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Label Peelers Christmas Ale Kit

I've made a couple of attempts at Christmas ales that just didn't come close to what I wanted. The hops would be overwhelming everything, the spices undetectable, or the spice balance not quite what I was looking for. I decided it was time to try a kit, and the Label Peelers kit had great reviews.

It's an extract kit, which I don't typically brew, so that meant a shift from my usual process.

Ingredients

9 pounds Amber DME
1 pound Dark Candi Sugar (rocks)
1 pound Crystal 80L
8 ounces Chocolate Malt
2 tsp. Allspice
1 tsp. Cardamom Seeds
1 ounce Cinnamon Stick
1 ounce Sweet Orange Peel
0.50 ounces Ginger Root
0.25 ounces Magnum hops @ 12.3% AA (dropped from 1 ounce in the kit/recipe)
0.50 ounces Cascade hops @ 6.3% AA (dropped from 1 ounce in the kit)
0.75 ounces Cascade hops @ 6.3% AA (dropped from 1 ounce in the kit)
0.50 teaspoons Yeast Nutrient
1/2 Whirlfloc tablet
1 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 packet Safbrew S-33 yeast

The kit included 3 ounces of hops, which BeerSmith indicated would make for a very hoppy brew. A hop-forward Christmas Ale might be what the recipe creator liked, but it would not suit me or most of my friends and family.  I chose a hop level that worked out to a bitterness ratio (IBU/SG) that approximated Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas and some others I'm fond of.  If your taste differs, you may wish to include the original 3 ounces of hops.

BeerSmith reported the estimated stats for this beer at:
  • OG: 1.079
  • IBUs: 21.5
  • Color: 37.7 SRM
  • Est. ABV: 8.1%
  • Total Hops: 1.50 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.272 IBU/SG
  • Estimated Pre-boil Gravity: 1.071 SG
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.018 SG
  • Batch Size: 5.1 gallons
  • Boil time: 60 minutes
  • Estimated Pre-boil Volume: 6.4 gallons
The recipe indicates that fermenter volume might be 5.25 to 5.5 gallons.

The brewing process:
  • Steep the grains for 20 minutes in 155F water
  • Add water to 6 gallons
  • Bring to a boil, turn off heat
  • Stir in the DME
  • Return to a boil, start timer
  • 60 minutes:  Add Magnum hops and first Cascade hops addition (0.5 oz.)
  • 20 minutes: Add spices
  • 10 minutes:  Add Cascade (0.75 oz.) hops, whirlfloc, yeast nutrient
  • 7 minutes: Recirculate wort through chiller to sterilize
  • 0 minutes: Turn off heat, cool chiller, pump into fermenter
After brewing, my actual results were:
  • OG: 21.1 Brix or 1.088 (vs. expected 1.079)
  • Fermenter volume: a little over 5 gallons (5.1 expected)
  • Wort temperature: 69.9F after chilling
  • Estimated ABV: 8.9%
  • Estimated IBUs: 19.9
  • Estimated Bitterness Ratio: 0.227 IBU/SG
Post-Mortem and Other Notes

This brew went pretty much as expected.  I dissolved the candi sugar rocks in boiling water before the boil began, and added that water after removing the steeping grain.  Everything else went according to the recipe provided by Label Peelers. The finished beer hit the fermenter below 70F owing to the cold ground water and counter flow chiller.

The recipe indicates that the beer should ferment at 67-71F for 7-10 days, after which it can be transferred to secondary for 3-4 weeks, then primed and bottle conditioned.  I'm planning to skip secondary with this one.  That means primary fermentation ought to complete around Tuesday, December 19.  I'm not a believer in secondary fermentation, so mostly likely I'll just bottle the beer at that time and let it bottle condition. This might have it drinkable by December 25. We'll see.  More likely it will be ready a week after.

12/11/2017:  The yeast is working hard at this point. The temperature inside the fermenter is over 75F despite the ambient temperature being around 69F.  There is regular activity out of the airlock.  I chose not to use the temperature control system on this batch since S-33 is a Belgian yeast strain and those tend to produce more flavor when under a little stress - and 75F isn't particularly high for a Belgian yeast strain to reach, though admittedly it's at the upper end of the recommended range for this one.

12/17/2017:  The beer has shown no significant signs of fermentation for a few days now. I suspect that fermentation is complete already.  My plan is to get it bottled today so that it can condition until Christmas.  Gravity read 12.1 Brix, which when adjusted by BeerSmith worked out to 9.14% ABV. That's quite a bit higher than the 8.1% that I originally expected and slightly more than the 8.9% that I calculated after pumping it into the fermenter.

12/17/2017:  I bottled the beer tonight. Bottled 12 bomber-sized 22-ounce bottles and the rest of the batch in 12-ounce bottles.  Got roughly a case of those.  The beer has a nice aroma and flavor, even at room temperature and flat. I'm looking forward to opening some on Christmas Eve to check the carbonation.

12/22/2017:  Today I labeled the bottles of beer and moved most of them into my "hot box" (a marine cooler with temperature controller and fermentation wrap heater).  They will be held at 76F until I need the cooler for another batch.

12/24/2017:  The beer has an aroma that is very similar to Thirsty Dog's 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale.  The spice profile is similar as well.  Ginger comes through strongly, with (I think) nutmeg or allspice right behind that. The beer seems properly carbonated already.  I'm glad that I followed my instincts and dialed the hops way back. I'm fairly confident that I would have hated this beer if it had been hopped with the three ounces of hops that came with the kit.  If I was making this again, I'd consider increasing the cinnamon and replacing Cascade with a more-neutral noble hop like Saaz.  Even without that change, it's a good beer and definitely reminiscent of 12 Dogs.

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