It’s funny, but we don’t just eat turkey throughout the year. I can’t understand why, but you don’t usually see people lining up at the grocery store in March saying, “well, just about St. Patrick’s Day, might as well fire up a 25-pound turkey!” Since this is the time when we do, though (between Thanksgiving and Christmas you get two of those suckers in a six-week span), I thought it might be a timely and appropriate moment to share a recipe for a holiday ale that was inspired (and first brewed by) my wife, Barbara. It’s a nice, bright red in color, is seasonably rich in malt flavor, and pairs perfectly with turkey in all of its various holiday incarnations (including – and maybe especially – the leftovers). I’m proud to present our Turkey’s Delight Cranberry Irish Red Ale, for your holiday brewing pleasure.
Specialty Beers now have a greater range of style categories to choose from than ever before, and this beer could conceivably fit into several of them – I won’t tell you how to enter it. What I can say, though, is that the base of this recipe is effectively my “You’re Not Irish” Irish Red Ale. It seemed like a good fit for a variety of reasons, ranging from its name (the beer was literally going to be red) to the nice and rich (but not overpowering) malty character. Specialty beers also need to feature special ingredients in ways that make for a harmonious beer in which the underlying style is both noticeable and complemented by the special ingredients we’re adding. In this case, we’re taking two turkey-centric accents (cranberry and rosemary) and infusing them into the beer. Irish Red provides a supportive profile for those flavors, and at the same time it’s possible to notice the base beer style underneath. A cranberry-rosemary American Pale Ale would be a little too stark (and the IBUs would fight the tannin of the cranberry), and a cranberry-rosemary stout would probably wash out the flavors and end up too astringent. Irish Red, though, is a perfect fit. And it’s already sort of red.
We start with ten pounds of Maris Otter for a solid bready backbone, and add in half a pound each of 45L and 120L Fawcett Crystal malts to give ourselves a rich caramel-and-toffee base beer. To that we add a little less than the usual amount of chocolate rye malt than the original base recipe calls for (four ounces instead of about six), since the cranberries will add a bit of tightening tannin and color. This makes the beer more pure red than copper, and it’s still pleasantly drying on the palate.
Hopping gets a bit weird here because we’re adding two ingredients that have hop-related effects. The cranberry will make the beer seem a bit less-sweet and more-bitter, while the rosemary will add a hops-like herbaceous character. As a result, I recommend reducing the IBUs to 15 (which is low, given the gravity and grist), and also sticking with something herbal like Saaz or Styrian Goldings; added at 60 minutes, not much flavor should persist, but what does will then be in the same flavor family as the rosemary we’re going to add.
For this beer you’ll also need three pounds of fresh cranberries (not sauce or juice, but actual cranberries), and an ounce of minced fresh rosemary (just buy a small bundle of it from the local grocery, and dice/weigh out your own).
Finally, I stick with the Irish Ale yeast from Wyeast. No tinkering needed.
Nothing much changes here in the mash or the boil. Leave the cranberry and rosemary out of the equation, and brew this up just like you would any other Irish Red.
Fermentation is likewise unaffected. You can start in the low-sixties for the first few days, and then raise to about 68F to finish up. Rather than cold-crashing and moving to packaging, however, you’re going to take an additional week to infuse the beer with your specialty ingredients.
Puree the cranberries and add to your beer. At the same time, chop/mince your rosemary (just the needles) and add it as well. If you’re particularly concerned about your yeast bed causing some kind of reaction, then I suppose you can rack into a secondary vessel with these ingredients ready and waiting, but I just add them to the primary. You might experience a slight secondary fermentation, but cranberries aren’t especially sugar-laden, so you’re adding only a nominal amount of gravity. All the same, wait a week to let the flavors meld and those sugars ferment off before packaging.
Cold crash to help clear, and carbonate to about 2 volumes of CO2.
At the end of the day, you should have a ruby-red beer with a fruity and herbal nose, a caramel-bready malt flavor, and a bright tart, drying finish that makes a perfect pairing for your turkey and stuffing. It’s even just the right color to keep on tap right through the winter holidays and Valentine’s Day. Best wishes for a great start to a wonderful holiday season!
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