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Winter Spiced Beer

January 7, 2013

I’ve been wanting to make a spiced holiday beer since it started getting cold and now that the holidays are largely over, I’ll finally get to it 😉

To me, a holiday spiced beer is one that’s pretty high alcohol with some prominent holiday-type spices.  Luckily The Jamil Show (and likely the BJCP) feels the same way even if most commercial offerings of “Holiday” beers don’t.  So all I’m doing is following Jamil’s recipe from the “Winter Spiced Beer” episode with minor alterations to account for using up the last of my 55# grain bags (discussed in “Pre-Brew”).


BeerSmith Recipe / Brewsheet


With slight modification, this recipe should wipe me out of my Maris Otter.  Honestly, I think it will utilize the last of my Munich also, though I’m really not sure if I have some left or not.  This is because once my 55# bags got down to a manageable size, I transferred them to 1 gallon glass jars (I have an abundance of them) and did a poor job of annotation.  However, I did note in BeerSmith that I had about 9.25 pounds of Maris Otter.  Unfortunately, I found about 13.25 pounds of grain in 3 jars, so I’m thinking I either forgot about one jar when entering into BeerSmith or one of them is Munich Malt.  To complicate matters, I have contradictory indicators as to what is what.  On one hand, two were located close to one another while the 3rd was somewhat separate, indicating the third is more likely to be Munich.  On the other hand, the first and 3rd weighed together gives right around the 9.25 pounds I thought I had of Maris Otter, while the 2nd is noticeably less full and would not combine with either of the other 2 to make the correct weight.  Finally (the 3rd hand?), the 3rd jar is probably the palest (indicating Maris Otter) but that could just be because it has more chaff, and smells most like Munich.

All in all, I’m inclined to decide – based on weight combinations and smell – the less filled jar is Munich Malt despite co-location issues.  Figuring it won’t ruin the beer to have almost 4 pounds of Munich substituting for Maris Otter, I’m going to assume it’s all Maris Otter and run with it.

Brew Day (1/8/13)

Brew day was a bit of a warmer day than we’ve had in recent weeks (got up to ~40 F).  That means the garden hose for my chiller was filled with ice.  I was able to turn the faucet on full though, and walk along the length of the hose, bending it to break up the chunks.  Starting out at a trickle, eventually (~10 minutes or so?) the flow was up to full blast.  Unfortunately both the inlet and outlet to the chiller leaked after hooking it up.  The outlet was pretty obvious, so I had to deal with that immediately; the inlet was more subtle, so much so that I’m afraid it might have been doing it for a few brews.  I was unable to completely fix it, so I stopped the cooldown at ~100 F and let the chill of the day carry the temps down to ~75 F or so before bringing the carboys in.  Ended up pitching in the low-70’s.

Overall, it was a very tiring brew day.  Between running back and forth over mounds of snow – especially during the back-and-forth chilling period – and the standard lifting of several gallons of liquid, I was pretty beat by the end.  To top it off, I decided to take the down time between steps to clean out my garage.  I felt like I had eradicated the squirrels and mice, so I wanted to remove the remnants of them.

After adding spices, they seem awfully subtle.  A guy in the brew club said he brewed Jamil’s winter spiced ale also, and the spicing was pretty subtle, so I think I’ll end up adding spices to one of the carboys at least.  Fortunately I have 2 carboys so I can keg and sample the first before messing with the second.

  • Excessive leftover wort


For fermentation, I have the challenge of keeping the alcohol smooth in this high gravity beer along with getting sufficient fruitiness.  For me, those are two competing goals.  For alcohol smoothness, I generally shoot for low fermentation temperatures, while fruitiness is accentuated by higher.  So what I’m going to try to do is start out fermentation on the low side and gradually ramp up nearer the end.  I need to make sure that sufficient primary fermentation exists in the warm stage to be able to contribute enough.

I’m going with my standard 10-gallon regimine for temperature control:  one carboy in my 20-gallon Rubbermaid filled with water and controlled with an aquarium heater, and the other wrapped in the plant propagation mat and covered with a blanket.

I ended up pitching in the low-70’s.  The Rubbermaid carboy was surrounded with mid-60’s water initially, so it likely stabilized temp fairly quickly.  I let both sit overnight with the house thermostat set to 62 F without their temp controls powered on.  By the following morning, steady airlock activity was noted in both.  By 36 hours after pitching, a modest krausen had build and airlock activity was steady.  This activity persisted about 1.5 days before I started ramping up temperatures.  With its manual control, I was a little heavy-handed with the propagation mat, really just applying a step ramp (from mid- to upper-60’s up to low-70’s).  For the Rubbermaid, I was more controlled, giving the thermostat a slight bump every once in a while (starting from ~66 F).

Overall, the Rubbermaid fermenter had higher temperatures by ~5 F.  On sampling, it had a little hot alcohol to it, so I kegged it first (after ~2 weeks), preferring to keep the other fermenter happily cooler.  In retrospect, it might have made more sense to leave the one with hot alcohol to condition longer.

Kegged both (about 1 week or so apart) with 1L gyle saved from brew day.  After kegging, the first was left in ~65 F room for a few days before losing patience and putting in keezer on CO2 pressure.  The second keg was less rushed, staying in the keg for more than 1 week before tapping.

After impression from the first keg, I added another dose of spices to boiling water (~2 T) at the 6-gallon rate given by Jamil (1/2 t cinnamon, 1/4 t ginger, etc.) and added to the second keg (which had been kegged for ~1 week already).


Rubbermaid keg (1st one kegged) – caramelly-sweet aroma, not unlike my scottish ales.  Spice aroma not evident.  A little hot alcohol in the flavor, with caramelly sweetness, a little more balanced with bitterness than some of my scottish ales.  After serving for a few days, clear, dark reddish color (initial few days were very cloudy with yeast sediment).

Final Verdict

Definitely underpitched and – in the case of the Rubbermaid – fermented too warm, leading to significant hot alcohol.  Drinking any more than a pint from the Rubbermaid-fermented batch was a morning headache guarantee.

Spicing was far too light and when increased – on a per-pint basis – didn’t taste quite right.  I might want to consider something more spruce-tip-like and assertive for a next batch.


From → Ale, Brews, Partial Mash

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