here we are at the end of November and I am several months late in brewing the Christmas Ale that I planned on brewing earlier this year. There is not enough time for the traditional high alcohol winter warmer if I want it ready in time for Santa’s visit.  That 1.5 month Tennessee work assignment really screwed up my brewing plans. Work never takes my brewing into consideration. How rude. I had given up on a Christmas Ale, and was just going to brew a generic winter beer, like a strong dark Belgian,  in the style of Chimay Grande Reserve (blue cap).  That was until I listened to the November 15, 2012 Basic Brewing Radio, which interviewed Gordon Strong – the highest ranked BJCP judge in the world – about how he came up with his Christmas Beer this year. In explaining answering questions, he suggested that if you wanted to brew a low alcohol version you should start with malt forward style such as a  Mild Ale or Scottish Ale, and the ideas for Heat Miser’s Mild Christmas Ale came into being.

Heat Miser would love a green or mild Christmas.

I looked around for a Mild Ale recipe and found a good-looking one in the American Homebrewers Association Magazine Zymurgy. I figured that I would somehow combine it with the spices in Gorden Strong’s spice combination in his recipe. At 1033 the mild Ale has a much lower original gravity than Strong’s 1070 beer, I knew I had to cut back on the spices. With the idea that you can always add more spices after fermentation, half the quantity sounded like a good idea.

Bending over to clean all this would have been agony two days ago.

The idea was to brew on black Friday in order to bring a little balance to the world. I figured all those people rushing around crowded stores beating each other up over some Victoria’s Secret yoga pants just brings pain to the world, and a good beer will make your fellow humans easier to bear after they just trampled you. The problem is I woke up with a pulled neck muscle and you don’t really realize how much you move your head until you have a pulled neck muscle. I did hit the brew shop, but didn’t look forward to all the bending over and carrying things a brew day calls for, so brewing was put off until Sunday.

Do you like how I jerry-rigged the thermometer  probe to stay off the side of the brew kettle?

It was a pretty smooth brew day, and I think I took less time that it usually takes me. I must be getting used to it. I steeped the specialty grains in 1.5 gallons of water at 160 degrees for 20 minutes. I usually steep at 150 degree, but 160 is what the recipe calls for. I don’t think it matters since you aren’t really mashing these higher roasted grains as the roasting process destroys all the fermentables. It did smell delicious. I think it was my most complicated specialty grain combination to date.

1 lb (.45 kg) CaraMunich malt
0.4 lb (181 g) 200° L Chocolate malt
0.4 lb (181 g) 120° L Caramel malt
0.2 lb (91 g) Special B malt
0.1 lb (45 g) Carafa II malt

Smells so good.

If you have never smelled newly milled malt, I suggest you find a homebrew shop, buy a few pounds, and mill it. It is one of the greatest smells I have ever known.  What are you going to do with this grain you just milled? Why brew your first beer of course!

Right before I almost accidentally killed myself.

The grains steeped for 20 minutes, and then the bags were removed. I filled the pot to 3 gallons and figured I would throw in the malt extract. I like to turn off the burner to do this so I don’t scorch the extract before it is completed mixed in. Then I turned the burner on, or at least thought that I did. What I really did was start to fill the kitchen with natural gas. This went on for a while, until I started to wonder why the not only temperature was not going up, but also why I was feeling light-headed. A check under the pot led me to the source of the danger, and I quickly corrected the situation, actually lighting the burner this time, and opening a bunch of windows. Yes, I put my life on the line for the beer.

The boiling point of water at Chicago’s elevation of 579 ft above sea level is 210 degrees.

This was the first time I used the new brew timer on Beersmith. It is very useful since it automatically beeps at each new step. The problem is you actually have to start it, which I didn’t do for the steeping grain. It was very nice for the boil, and will probably be even more useful when I jump to all grain.

A vigorous boil helps the isomerization of the alpha acids in the hops.

The recipe calls for a 90 minute boil and one hop addition at 60 minutes. There wasn’t a reasoning on the recipe for the extra 30 minutes, but more than likely it was for some extra caramelization of the wort. At 60 minutes remaining, I threw in the northern brewer hops. I tried to get the Styrian Aurora, but the Brew and Grow didn’t have any, so I used the suggested replacement.

The brew dog inspecting the cleanliness of the brew floor.

With 5 minutes left, I threw in a muslin bag with the following spice list I modified from Gordon Strong’s Recipe.

1 Orange, zest only
1 Vanilla bean, split, scraped
3 Cinnamon sticks
6 Coriander seeds
1/2 Nutmeg, chopped
4 Allspice berries

It’s hard to see, but that bag of spices made the kitchen smell like Christmas.

This bag smelled nice before throwing it in the boil, but once it hit the water it made the kitchen smell like Christmas. I love it. I cooled the wort, topped off the bucket to 5 gallons, aerated it, and pitched the yeast. Usually I raise the water level to above 5 gallons since you seem to loose some to evaporation. Brewsmith estimates how much extra you should add, but I think it always overestimates, so I just topped it off to 5 gallons, and hoped for the best. The best part is that I hit my target original gravity right on for the first time ever.

Done and done.

Family Reunion Summer Ale

A few weeks ago I brewed a beer specifically for my family reunion with my Brother.  I’ve been thinking about doing one for the reunion for about as long as I have been brewing beer. I actually “polled” the family reunion Facebook event page. From the responses they thought brewing a beer for the family reunion was a great idea, and preferred a lighter color beer, but not lighter in flavor (sound familiar?). I think it goes with the activity of the 3-day reunion perfectly, which consists of sitting around and drinking beer for 75% of the time.

I scoured the interwebs and my homebrew books, and I decided to try my hand at one of the summer ales from Radical Brewing. I know this is my 3rd beer in a row based on a recipe from that book, but I do love the book so much. My wheat beer and coffee stout were highly acclaimed at my award show for the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award in Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (In Beer Drinking) or “drink my beer so I have room to make more beer party”.

I attempted to make the Summer Ale, What if Version, which is like the Summer Ale, but higher in gravity, and with the addition of coriander and candied ginger at 5 minutes left in the boil. I’m very proud that I made my own candied ginger for the first time out of 1 pound of ginger root  (or more accurately rhizome), despite the fact that the 0.25 oz required for 5 gallons amounted to 2 whole pieces. The rest are delicious by themselves.


This beer is a whole family affair. I got my brother to help me brew the beer. I decided on 7.5 gallons, which basically required doing two different brews at the same time. My cousin is designing a label. I’m still trying to figure out how to get them on the bottle and have them stay on in a cooler full of ice. Vinyl stickers have been brought up as an idea, but I’m not sure they are cost effective.


In the end the brew session turned out well. We did one 5 gallon batch and one 2.5 gallon batch using my biggest non-brewing specific pot. It was the first time I’ve ever done a non-5 gallon batch, and both came in under my target gravity. The 2.5 gallon batch came in at 1.050, about 6 points under target, but the 5 gallon batch came in quite a bit under and I ended up throwing in some extra malt extract at the last-minute to get the original gravity similar to the 2.5 gallon batch.

I took a final gravity reading the other day and got 1.013, which comes out to a little under 5% ABV, a good drinkable percentage. It is also the clearest beer I’ve ever made, probably due to the Wyeast 1968 London ESB used. It tasted pretty hoppy, and I’m excited about how it will taste after carbonation. Next week is bottling week.