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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.