21B. Christmas / Winter Specialty Spiced Beer

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Samuel Adams

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21B. Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer
Aroma: A wide range of aromatics is possible, although many examples are reminiscent of Christmas cookies, gingerbread, English-type Christmas pudding, spruce trees, or mulling spices. Any combination of aromatics that suggests the holiday season is welcome. The base beer style often has a malty profile that supports the balanced presentation of the aromatics from spices and possibly other special ingredients. Additional fermentables (e.g., honey, molasses, maple syrup, etc.) may lend their own unique aromatics. Hop aromatics are often absent, subdued, or slightly spicy. Some fruit character (often of dried citrus peel, or dried fruit such as raisins or plums) is optional but acceptable. Alcohol aromatics may be found in some examples, but this character should be restrained. The overall aroma should be balanced and harmonious, and is often fairly complex and inviting.
Appearance: Generally medium amber to very dark brown (darker versions are more common). Usually clear, although darker versions may be virtually opaque. Some chill haze is acceptable. Generally has a well-formed head that is often off-white to tan.
Flavor: Many interpretations are possible; allow for brewer creativity as long as the resulting product is balanced and provides some spice presentation. Spices associated with the holiday season are typical (as mentioned in the Aroma section). The spices and optional fermentables should be supportive and blend well with the base beer style. Rich, malty and/or sweet malt-based flavors are common, and may include caramel, toast, nutty, or chocolate flavors. May include some dried fruit or dried fruit peel flavors such as raisin, plum, fig, orange peel or lemon peel. May include distinctive flavors from specific fermentables (molasses, honey, brown sugar, etc.), although these elements are not required. A light spruce or other evergreen tree character is optional but found in some examples. The wide range of special ingredients should be supportive and balanced, not so prominent as to overshadow the base beer. Bitterness and hop flavor are generally restrained so as to not interfere with the spices and special ingredients. Generally finishes rather full and satisfying, and often has some alcohol flavor. Roasted malt characteristics are rare, and not usually stronger than chocolate.
Mouthfeel: A wide range of interpretations is possible. Body is generally medium to full, and a certain malty chewiness is often present. Moderately low to moderately high carbonation is typical. Many examples will show some well-aged, warming alcohol content, but without being overly hot. The beers do not have to be overly strong to show some warming effects.
Overall Impression: A stronger, darker, spiced beer that often has a rich body and warming finish suggesting a good accompaniment for the cold winter season.
Comments: Overall balance is the key to presenting a well-made Christmas beer. The special ingredients should complement the base beer and not overwhelm it. The brewer should recognize that some combinations of base beer styles and special ingredients work well together while others do not make for harmonious combinations. THE ENTRANT MAY DECLARE AN UNDERLYING BEER STYLE AS WELL AS THE SPECIAL INGREDIENTS USED. THE BASE STYLE, SPICES OR OTHER INGREDIENTS NEED NOT BE IDENTIFIED. THE BEER MUST INCLUDE SPICES AND MAY INCLUDE OTHER FERMENTABLES (SUGARS, HONEY, MAPLE SYRUP, MOLASSES, TREACLE, ETC.) OR FRUIT. If the base beer is a classic style, the original style should come through in aroma and flavor. Whenever spices, herbs or additional fermentables are declared, each should be noticeable and distinctive in its own way (although not necessarily individually identifiable; balanced with the other ingredients is still critical). English-style Winter Warmers (some of which may be labeled Christmas Ales) are generally not spiced, and should be entered as Old Ales. Belgian-style Christmas ales should be entered as Belgian Specialty Ales (16E).
History: Throughout history, beer of a somewhat higher alcohol content and richness has been enjoyed during the winter holidays, when old friends get together to enjoy the season. Many breweries produce unique seasonal offerings that may be darker, stronger, spiced, or otherwise more characterful than their normal beers. Spiced versions are an American or Belgian tradition, since English or German breweries traditionally do not use spices in their beer.
Ingredients: Generally ales, although some dark strong lagers exist. Spices are required, and often include those evocative of the Christmas season (e.g., allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger) but any combination is possible and creativity is encouraged. Fruit peel (e.g., oranges, lemon) may be used, as may subtle additions of other fruits. May use a wide range of crystal-type malts, particularly those that add dark fruit or caramel flavors. Flavorful adjuncts are often used (e.g., molasses, treacle, invert sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.).

