When you think about Christmas, what foods come to mind? Cookies, candy canes, eggnog, hot chocolate?
Perhaps you’re like my family and you have traditional foods or meals that only get cooked once a year.
Is your mouth watering yet?
This time of year is particularly great for homebrewers. Why? Tis’ the season with your beer and add some festive flare. Whether you want to brew a Christmas Ale, with traditional spices like nutmeg ginger or cookie flavors. Or an English style winter beer — full bodied, dark and sweet. Or maybe you’re not a fan of those styles and you just want an IPA smelling of pine to get you in the mood for decorating that tree.
If you’re looking to brew a clone recipe or simply supplement your parties with beers already brewed with holiday spirit, try Big Foot Barleywine by Sierra Nevada. Winter beers tend to have a higher ABV, malt forward and may have dark fruit flavors or spices. Big Foot is a classic barleywine that tastes of caramel, toffee, prune and gives you a slight warmth from the alcohol content.
Another traditional Christmas beer style from my home state is Dark Horse’s Four Elf Winter Warmer ale. This beer smells and tastes like the perfect
combination of clove and cinnamon. And with a drinkable 8.75% ABV it goes great with all of your holiday snacks.
No matter what style you’re hankering to brew, there’s loads of potential ingredients to get you in the holiday spirit.
- Cinnamon sticks – Depending on how big your system is, one to three sticks for a five gallon brew may do the trick with five minutes left of your boil to give off a warm and spicy flavor and aroma. You can also use ground cinnamon usually at a smaller amount since it will have a higher potency.
- Vanilla bean – Take this fan favorite and add it into your brew for a richer mouthfeel and pleasant aroma
- Brown sugar or maple – Maple and brown sugar makes me think of fresh, hot homemade waffles. Perfect for your Christmas morning or throwing brown sugar in with your toasty, toffee malts
- Juniper – An ingredient that blends well with citrus and ginger into a porter or stout
- Cranberry – Putting these into your mash or brew kettle is one way to add this ingredient to your brew though you will lose out on some of its sweetness. Don’t forget to either freeze or boil/cook them to sterilize them. Lastly, you could nix the berries and use an extract or a cranberry tea to experiment with your brews.
- Cloves and coriander – Coriander adds a lemony flavor and spice that pairs well with the spices brought on by cloves. You may consider not adding aroma hops into your brew so that the spices compliment rather than compete for flavor of the beer
- Orange peels – Bright notes of citrus can cut flavorful spices mid-sip in an elegant and zesty way
- Nutmeg – A little goes a long way (as with all spices) during the last part of your boil to add some aroma and flavor. It’s better to start with a smaller amount, you can always adjust the amount throughout your fermentation.
- Fresh ginger – This root comes from a tropical plant and can smell sweet yet it comes with an intense, bite (hot) flavor.
- Chocolate – who doesn’t want to warm up with a chocolate Russian imperial stout?
- Cocoa nibs – A great addition to any brown ale, porter or stout, but depending on when you add it to your brew you might pull out some bitterness. Try it in the secondary for a week or two and experiment with the ending result
- Peppermint – This is commonly done using peppermint tea bags steeped at the end of your boil.
- Dark fruits and caramel – Brew a mock like fruitcake beer and it’s guaranteed that everyone will appreciate it more than an actual fruit cake
- Honey – Add it in for some residual sweetness in your beer and increase the alcohol content as well
When you’re experimenting with flavors, keep in mind they can be added in at multiple stages. Depending on when you add in your adjuncts, ingredients and flavors… your beer is going to take on a different flavor profile. Experiment to find your perfect reipe.
No matter what you brew, don’t forget to give it a fun holiday-inspired name. Then gift a couple bottles to friends and family. Better yet, bring a keg to your next holiday party, less you enjoy a stocking full of coal.
Cheers and Merry Christmas ya Filthy Brewers!