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Christmas Ale 2018

Last year, I brewed a Christmas Ale extract kit from the good folks at Label Peelers. It made a really good Christmas Ale, especially after I dialed down the hops.

This time, I want something more Belgian-like. I'm aiming for a nice malty base with a hint of chocolate. I'll use Magnum hops to bitter it, but Bramling Cross hops for flavor and aroma. Bramling Cross can impart fruity, citrus, blackcurrant, loganberry, gooseberry, and lemon notes to a beer - which I think will blend nicely with the spice mix. I'm planning to use almost the same spice mix as the Label Peelers kit from last year, but doubling the amount of cinnamon stick used to punch that up and dialing back the ginger by half. I'm also adding some nutmeg.

Since I have a packet of Wyeast 3522 Ardennes yeast on hand, I'll use that for fermentation. This yeast is known to produce a balance of fruity esters and spicy phenols which will hopefully go well with the beer. Being a fan of Belgian style beers, I'm curious to see how it will turn out.

Ingredients

7 pounds 2-row Pale Malt
8 ounces Crystal 60L Malt
8 ounces British Pale Chocolate Malt
8 ounces Crystal 80L Malt
0.15 ounces Magnum hops @ 13.5% AA (60 min.)
0.50 ounces Bramling Cross hops @ 6.5% AA (15 min.)
0.50 ounces Bramling Cross hops @ 6.5% AA (5 min.)
1 tsp. Allspice (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Cardamom, ground (20 min.)
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg (20 min.)
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon, ground (20 min.)
0.65 ounces Sweet Orange Peel (20 min.)
1/8 ounce Ground Ginger (20 min.)
1/2 tsp. Brewtan B (5 min.)
1/2 tsp. Brewtan B (mash)
1/4 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
1 packet Wyeast 3522 Ardennes ale yeast
3 gallons plus 40 ounces of starting water, carbon filtered

The Picobrew Recipe Crafter estimates that the beer will have the following characteristics:
  • BJCP Style: 30.C Winter Seasonal Beer
  • Original Gravity: 1.082 SG (actual was 1.059 SG, but volume was high)
  • Final Gravity: 1.016 SG
  • IBUs: 20
  • SRM: 27
  • ABV: 8.5%
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons (actual was a little over 3 gallons)
Mash
The mash schedule will be:
  • Dough In at 102F for 20 minutes
  • Ferulic Acid rest at 113F for 20 minutes
  • Beta Glucan rest at 120F for 20 minutes
  • Mash at 156F for 30 minutes
  • Mash at 159F for 60 minutes (aiming for a sweeter, full-bodied brew)
  • Mash out at 175F for 10 minutes
Boil Schedule

The boil schedule:
  • 60 minutes: Magnum hops
  • 20 minutes: Allspice, Cardamom, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Orange Peel, Ginger
  • 15 minutes: Bramling Cross
  • 5 minutes: Bramling Cross and Brewtan B
Fermentation and Bottling

The wort will be chilled using a counter-flow chiller to as low a temp as it can get, most likely around 77F given past experience (note: actual temp ended up being 84F). That's a bit hotter than the yeast cares for, but I'll need time for the package to swell up before pitching it anyway, so perhaps by then the beer will have cooled down. If not, I'll wait for it to get down into the yeast's comfort zone before pitching to avoid generating any fusels.

The fermentation plan is:
  • Days 1-3: Hold at 75F (just under the yeast's recommended upper range)
  • Days 4-7 (or until Final Gravity is reached): Increase to 80F (to encourage ester formation, cleanup, and a finished fermentation)
  • Treat with Biofine or Gelatin Finings and cold-crash 3-7 days
I'll plan to bottle with 5 carbonation drops ("high carbonation") per 12-ounce bottle. I'll bottle-condition it at 76F for two weeks, then allow it to spend additional time at ambient basement temperatures until closer to Christmas.

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

11/10/2018:  I must have measured my starting water wrong. The beer went into the fermenter at a gravity of 1.059 SG, a temperature of 84F, and worked out to a little over 3 gallons in volume.

11/11/2018: It's roughly 14 hours since I pitched the yeast into the wort. Gravity has already dropped to 1.046 SG, representing about 22% attenuation and 1..7% ABV. The blow-off tube is burping CO2 off pretty steadily. The temperature control system has held the temp in the 74-75F range since about 3am when the gravity first showed signs of change.

11/12/2018: We're somewhere around 33 hours since pitching as of this update. Gravity is down to 1.017 SG, which is a point above the expected final gravity for the beer - though with the lower starting gravity I expect it will probably go lower for final gravity as well. In any case, the apparent attenuation at this point is 69.5% and the ABV is 5.4%. The yeast reportedly has an attenuation of 72-76% (depending, of course, on the wort and fermentation conditions) so we may see it go lower.

11/14/2018: Gravity seems to be holding in the 1.015-1.017 SG range, which is right at the expected gravity for the batch. It's been at this range for two days so far.

11/17/2018: The gravity has been holding steady at 1.017 SG, so I decided to bottle it today with four small carbonation tablets per bottle (medium carbonation). The beer is sitting in the 76F "hot box" to carbonate. A sample from the fermenter revealed a thin, mildly spiced beer that was certainly pleasant enough to drink but nothing like I hoped. Most likely that is because the beer came out way below the intended original gravity. I'll need to re-brew to see how it "should have " turned out.

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