Vital Statistics:

OG: Varies with base style

IBUs: Varies with base style

FG: Varies with base style

SRM: Varies with base style
Usually somewhat dark.

ABV: Varies with base style
Generally above 6%.
Commercial Examples: Anchor Our Special Ale, Harpoon Winter Warmer, Weyerbacher Winter Ale, Nils Oscar Julöl, Goose Island Christmas Ale, North Coast Wintertime Ale, Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Lakefront Holiday Spice Lager Beer, Samuel Adams Winter Lager, Troegs The Mad Elf, Jamtlands Julöl

Has anyone brewed one of these beers ?
I was thinking of brewing one soon to have a few over Christmas & cellar the majority for consumption over winter.
I want a nice rich, complex, strong beer.

Recipe idea so far;

23L batch
5kg Ale base malt
200g Caraaroma
200g Caramunich III
200g Biscuit
200g Victory
200g Special Roast
300g Dextrose
500g Honey
?g Cinnamon
Maple Syrup

Single 60min hop addition of a clean bittering hop to about 30 IBU & 1272 American Ale II yeast to let the specialty malts shine.
Dextrose & honey to up the alc % and thin out the syrupy thickness.

I haven't put this into brewmate as I'm at work using downtime to daydream about beer, but I'll do it when I get a chance.
Wanting about 7% alc.

What do you think ?
To much crystal / specialty malts ?
What yeast would you use ?



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I haven't brewed an example of this myself. But, I have tasted a local cracker, made by Potters brewery in the hunter valley. They brew, I believe, a seasonal every year, different. Recently brewed one called "jingle balls" made with a rum ball recipe. It is brilliant.
I have had a couple of Belgian examples as well. Designed I think to keep you warm on a cold night.

Go to it and enjoy

Try and simplify the malt schedule a bit. That's a personal taste, not a brewing directive.

Edit. Trying to answer the questions


The pursuit of Utopia
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try treacle or Maple syrup instead of honey.??. I have had a few treacle beers that give good taste for the chrissy.. throw in some cinnamon and other chrissy spices such as nutmeg, ginger and all spice and a pinch of cloves and vanilla.. you could always split the batches and try different things..

Samuel Adams

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Thanks for the input guys.

Lemon - Jingle Balls sounds great, I love that you can just go nuts with this style.
I may leave out one or two (Victory & Spec Roast) of the spec malts but I've done up the recipe as is to see how it calculated.

Grainer - yeah I want maple in it for sure & I may leave out the honey as I'm pretty sure it won't add any flavour just alc.
I've also added some of the "pumpkin pie" spices and some vanilla.

I put some Columbus in at 10 (no chill) for some spicy hop flavour as well.
I have a packet of S33 which I thought might work well so have put that in instead of 1272.
I added mayple syrup in to brewmate as a fermentable as it says it's nearly 90% sugar, I think thats right.

