Homebrew Batch #2: Christmas Beer

I've been noticing signs that the holidays are approaching.  First, I saw a winter seasonal beer on a grocery store shelf.   Second, when I got a tour of BridgePort Brewing earlier this week, I noticed a huge pallet of Ebenezer Ale awaiting shipment.  But the third and most important sign that the holidays are approaching—Costco is selling Christmas stuff.  I was tempted to bring Rudolph home for my boys.

Anyway, these not so subtle cues reminded me to get started on my first Holiday Beer.  After I made my first batch of beer, I realized that it really needs to age in the bottle for at least one month (two is better) before the flavors can take shape and meld together.  So late September is the perfect time to get started!
Frank, a friend from work, is an avid homebrewer and has been brewing a certain holiday recipe for several years.  He's received a lot of good feedback and suggested I try it.  It's Charlie Papazian's Holiday Cheer.  For those who may not be aware, Papazian wrote "THE" book for homebrewing.  You can see more details about it below, if you're so inclined.

Anyway, I took my recipe to Brew Brothers and the guys set me up with my ingredients.  (I'm so fortunate to live within a few miles of two excellent homebrew stores!)  I brewed it today, and expect it will be ready to drink by Thanksgiving.  It  should be in prime form by the time Christmas & New Year holiday parties start to roll around.

One interesting tidbit I read on a homebrew site is that a beer's flavor can radically change over time (usually for the better).  The author of the post mentioned that he brewed a batch that tasted like bubblegum (not his intent).  He was going to dump it, but decided to keep it.  The idea of dumping 5 gallons of beer is pretty painful.  Anyway, over time, the "bubblegum" flavor evolved into a very good beer.

So why am I rambling???   Well, I thought it would be nice to sample and document the development of my homebrews over time.  So this post will be a work-in-process over the next few months.   I'll update it as my beer is progressing—from brew day, until I deem it good to go.  The last step, will be to give the beer a name.  I don't think you can really name a beer until you've tasted the final product, can you?  However, if I recall correctly, we did name both of our sons BEFORE they were born...

OK, here are some details about the beer.
  • Style:  Spiced Ale
  • Malt Base:  Golden Light liquid malt extract, orange blossom honey
  • Grains: Crystal 20L, Chocolate
  • Hops:  Cascade 8.7% alpha acid (bittering) & Saaz 4.0% alpha acid (aroma)
  • Yeast:  White Labs California Ale
  • Spices:  Ginger, cinnamon, dried orange peel

I pretty much followed the recipe. You can find the full Holiday Cheer recipe here.  The only modification was I doubled the amount of Saaz aroma hops used in the last five minutes of the boil.

Cascade Leap Hops, Saaz Pellet Hops & Ginger
Crystal & Chocolate Malts

Dried Orange Peel & Cinnamon Sticks

Brew Log:

  • Sep. 19:  Brew day.  Took 3 hours to cool the wort to pitching temperature, using a combination of in-sink ice bath and freezing the fermentation bucket (each for about 90 minutes).  OG 1.054.   Wort is cloudy orange gold with lots of sediment from the Saaz pellet hops.  This is the first time I used pellet hops and I don't like them.  I'll stick to whole leaf if I can.  The wort has a sweet malty flavor and I think I can actually taste some of the cinnamon.

Wort just before yeast pitched.

  • Sep. 20:   About 12-15 hours later, the airlock started bubbling.  This is good.  Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol and CO2.  The bubbling means that active fermentation has begun.  I'm always on pins and needles until I see the bubbling.  For some reason, I like to watch the airlock bubbling.  Strange, I know.  Take a look at the video below and let me know if you are utterly captivated by it as well.
  • Sep. 24:  The bubbling has slowed down quite a bit.  I think primary fermentation will be done in 2-3 days. 
  • Sep. 28:  Transfered beer to carboy for secondary fermentation.  Attempted to wash the yeast for later re-use.  We'll see how that works out...
  • Oct. 16:   Bottled the beer.  FG = 1.014.  Using the Beercalculus website, I calculated some details about about my beer.  I taste orange and spices.  It needs tome time to mellow out.  I'll taste it again in about 10 days.
    • 5.3% ABV
    • 14.7 IBU 
    • Color:  12 SRM (Copper to Red / Lt. Brown)
    • Calories:  210 per 12 oz.
  • Oct. 27:  1st taste.  Heard a nice fizz when I opened the bottle, but no head on it when I poured into a glass.  Maybe it forms later?  Aroma and flavor are spice, ginger and orange.  Not bad for a first taste.  Look forward to see how it changes.
  • Nov. 9:  2nd taste.  Gave it an aggressive pour, but still no head.  Ginger flavor is strong.  A bit too strong.  Hope it mellows out in the next few weeks.
  • Nov. 19:  3rd taste.  Finally, a nice head formed!  I think the problem was that my first two samples were taken from bottles that I half-filled.  I expected this reduced the amount of CO2 pressure.  The orange and spice flavors are melding well, and ginger is not as strong.  It will be ready to drink by Thanksgiving, just as I had hoped!
  • Jun. 2 '11:  I haven't done a good job of updating tasting notes on this beer.  Honestly, I wasn't too crazy about it for the first few months.  I just tasted it today for the first time in a few months.  It has really evolved in a good way!  It's never tasted better!  The spices have melded together seamlessly.  A few of my guests who tasted it last fall commented that it tastes much better now.  Spices + time = good things.
If you are likely to get a taste of this beer from me, what do you think?  Any other ideas for holiday beers?


  1. You are 2 for 2 my man .... a little more "bitter" than #1, but not in a bad way .. just a different style, yes? The "spicy" aspect of the ale seems quite muted ... which I love.

  2. The Not So Professional Brewing crew appreciates your kind feedback. Yes, this is a totally different style from #1, which used hops as the primary non-grain flavoring.

    #2 used more mellow hop varieties and relied on orange peel, ginger, and cinnamon as the primary flavorings. The spicy flavor has actually toned down a bit (as I hoped) from when I first bottled it.

    So tell me Senator, did you prefer #1 or #2?


Thoughts? Tell me what you think.