Posts Tagged spice

Christmas beer! (And thoughts on ingredients and methods.)

The other day, I bottled my Christmas ale, and it’ll be fizzy and ready to drink this weekend.  It was a success, and I’m excited to drink it.  The concept was a red ale with Pacifica hops and spice and orange peel infusions.  I did a lot with this beer that was a little different than I have done in the past, to try to get a better product and it really worked out for me.

I used Maris Otter base malt for the first time (specifically the Thomas Fawcett MO). I’ve never been much of a fan of American 6-row because I don’t think it really has any flavor.  By contrast, 2-row, especially British 2-row is more complex, and it brings a lot to the beer.  MO is similar to 2-row, but more so.  It’s not powerfully flavored, just complex and grainy, and maybe a bit earthy.  You can tell why it is the traditional base for ales.  The MO flavor carried right through to the final product, and it was a smashing success. 

The funny thing is the main reason I’d never used MO before is that it’s kind of nichey, and I had never seen it in a recipe.  All the ones I’ve read call for 2-row or 6-row, so when I got to designing my own recipes, I fell into that same rut.  So, MO was a pleasant surprise.  It’ll probably be my default base malt for ales in the future.

Traditionally red ales are made with roasted barley, from which they get their red color.  I had to sub black patent, so I didn’t actually get a red color, but rather a pale brown.  It hasn’t made any discernible impact on the flavor, but since the beer is spiced, I may just not be noticing.  I have learned that Beersmith’s color estimates are off, at least for my setup.  My beers always come out paler than estimated, even though the alcohol estimates are always spot-on.

I raved in an earlier post about the Pacific hops, and I’m going to rave about them some more.  They’re fantastic.  They’re low-alpha, so they’re not too bitter, and they’re very, very earthy.  That’s the main flavor I get out of them.  I’ve heard other references say that they are citrusy, but I’m not convinced my sensitivity to citrus is very high.  Maybe others will get that out of them, but I get an earthiness that pairs fantastically with the complexity of the Maris Otter malt and the yeast flavors from British ale yeast.  If SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) brewing is your thing, I’d bet you could make a spectacular Special Bitter with Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter and Pacifica hops.

In the past, I’ve treated orange peel according to the recommendations I’ve read online–boil them for 5 minutes like a late hop addition.  I’ve always been deeply dissatisfied with the results.  I just don’t get much orange flavor coming through.  I did that with this beer, and it was no good.  So, this time, I added orange peel to the secondary for the last 10 days before bottling.  (It was supposed to be 6, but my bottling got delayed.)  I’ve done this with fruit flesh additions in the past with great success.  I was a little concerned that I would get unpleasant bitterness from the whites of the peels, but I really didn’t.  I used an ounce of dried bitter orange peel and an ounce of dried sweet orange peel.  It works well in this beer, but it’s too intense for something like a Belgian white.  If I ever do another one of those (I’m not a big fan of Belgian beers) I’ll probably do a 7-day infusion with a half ounce or two-thirds of an ounce total.  The infusion also included a healthy handful of cloves and a stick of cinnamon.  I’ve heard it from beer judges that you shouldn’t use cloves in beer, because it’s a phenolic off-flavor, so when you drink it, you’ll go, “there’s something wrong with this beer.”  I disagree, at least for my palate.  I think you have to be trained to think of cloves as a beer contaminant, and I haven’t been.  With the orange peel especially, it makes my palate go, “Yum! Christmas!”

So that’s my experience with the 2012 Christmas Ale.  I really hit the ball out of the park with this one, and learned some pretty cool stuff about ingredients. 

You should be able to get Maris Otter at any homebrew store.  Pacifica hops are a bit rarer, but New Zealand hops are getting easier to find all the time.  If your local doesn’t stock them, they’re easy to order online. (But check your local first.)


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