How To Brew a Holiday Spiced Ale You’ll Love

With the holiday season in full swing, there is no better time to brew a holiday spiced ale. While this style can be a wonderful addition to your winter tap list, it is easy to go overboard on the spices and make a muddled mess. For this recipe, we will be using a rich, malty, English amber ale as our base beer. In addition to our spices, we have one unique addition – graham crackers.

Holiday Spiced Ale Ingredients

Malt

For the holiday spiced ale, I prefer an amber beer with a rich, slightly sweet, malt profile with notes of biscuit, honey, and light toffee. To do this, I use Maris Otter as my base malt at around 60% – 70% of the grain bill. This adds a rich maltiness with nutty, biscuity flavors. To this, I add around 10% of both biscuit and honey malt, 6% – 8% of light crystal malt (around 40 Lovibond), and less than 2% of chocolate malt. The biscuit and honey malts add, as you might expect, biscuit and honey flavors. The crystal malt helps build up some sweetness and adds light caramel and toffee flavors. The chocolate malt works mostly as a color adjustor but does add a slight touch of complexity.

Our final special ingredient is graham crackers. We add about 16 ounces of graham crackers per 5 gallons. This step is optional, as the graham crackers themselves do not add much flavor and are mostly added for fun. They do, however, help produce some of the best-smelling wort I have ever made. The combination of this grain bill with the graham crackers makes our brewery smell like a bakery. One note of caution if you decide to use graham crackers – make sure you add an extra quart or so of strike water to account for the graham crackers or you will end up with an extremely thick mash.

Hops

For the holiday spiced ale, I love the way English hops pair with both the malt profile we just built and the spices we will add later. As you may be able to tell from my other English-styled recipes, two of my favorite English hops are Fuggles and East Kent Goldings. Both add an earthy flavor with a smooth bitterness. I add between 13 and 15 IBUs at 60 minutes, and between 2 and 5 IBUs at 5 minutes.

Spices

The amount of spices that you add is completely up to you. For this recipe, I add enough that the spices are prominent in both the aroma and flavor, but not so much that the malt profile is completely overwhelmed. Below is the list of all of the spices I used and how much I use per 5 gallons. I put these spices in a mesh bag and add them with 5 minutes left in the boil and keep them in contact with the wort throughout knockout. For the vanilla beans, make sure you cut them open and scoop out the seeds. Add both the bean and the seeds to the mesh bag for maximum flavor.

  • Cinnamon Stick: 4 sticks
  • Coriander Seed: 10 seeds
  • Orange Peel: 0.75 ounces
  • Allspice Berries: 7 berries
  • Nutmeg: 1 seed
  • Whole Clove: 1 clove
  • Vanilla Bean: 1 vanilla bean

Yeast

For the Holiday Spiced Ale, any of the following are good choices. I like a strain that promotes malt character and finishes slightly sweet.

  • English Ale Yeast – WLP002 (White Labs)
  • British Ale – 1098 (Wyeast)
  • California Ale Yeast – WLP001 (White Labs)

Water

Last but not least, the water. I use a reverse osmosis filtration system for all beers I brew and build up my water profile from scratch. My water profile looked like this:

  • Calcium: 50 ppm
  • Sodium: 15 ppm
  • Sulfates: 55 ppm
  • Chloride: 65 ppm

Holiday Spiced Ale Recipe

The following is a 5-gallon batch of a Holiday Spiced Ale. The numbers for this beer are included below.

  • Original Gravity: 1.053
  • Final Gravity: 1.012 – 1.016
  • Alcohol by Volume: 5.3%
  • Bitterness: 17.8 IBU
  • Color (SRM): 15

Grain Bill

  • Maris Otter – 7 lbs (70.7%)
  • Honey Malt – 1 lb (10.1%)
  • Biscuit Malt – 1 lb (10.1%)
  • Light Crystal 40L – 12 oz (7.6%)
  • Chocolate Malt – 2.4 oz (1.5%)
  • 1 lb Honey Maid Graham Crackers (Optional)

Hops

  • 0.85 oz East Kent Goldings at 60 minutes (14.4 IBUs)
  • 1.00 oz East Kent Goldings at 5 minutes (3.4 IBUs)

Spices (At 5 Minutes)

  • Cinnamon Stick: 4 sticks
  • Coriander Seed: 8 seeds
  • Orange Peel: 0.5 ounces
  • Allspice Berries: 7 berries
  • Nutmeg: 1 seed
  • Whole Clove: 1 clove
  • Vanilla Bean: 1 vanilla bean

Yeast

English Ale Yeast – WLP002

Mash

Add your salts and pH buffer if needed, and fill your mash tun to the required volume and temperature for your mash to drop to 152 degrees Fahrenheit. For me, it was 3.3 gallons at 163 degrees Fahrenheit. After 60 minutes, raise your mash temperature to 168 degrees for mash out. After mashing out, begin to sparge until you reach a pre-boil gravity of around 1.047. For me, it was 4.90 gallons.

Boil

Boil the wort for 90 minutes. Add the hops and spices in as necessary. At 10 minutes, I added yeast nutrients and at 5 minutes I added whirlfloc tablets as my clarifying agent. Once the boil is complete, whirlpool the wort for 10 minutes and then let it wind down for 10 minutes.

Fermentation

Knock the wort out in your heat exchanger so that the pitching temperature is 64 degrees and then measure the gravity and pitch the yeast. My initial gravity was 1.053. Let the temperature free rise up to 67 degrees and hold through fermentation. Once you are within 5 specific gravity points from your target FG, let the temperature free rise up to 72 degrees. After 48 hours, cold crash to 33 degrees and hold for another 48 hours. Once your cold crash is complete, transfer it to the brite tank and carbonate it to 2.6 vols. After 3 days in the brite tank, keg it and enjoy!

If you decide to try this recipe, or another Holiday Spiced Ale recipe, feel free to send us a comment and let us know how it went! And if you want to see more recipes like this, sign up for our newsletter below to be notified when a new post is released. Cheers!

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