What’s your favorite part of a Christmas ale? Is it the spicy flavors and aromas? The high alcohol content? For me, my favorite part is how I don’t have to wait until winter to brew it!
I’ve got a Christmas ale recipe you’re sure to love. It’s delicious, authentic, and easy to make. Are you new to the world of Christmas ales? I’ve also included a brief primer on what they are and where they came from.
Let’s get brewing!
What is a Christmas Ale?
Just like there’s no one way to celebrate Christmas, there’s no one type of Christmas ale. Also commonly called winter seasonal beers, Christmas ale recipes use a variety of spices and fruits, with every brewer adding their own personal touches to their base beer.
Generally speaking, Christmas ales are strong, malty, dark beers with warm, spicy flavors. A bit of ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and other holiday spices are especially popular ingredients. Also, most Christmas ales have either fruit or fruit parts, such as cherries or orange peels.
They’re a cold-weather beer choice meant to help warm you up, such as when you sit by the Christmas tree on a snowy evening. Most Christmas ales are quite filling and pair well with cheese, crackers, nuts, and other simple snacks.
Here’s a fun fact: What we call Christmas ales are actually older than Christmas itself! The tradition originated in ancient Norway, where the peasants would brew a dark, malty beer called juleøl in honor of Odin and other gods. They brewed it once a year during the Jul, or yule, festival season – a time of year which eventually became Christmas.
Christmas Ale Recipe
Christmas ale should offer no unique challenges for the average homebrewer. (Are you new to homebrewing? Check out How to Make Beer for a quick refresher course.)
As I mentioned above, a wide range of beers are considered Christmas ales. One reason I picked this recipe is that all of the ingredients are fairly easy to find. You’ll need the following:
- Octoberfest Vienna Lager Mix – One Can
- Pale Export UME Mix – One Can
- Dry Brewing Yeast – One Packet
- Dark Sweet Cherries in Heavy Syrup – One Packet
- Honey – One Cup
- Fresh Ground Ginger – One Teaspoon
- Cinnamon – 1/2 Teaspoon
- Fresh Ground Cloves – 1/8 Teaspoon
- Almond Extract
Feel free to alter the quantities and types of spices and fruits so the level of spice meets your personal tastes.
Christmas ale is quick and easy to make.
1. Add Water to Keg
Fill your keg with four quarts of cold water.
2. Add Pale Export UME and Beer Mix
Underneath the lid of the beer mix, you’ll find a yeast packet. First, remove it. Then place both the unopened UME and beer mix cans in hot water, which creates an easier and more consistent pour.
3. Add Water to Pot
Pour four cups of water into a three-quart pot. Bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat.
4. Add More Ingredients
Now you’re ready to add most of the remaining ingredients into the three-quart pot. Add each element into the water-honey mixture.
- Beer Mix
- Pale Export UME Mix
- Ground Ginger (1 Teaspoon)
- Cinnamon (1/2 Teaspoon)
- Ground Cloves (1/8 Teaspoon)
- Almond Extract (1/2 Teaspoon)
You’ve now made what’s called the wort. Don’t worry if you see green, leafy particles floating around. Those are the hops, and they won’t dissolve.
5. Fill the Keg
Pour the wort into the keg. Then, add cold water until the keg’s volume is 8.5 quarts.
Next, puree the cherries. Add them into the keg. You’ll need them thoroughly mixed in there, but they’re thick, so you’ll likely have to put some muscle into the stirring.
Keep a close eye on the temperature of your keg during this entire step. Make sure keg temps never exceed 140 degrees.
6. Let the Mixture Sit
Sprinkle yeast across the top of the mixture. Then let the keg sit for five minutes. When time’s up, stir the contents vigorously. I usually stir for about one minute or so. Then, screw on the lid.
As Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part. Place your keg somewhere cool, dry, and away from direct sunlight. You want the location to maintain a consistent temperature between 68 and 76 degrees.
Let the mixture ferment for three weeks minimum. Typically, I wait four weeks and sometimes even longer. However, I once bottled after two weeks and some change, and the ale tasted delicious (I had to bottle early to be ready by Christmas).
Christmas ale is a delicious treat any time of year, but I always make sure to at least brew batches of beer in late December. There’s just something about a spicy, full-bodied finished beer that completes the holiday for me, and maybe for you, too?
While I’ve enjoyed the recipe above for many years, I’m always interested in learning more. Do you have a favorite Christmas ale recipe? Share it with me in the comments below.
Are you looking for something new to brew? Check out my helpful guide on What to Brew Next.