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Brewing ideas for a Winter Christmas

winter christmas brew ideas

Mistletoe and Wine?

No, it's time for some brewing if you get the chance!

But what are some good brews to have a crack at over Christmas?

Depending on where you live, you're either in the heart of winter or you're enjoying t-shirts and shorts under the summer sky.

But if you're at the top of the world, perhaps somewhere in the latitude of the North Pole, winter naturally suggests that it's time for some winter ales!

A winter Christmas the diet might consist of figgy puddings, mince pies, toffee treats, caramel chews and the odd bit of dried fruit. And these food items contain 'note flavours ' that can be fairy good in an ale.

And that's not to forget cookies, mulled wine and other spices like cinnamon and orange zest.

All these things and more can go into your winter beer.

So what am I blathering on about?

Basically I'm suggesting one could make a beer which matches the food fare served on Christmas day!

Let's start with the basics. You're going to need to consider what your 'base beer' should be. Here's some traditional ideas for a Christmas or winter brew:
  • Ales!
  • Stouts, Porters
  • Wheat
  • Scotch Ale
  • Old Ale
  • Dark malty beer!
  • Nut Brown Ale
  • An old fashioned doppelbock 
One you've decided on the base you need to think about how you are going to impart some of those holiday season flavour characteristics.

There are several options to choose from...
  • Spice Up Your Life was not just an amazing mega hit song for the Spice Girls, it's a way of life for many brewers. The beer most suited to the addition of spice is a moderately dark, alcoholic beer (often an Old Ale) that has a good body to complement the cold weather and choice of spices. Just make sure you don't add the spice from Dune or your eyes will go blue! Certainly. never over spice your beer. 
  • A Belgian-style ale can be flavored with cherries and honey. Goes well with waffles, I'm told.
  • This next one may seem odd but people do seem to love a batch of Christmas cookies and if for some unfathomable reason you want your beer to taste like a biscuit, make a sweet ale and a hint of lactic acidic to get that 'warm biscuit feel'. If you're brave add a hint of maple syrup.  
  • If you're going for that classic Christmas cake vibe, why not try using some dried (or zest) citrus peel (orange and lemon), or dried fruit such as raisins or plums?
  • Coriander. It adds a lemony, spicy flavor and aroma. Coriander is typically used in Belgian ales, especially witbiers. Crush the seeds well before adding to the wort.
  • Try a combo of a cranberry and orange zest.
  • Gingerbread spices
  • Juniper berries (wanna make some gin?)
  • Mint (actUally this sounds bloody awful - Ed)
  • Mulled wine
  • Chocolate. There's many a recipe out there that incorporates chocolate.

It's important to not overspice your homebrew! How much spice is too much? 


Let's look to what the much vaunted brewer John Palmer says. For his "Ol' Yule Loggy" Christmas beer, he uses 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, and 1/8 teaspoon each of nutmeg and allspice. You can find the recipe in Palmer's Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew.

When should I brew my winter ale?


If you want to be drinking on Christmas Day, we suggest you brew two months in advance.

That is to say, you should get your brew down by the last week of October so that it has time to bottle condition nicely. There's nothing like a well condition ale so ensure you stick to this time table, especially if you want the characteristics you've worked so hard to product to really shine.

A last few points:


  • When brewing your holiday beer, consider that you might want to use as an additional fermentable such as honey, molasses, golden or maple syrup. 
  • What you may want to use less of is hops. This is beacause a beer with too much hops character would contradict the spices. 
  • You'll have to think of a cool name for your Christmas beer. Ruddolph's Revenge, Sozzled Santa, Who ate all the pies? 

Using Baking Yeast to make home brew beer

using bakering yeast with beer brewing

I was doing the shopping last night and I came across a line row of baker's yeast and I wondered if you could use that to make home brew.

After all, I'd heard of beer a craft brewer made from yeast found on his hipster beard, so why not?

So I did some research, and it turns out you can use baking yeast.

The real question is should you?

Craft brewers are probably shuddering at the thought of using a yeast that's normally used to make bread but let's have a look at the idea.

You could use baking yeast for brewing, as both yeasts (beer and baking) are different strains of the same species, saccharomyces cerevisiae. Which sounds like a good starting base!

The difference between the two kinds of yeasts is their cultivation. Each has been grown for the the attributes they bring to the final product. In the case of beer yeast, the popular strains have been cultivated for hundreds of years to hone their specific attributes being flavor produced, attenuation, and consistency.

I found a great comparison of the two: brewer's yeast was bred to produce more alcohol and less carbon dioxide while baker's yeast was bred to make more CO2 and less alcohol.

So be warned using a baking yeast in place of a brewing yeast is like driving a Ford and expecting to drive like a Ferrari!

There is of course, nothing wrong with driving a Ford.

How much baker's yeast to use? 


I've read that 11 grams of baker's yeast per 5 gallon or 23 liter fermenter drum is recognised by many brewers as a fair amount to pitch in.  Too much more will probably be redundant. 

What percentage alcohol does bread yeast make?


Bread yeast tends to ferment alcohol up to about 8% without too much effort, but when trying to produce alcohol beyond this level, the bread yeast begin to struggle, very often stopping around 9% or 10%. And that's actually fine because beers are generally brewed between 4 and 8 per cent.

Clearing baker's yeast


When using this yeast, you just have to be conscious that your beer won't taste as clean or look as clear as beer that you may have become accustomed to brewing.

This is in part because the yeast doesn't settle quite as well as most brewer's yeast does. Careful pouring and chilling the bottles before pouring will help alleviate this somewhat.

If you are bottle conditioning, another trick you could try to clear the baker's yeast, is by cold crashing the fermented wort (often referred to as the primary) and then racking it to a bottling bucket and then bottling.

