Two months is just enough time to turn out a flavorful ale with enough character and warmth to get you through the darkest part of the year and into the next year. There isn’t quite enough time to brew up a great winter lager (though you could get started on a fantastic Weihnachtsbier for next year!), so in this article we’ll stick to ales.
A holiday ale is simply an ale that you brew for the winter holidays. Whether you celebrate Festivus, Christmas, Calan Gaeaf, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Yuletide, or the solstice, any beer you brew to enjoy as part of the festivities is a holiday ale. But, as is so often the case, such beers tend to fall within certain established categories. Here, then, are a few to consider.
Spiced anything: Take your favorite beer recipe, add any combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice, and voilà: Holiday beer! While the sky is the limit, remember that more is not always better when it comes to such potent spices. Vanilla, cacao nibs, cinnamon, and chiles can turn an ordinary stout into one reminiscent of Mexican hot chocolate.
Fruited and nutted anything: Once again, you’re limited only by your imagination. Pumpkin, cranberry, almond (think marzipan), and hazelnut are obvious choices, but don’t forget that the dead of winter is peak citrus season. If you’ve had your eyes on a blood orange wheat, this may be the ideal time to make that happen.
Join Odell Brewing Company lead cellarman (and longtime homebrewer) Jay Montez as he leads you through an ingredient-by-ingredient master class on adding flavors to your beer. Get the Craft Beer & Brewing DVD today!
Winter warmer: This one’s my personal favorite. A malt-focused British ale that sort of straddles the line between a brown ale and a barleywine, winter warmer isn’t so much a category as a family. Some examples are spiced, and some are not. Some may barely break 5 percent ABV, while others approach 10. The unifying themes are elevated alcohol and a spicy (though not necessarily spiced) malt profile that hints at dark fruit and toffee.
Bière de Noël: Bigger, warmer, and more malty than everyday Bière de Garde, this French winter warmer benefits from a long period of cold conditioning, but if you ferment on the cool side, it’s not too late to get one ready. Start with a basic Bière de Garde recipe and boost the malt, alcohol, and final gravity.
Finally, don’t forget to brew an extra batch as gifts for friends and family. Homebrew is an excellent gift: one I guarantee will be far better received than a sweater.