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Brewer’s Best Holiday Ale

The Holidays are a fun time of year. The weather turns cold, and it’s a great time for relaxing and over indulgence. Why shouldn’t your beer relfect the spirit and flavors of the Holidays? I figured December was a great time to brew a Holiday Ale!

First thing’s first… December is WAY too late to brew a Holiday Ale. It might be fun and festive to create this Ale during the Holidays, but your desire to drink a heavy, spiced beer in Feb./Mar. might be less than expected. That said, a Holiday Ale is a fun way to try some new brewing methods, and the result is a very unusual beer that shows people you can brew more interesting than a beer they might get at the grocery store.

What is a Holiday Ale?

I’ve done a fair amount of looking, and I really haven’t come up with an answer. From what I can tell, the “Holiday Ale” is more of a concept, than an item that follows any real rules or guidelines. Holiday Ales are often representative of the season that they are brewed for – which is generally Thanksgiving or Christmas. Spices seem to be a trademark of Holiday Ales. Things like orange peel, cinnamon, ginger, etc. I suppose it’s safe to say that an “Ale” would be the base of a Holiday Ale, too, right?

Brewing the Holiday Ale

December 15, 2010. I chose to try out the Brewer’s Best Holiday Ale kit. One of the best parts of this kit is that it comes with a lot of stuff! Not only do you have your usual LME (Muntons Light) and DME, but also a pound of Corn Sugar. The amount of grains is a lot higher than usual, too. You’ve got Crystal 80L, Chocolate, and Black Patent grains. Then, the spice pack is the real kicker. You get a pre-measured spice pack with Sweet Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Cardamom Seed, and Ginger Root. While I’m at it… the kit also came with Palisade Bittering Hops & Willamette Flavoring Hops.

As my pot of water came heated up, I added my bag of grains to steep at about 135°.  Then I let the water heat to about 165°, and I let the grains steep for about 15 minutes more.

Next, I removed the grain bag and turned up the heat, to get the wort boiling.  I’m just on a normal stove, so this can take a while.  As I’m waiting, I’ll usually put on a second pot of warm water for soaking my LME cans.  They pour easier if they’re warm.  You can also fill a sink with warm water and let them soak.  I’ve had pretty good luck both ways.

Finally my pot boils, and I add both cans of LME, the 1lb of DME, and the 1lb of Corn Sugar, stirring as I add them to reduce clumps and sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Once this returns to a boil, I added the bittering hops and let it roll for 40 minutes.

Next up is the fun part, you add the flavoring hops and the spice pack!  Honestly, the spice pack is cool, and smells pretty good, but it makes the wort look pretty nasty.  The floating orange pieces don’t make it look all that tasty…

Cool Wort & Transfer

After the boil time had completed, I placed my brewpot in my ice filled kitchen sink to start the cooling.  I did my usual process of spinning the pot in my sink while spraying the outside with my kitchen sprayer.  This works fairly well.  My ice melted down, but I wasn’t happy with my temp. yet, so I decided to take advantage of the snowy MT weather.  I took my pot outside and let it sit in a snowbank for another 10 or 15 minutes.  Snow is a great way to cool beer, if you have the option!


The wort was finally cool enough to add to my fermenting bucket with an additional 3 gallons of cool water.  Straining was a pretty important on this batch of brew, since the spice pack had left quite a bit of debris behind.  I set up my strainer atop the bucket, as usual, and I began to pour.  Well… the debris from the spice pack was heavier than I’d guessed, and the heavy strainer dropped in my wort!  How’s that for sanitary??  As quickly as I could, I fished out the strainer and saved as much of it’s contents as I could.  When it was all said and done, a fair amount of orange peel had gotten by me, but it wasn’t the end of the world.


Wrapped fermenter in a coat to hold in the heat.

Before adding the yeast, I took a quick sample of the wort to test the Starting Gravity – which was 1.070.  I’ve had BAD luck with yeast lately, so I opted not to do a starter this time.  I simply sprinkled the yeast on top of the wort, then gave it a good stir.   After that, put on the lid and air lock, and started the waiting game.  My house isn’t warm enough to ferment beer, so I put the fermenting bucket next to a heat pipe and wrapped it in a coat.  Hey, it worked…

January 5, 2010. Moved the Holiday Ale from the Fermenting Bucket to the Secondary.

Bottling & Tasting

January 21, 2010. It was finally time to bottle this brew!  Before anything else, I took a quick sample to measure the final gravity.  My measurement came to 1.016.  With an O.G of 1.070, this makes the alcohol content on this bad boy to be about 7.1%.

Siphoning my beer from the carboy to the bottling bucket was a challenge.  As I mentioned before, I let some orange pieces slip through the cracks.  The next challenge was keeping them out of the siphon… a challenge I pretty continually failed.   I had to restart the siphon 3 times to get all of the beer transferred.  Darn orange pieces…

Bottling went well.  Added my dissolved sugar, and got everything bottled fairly quickly.  I bottled this batch in mostly flip-top (Grolsch) style bottles, to give them a little extra character!

Taste, and the Final Verdict

This batch took a while before it was ready to drink.  With all the spices and different flavors, it really needed time in the bottle to mellow out and come together.  It was well over a month after bottling before the beer was something you’d want to drink.  That said, it’s pretty decent.  It almost has flavors of a peach cobbler.  It’s a little fruity and little spicy.  This isn’t the kind of beer you’re going to sit down and drink one after another, but it’s a great special occasion (a.k.a. Holiday ) beer.

One thing to note.  A Holiday Ale tastes better during the HOLIDAYS.  Plan ahead.  This is a beer to brew in August or September.  You might not be in the Holiday mood when you brew it, but at least you will be when you drink it ( also a great xmas present beer ).  It’s now the start of Spring, when you’re looking for lighter, crisper fare, and I’ve got a LOT of Holiday Ale to drink.  ( A guy could have bigger problems, right? )

Overall, this is a decent beer.  I’m not usually a fan of Holiday Ale’s, so it stands to reason this wouldn’t be my favorite.  It’s a little bit like a Holiday Ale you’d buy at the store, but the orange and cinnamon flavors are a little more dominant.  If you’re looking for a unique beer to brew for the Holidays, this one is a good way to go.

Coming Soon – Hopnog IPA 2009 – Mr. Beer Lager – Mr. Beer Cider
Previous batch – Dunkelweizen

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