A favorite ritual in my homebrewing hobby has become the yearly specialty beer, often referred to as a Christmas beer. Easy to label, but hard to define, it is a fall event that provides great variety to go with wonderful drinking.
Broken down as a process, brewing beer is a lot like cooking. When making a Christmas beer, creativity of ingredients makes all the difference. First attempts can be played safe by just following a published recipe. My early efforts came out of a fabulous book by Randy Mosher called Radical Brewing. Among the ‘Twelve Beers of Christmas’ section, Mosher includes a Carmel Quadruple, Spiced Cherry Dubbel, Juniper Rye Bock, Fruitcake Old Ale, Honey Ginger IPA, and a Gingerbread Ale. Add in spices like cranberry, saffron, star anise, caraway, orange peel, etc. This list of herbs and spices is almost certain to create a special result.
One of my regular customers, Shaun Laughlin, just pitched yeast into his 2019 Christmas beer called Mexican Hot Chocolate. A 10% ABV Russian Imperial Stout with Abolita chocolate, caramel cream coffee beans, cinnamon sticks and 4 separate (Caroline Reaper, Bhutjolokia, Trinidad Scorpion & Scotch Bonnet) peppers. These are the hottest peppers Shaun could find and that makes me a little nervous if I get a bottle gifted to me for the holidays.
My recent Christmas beer went into the fermentor on the 1st of November. It is the evolution of the Halloween pumpkin sitting next to my front door the night before. Carved up into 2 inch squares, sprinkled with brown sugar and roasted for one hour to bake, soften and skin. This Red ale has additions of cloves, nutmeg, allspice, hazelnut, honey and vanilla. The vanilla is pure extract purchased on my last cruise to Mexico (the best vanilla) made from vanilla bean. Portioning and balance of the spices is the key to a good pumpkin pie beer as the pumpkin alone adds very little to the flavor of the final result.
The Christmas holiday brings friends and family together for a celebration. Why not make it special with homemade beer that pushes non-traditional ingredients added to the best recipes. Taking it up a level is what a Christmas beer is all about… Merry Christmas everyone.
Photos by Steve Berg