Ales brewed especially for the holidays can take on a wide range of flavors, hues, and ingredients, and they can be rooted in virtually any style. This recipe was inspired and first brewed by my wife, Barbara. It’s bright red, rich in malt flavor, and it pairs perfectly with turkey in all its various holiday incarnations (including and especially the leftovers).
Style: The base of this recipe is effectively my Irish red ale (see “You’re Not Irish Red Ale,” beerandbrewing.com), chosen for its color and ample malt character. To make it a holiday specialty, we add two turkey-centric accents—cranberry and rosemary—and infuse them into the beer. The base style should support those flavors without getting lost to the ingredients. We might have gone with an American pale ale, for example, but the malt could’ve been too stark, or the IBUs could fight with the tannins of the cranberries. A cranberry-rosemary stout may have washed out the flavors and wound up too astringent, between the tannins and the roast. The Irish red, meanwhile, is an agreeable fit—and it’s already sort of red.
Recipe: We start with a solid bready backbone of Maris Otter, adding light layers of crystal 45L and 120L for a rich caramel-toffee base. We’re also adding just a tad of chocolate rye malt—not enough to clash with the cranberry, but to maintain the color. This should get us near a pure reddish color while still pleasantly drying the palate. Hopping gets interesting here because we’re adding two ingredients that have hop-adjacent traits: The cranberry will add its own kind of bitterness, while the rosemary brings its hop-like herbal aromatics. I recommend reducing the IBUs to 15 (which is low, given the gravity and grist), while sticking with something herbal such as Saaz or Styrian Goldings. For this beer, we’ll also add plenty of fresh cranberries (not sauce or juice) and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. For the yeast, I stick with the Irish ale strain—no tinkering needed there.
Process: The brewing and fermentation proceed here much like in the Irish red ale recipe. However, once fermentation is complete, rather than cold-crashing and packaging, we take an additional week to infuse the beer with the specialty ingredients. Puree the cranberries, chop or mince the rosemary (leaves only), and add to the beer. Optionally, you can rack to secondary and add there, but I just add to the primary vessel. The cranberries are low in sugar, so any secondary fermentation or added gravity should be slight. Wait a week to let the flavors meld before crashing and packaging.
You should wind up with a ruby-red beer with a fruity, herbal nose, caramel-bready malt flavor, and a bright tart, drying finish that makes a perfect pairing for your turkey and stuffing. Best wishes for a great start to a wonderful holiday season!