Xmas Ale (Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer)

Original Gravity (OG): 1.072 (°P): 17.5
Final Gravity (FG): 1.014 (°P): 3.6
Alcohol (ABV): 7.55 %
Colour (SRM): 14.5 (EBC): 28.6
Bitterness (IBU): 32.7 (Average - No Chill Adjusted)

70.92% Pale Ale Malt
7.09% Honey
4.26% Dextrose
3.55% Maple Syrup
2.84% Biscuit
2.84% Caraaroma
2.84% Caramunich III
2.84% Special Roast
2.84% Victory

0.5 g/L Apollo (18% Alpha) @ 60 Minutes (Boil)
0.4 g/L Columbus (14.6% Alpha) @ 10 Minutes (Boil)

Cinnamon, clove, all spice, nutmeg & vanilla (small amounts tbd)

Single step Infusion at 66°C for 90 Minutes. Boil for 60 Minutes

Fermented at 18°C with Safbrew S-33

Recipe Generated with BrewMate


I make wort, the yeast make it beer.
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I've seen a recipe with a whole christmas cake in the mash (un-iced). I'll try and dig it up. Had some good reviews.


Samuel Adams

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I have this brew fermenting at the moment, brewed as listed minus the victory malt (out of stock).
I didn't put any of the sugars (or spices) in the boil instead opting to do a mini boil and add after a few days fermenting.
So the mini boil will have 500g honey, 300g dex, 250g maple syrup & spices.

How long should I boil the sugars for ? Say 10-20 min ?
Spices, I'm guessing less is the go here maybe 1/2 teaspoon each ?

I'll report back here when I'm drinking it and let you know how it turned out.


Brewvy baby, brewvy!
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You can boil for less time, you only need long enough to melt and sanitise the ingredients. I recall this statement from Yeastcalc:

According to The Wilderness Medical Society, water temperatures above 160°F (71C) kill all pathogens within 30 minutes; temperatures above 185°F (85C) kill them within a few minutes. So in the time it takes for the water to go from 160°F to 212°F (100C) (boiling point) all pathogens will be killed, even at high altitude. To be extra safe, let the water boil rapidly for one minute, especially at higher altitudes since water boils at a lower temperature
So as long as you have the ingredients in the water while it's coming to the boil, you don't really have to boil it for long, if at all.

EDIT: added celcius temps


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I've go a Belgian Christmas spiced Dubbel ready to go for Christmas. I'll keep a few bottles back for Christmas in July, I think :)

Feestdag Dubbel:

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 31.04 l
Post Boil Volume: 27.04 l
Batch Size (fermenter): 23.00 l
Bottling Volume: 21.00 l
Estimated OG: 1.070 SG
Estimated Color: 56.2 EBC
Estimated IBU: 17.8 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 68.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 78.2 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt Name Type # %/IBU
4.80 kg Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (3.9 EBC) Grain 2 66.9 %
0.50 kg Munich Malt (17.7 EBC) Grain 3 7.0 %
0.25 kg Aromatic Malt (51.2 EBC) Grain 4 3.5 %
0.25 kg Caramunich Malt (110.3 EBC) Grain 5 3.5 %
0.25 kg Special B Malt (354.6 EBC) Grain 6 3.5 %
0.50 kg Cane (Beet) Sugar (0.0 EBC) Sugar 7 7.0 %
20.00 g Hallertauer Hersbrucker [2.30 %] - Boil Hop 8 4.4 IBUs
20.00 g Perle [7.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min Hop 9 13.4 IBUs
5.00 g Ground Allspice (Boil 10.0 mins) Spice 10 -
2.50 g Ground Ginger (Boil 10.0 mins) Spice 11 -
5.00 g Ground Nutmeg (Boil 10.0 mins) Spice 12 -
1.00 Items Cinnamon Stick (Boil 10.0 mins) Spice 13 -
0.12 kg Dried Fruits - Prune, Currant, Sultana Adjunct 14 1.7 %
0.50 kg Candi Sugar, Dark (541.8 EBC) Sugar 15 7.0 %

I used WLP530 (Abbey Ale) for the yeast. Re-pitched slurry from an AG Ginger Beer, so it carried over quite a bit of ginger flavour from that. Fruit was added after primary fermentation was pretty much finished. Candi Sugar was added after fruit had pretty much finished fermenting, a bit at a time. I believe this came out at about 9%, and is bloody delicious. Took forever to ferment, though. Might want to start one in a few months for next Christmas

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