The reason is that the baker's yeast will likely stay suspended in the beer for a lot longer than brewing yeast does (it has a tendency to be awesome at floccing out and then sticking to the bottom of bottles). The cold temperature will force the baking yeast out of suspension and to the bottle of your beer.

Can I use baker's yeast to make mead?


You sure can. Wine too! Some specific mead recipies state to use baker's yeast!

Using it to rescue a beer


If you're worried your pitched beer yeast has run out of puff, in a pinch you could add some baker's yeast to help get things going again. Just remember by adding a second yeast, the intended nature of your beer will change. If you go down this path you may need to activate the yeast in water before you pitch it, just to give it a helping hand. 

How to save time and make beer bottling easier


There's no doubt that the care and maintenance of beer bottles to ensure a good brew can be a pain in the ass to keep up and get right.

From cleaning the bottles, removing label, sanitising, filling and capping there's a lot to take care of and it can take a fair amount of time to get bottling done.

The obvious answer to save time is to keg your beer but for many brewers, that's a step too far both in the scale of their brewing and expense.

So for those keen beer bottlers, here's 5 ways to cut down on bottling time and getting your beer in the bottle more easily

Sanitize all your bottles at once in a big enough bucket


Sanitizing your beer bottles is a key element of beer brewing to keep those bugs at bay. A trick I like to do is dump all my bottles in a giant plastic washing basket, drop in some sodium percarbonate and fill it all up with the garden hose.

It's a pretty efficient way of ensuring you have healthy clean bottles ready because of you are bottling 23 liters of beer, a 30 or 35 liter bucket will be enough for all the necessary bottles to be covered in percarbonate solution.

The beauty of the sodium percarbonate is that it's 'no rinse' so you just need to empty the bottles and you are good to begin bottling.

So, now your bottles are sanitised, you may now wish to consider batch priming.

Batch Priming Beer to save time


In short, priming the batch is when one adds the entire amount of sugar needed to the fermenter so that when you fill each bottle, you don't need to add sugar as well, it's already in the beer wort. 

It saves you time as you don't need to add sugar to each individual bottle and it also saves you mess as we all know how sugar can end up everywhere when bottling!

This sounds simple right?

It really is. Here's how to do it but for this easy, the consideration of how much sugar to use is really important because if you add too much sugar you will suffer the terrible fate of beer gushers!

How much sugar do I need to prime a batch or beer?


Batch priming benefits from some simple calculations that can be made to get that sugar just right.

If you're using a kit, you've probably used 23 litres (5 gallons) so the focus is on how much sugar you need to use. 

So first up, different beers need different levels of sugar. Advice from people who have brewed many beers suggests that ales need less sugar than lager style beers.

This is because many drinkers prefer a lager to have more carbonation and ales are quite drinkable with less.

Our analysis of beer brewing forums suggests these are the commonly used amounts of sugars to use for priming for a 23 liter brew.
  • Dextrose (Corn sugar) 3/4 cup or 4 or 5 oz / 95 grams
  • Cane sugar 2/3 cup or 3.8 - 4.8 oz / 86 grams
  • Dry Malt Extract - 130 grams
If you are priming with a different volume of beer, I suggest you try this priming calculator.

There's a reason Cinderella's Fairy God Mother used a wand


A bottling wand can help make bottling beer so easy. You stick the wand into the tap. You can then bottle without the need to turn the fermenter tap on and off because the wand's automatic foot-valve can control the flow of beer into the bottle when you touch the bottom of it to the bottom of the beer bottle!

Using a bottling wand also very handily keeps too much oxygen from entering your beer!

Capping your beer - two tools to do it


Beer cappers come in two forms being the hand held and the bench capper, one is easier than the other.

The 'wing' hand held capper


The hand held wing capper is a popular way to cap your beer. Often referred to as universal Rigamonti cappers  or the Red Baron, they are pretty handy and durable to use.

They do have a couple of draw backs - they can sometimes be hard to separate from the capped bottle if you've applied too much pressure and if you do apply to much force, then you can break the glass bottle, which is something that really bugs me.

It's actually very satisfying getting a cap on a bottle properly, there's this sudden 'thump' moment when the crown bends down and forms the seal.

If you get into a good rhythm, you can cap bottles very quickly, especially if you line them up with the caps on the top and go down them like a factory line.

The bench capper method of bottling

The bench capper can be easier to use because it's a simple pull down lever action that one does with one hand whilst the other hand holds the bottle firmly in place. 

If you think a bench capper is for you we suggest that you buy one that accommodates different sized bottles. 

The Ferrari model does exactly that which can be quite handy if your bottle collection is all kinds of different shapes and sized.

Any decent beer cap should have a magnet where the cap goes so that it doesn't fall out just as you go to clamp it down!

So well done, you have easily bottled your beer and hopefully saved yourself some time. 

Your work is not finished 


No, you need to properly condition your beer and that doesn't mean you hide it in a under a tired blanket in an old swap-a-crate box and forget about it for a few weeks. 

Well actually you can do this if you want to be a reckless beer brewer, but it you want beer that you would be proud to share with friends,  there's a few things to think about when storing beer.

Here's some things to think about when storing your beer.
  • It's really good to have a storage place where the temperature is maintained at a steady rate.
  • Ales are condition best at lower temperatures
  • Lagers are happier to condition under higher temperatures
  • The middle of your house is probably cooler than nearer the outside. That could be a factor where you store beer.
  • If you find your beers are in too hot a place, move them!
  • Whatever you do, keep them away from direct sunlight. 
Now let that beer rest quietly for at least three weeks. Before you enjoy that first taste test, refrigerate your beer for at least a few hours.