Only five months until the Winter Solstice, but you’d never know it by today’s mid-90’s and high humidity. Many of us would trade a day like today for a mid-December chill. Alas, a brewer’s work and schedule require him to disregard the current weather and plan ahead for seasons to come.

Which is why today I brewed a Holiday Ale, destined to be served at the coming winter festivities. Most commercial brewers release a special brew during the holiday season, something different from their normal year-round fare. Many are spiced, most are a bit stronger and more full-bodied to help drinkers cope with severe weather and unseasonable conditions, and almost all are made in smaller quantities and are available for a limited time. Mine adheres to all of those conditions as well.

This year’s Holiday Ale is a Scottish Ale, about 6% abv, with notes of smoke, caramel, juniper and dark fruit. Hope ya like it – hope ya get a chance to try it!

Holiday Ale 2011

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 10 lbs. Thomas Fawcett Golden Promise malt
  • 1/2 lb. 120°L crystal malt
  • 1/4 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (@4.5% aa)
  • 1 oz Fuggles hop pellets (@4% aa)
  • 1 oz. dried juniper berries
  • White Labs Edinburgh Ale yeast (WLP028)
  • 2 lbs. black raspberries
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts of water to 167°F. Mash in grains, hold 60 minutes at 156°F. Heat another 12 quarts of water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge. Collect first 4 quarts of wort, put on to boil immediately and allow to caramelize until the rest of the wort is boiling. Collect 24 quarts of sweet wort in all. Add brown sugar to kettle, bring to a boil. Add EKG hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Fuggles hops, boil 25 minutes. Add juniper berries, boil 5 minutes (60 total) and remove from heat. Cover and steep for 15 minutes. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment warm (70°F) for ten days. Rack onto black raspberries in the secondary, age on fruit ten days. Rack again to allow beer to clarify, age in tertiary for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age three months.

OG: 1062

IBU’s: 28.7

Time for a Holiday (Porter)

Mid-August, the heat waves of July are over, back-to-school sales are in full bloom, about half the baseball teams are already eliminated from the postseason, and it’s nearly time to harvest the hops. The first Octoberfests are hitting the shelves (a little early, in my opinion, sort of like having the Christmas decorations up before Halloween…) and soon we will see the winter lagers, warmers, spiced special ales… Late summer, and it is most definitely time to brew the official winter holiday libation.

I try to do something a little special and a little different each year. Different beer styles, different added flavors, spices, etc., but usually something strong to raise the spirit and warm the body. Some have been more memorable than others, and I am hoping that this year’s will be a hall-of-famer.

Based on a Robust Porter style, I added sweet/woody spices at the end of the boil to add an aromatic twist. The English flavor and aroma hops complement the high-alpha US bittering hops, and there’s enough malt in there for anyone!

2010 Solstice Porter
5 gallons, all-grain


  • 10 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1/2 lb. black malt
  • 1/2 lb. dark crystal (120°L)
  • 1/4 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/4 lb. chocolate malt
  • 1/2 lb. malted wheat
  • 1/2 oz. Galena hop pellets (14.1% aa)
  • 1 oz. Fuggles hop pellets (4% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (5% aa)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • pinch grated nutmeg
  • White Labs Bedford English Ale yeast (WLP006)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 153°F for 90 minutes. Heat 14 more quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 27 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to boil. Add Galena hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Fuggles, boil another 25 minutes. Add EKG hops, boil 5 minutes (60 total), turn off heat. Cut vanilla bean and break cinnamon stick into 3 or 4 pieces each, add along with grated nutmeg to wort. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate, pitch yeast (leaving cinnamon and vanilla in wort). Seal and ferment 8 to 10 days. Rack to secondary (removing cinnamon and vanilla at this time), age 14 to 20 days. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition cool (45 – 50°F) for two months or more.

OG: 1070
IBU’s: 43

Notes on yeast: White Labs recommends this yeast as “perfect for porters”. I was originally going to use a London ale yeast, but this was a new release and I thought I’d give it a try.

Notes on style: I am often asked what the difference is between a porter and a stout. Ask ten brewers and you will probably get ten slightly different answers. Both are dark ales, both can run from dry to sweet, from hoppy to malty, from relatively low in alcohol to huge. The major flavor difference, for me, is the use of roasted (unmalted) barley. The typical stout flavor profile is full of deep, bitter roasted barley notes, while porters exhibit typically more black and chocolate malt aroma and flavor. The line blurs…

Note on spices: Freshness is of the utmost importance when brewing with spices – use, as in this recipe, fresh whole vanilla beans (not vanilla extract), whole fresh cinnamon sticks (not pre-ground), freshly grated nutmeg…

Note on holiday beverages: I also brewed a holiday Mead this year, adding vanilla beans (2) and 2 or 3 tablespoons of bitter cocoa powder. It was a 3-gallon batch, with 7 lbs. local honey. The OG was over 1090…