Planning the Monster Holiday Beer (updated)

I ran out at lunchtime to pick up supplies for my next beer, a hopefully very strong (and tasty) holiday-style brew. After learning lessons from my somewhat OK pumpkin experiment, I’m hoping to have most glitches worked out, and honestly I’m itching to brew another powerhouse ale to rival my 11+% Imperial IPA brewed earlier this year.

With the cold weather approaching and the smells of autumn in the air (baking spices, wood fires, and of course soggy wet leaves which I’d rather do without), I want to brew something for friends and family to relax and enjoy on those long cold winter nights, perhaps by a fire, after a long day. This will be a beer to enjoy once or perhaps twice in the evening (unless you have absolutely no plans of going anywhere or otherwise being productive). I’m envisioning a thick, sweet, malty character with smooth vanilla tones combined with a playful bite of spice. Let’s hope it comes out that way!

Brewing notes will come later, but here’s the ingredient list:

Steeping Grains:

  • 1 lb wheat malt
  • 1 lb chocolate malt
  • 2 lb crystal malt 60L

Dry Malt Extract:

  • 3 lb amber
  • 6 lb extra light


  • 1 lb dark Belgian candi sugar
  • cinnamon sticks
  • 1 oz licorice root
  • 2 vanilla beans (whole)


  • 4 oz Fuggles
  • 6 oz East Kent Golding


  • WLP530 Abbey Ale Yeast

Of note, I will be adjusting as I go, particularly with the hops since I hadn’t noticed that they are 2 oz packages (expected 1 oz packages), so it’s likely I’ll be using roughly half of those. I don’t want the hops to overpower the adjuncts.

Those of you who brew, please feel free to help me tweak the recipe. Otherwise, it’s open to all to help me name this beer. I’ll be looking forward to your comments!


Brewing last night went well, albeit long. I don’t know how it got to be midnight as we finished cleaning everything. Ah well, we both have holiday beers fermenting (hopefully bubbling away and not spraying all over everything).

Brew notes:

  1. Steeped the 4 lbs of cracked grains for 30 minutes in 160-170 degree (F) water.
  2. Moved pot from the stove to the huge propane burner, added some water to about 4 gallons, and cranked it up.
  3. Waited. And waited. Finally it got to a boil. I need to find a balance between burning through propane with a huge flame and wait time as a smaller flame heats it to boiling. I think big flame and more frequent trips to refill the tank will win now that it’s quite cold at night.
  4. Added all the dry malt extract and stirred often to avoid boil-over. Almost had one while on the phone with my friend Jeff asking about use of vanilla beans (turns out he hasn’t used them yet either, but he read up a bit on them and was able to advise).
  5. Once I was back to a stable rolling boil, I added the candi sugar, then 4 oz. of the East Kent Golding hops, 1 oz. sweet orange peel (yeah, I bought another adjunct – never leave a cook near the spice rack for too long), 1 oz. cinnamon sticks, and 1 oz. licorice root and started the timer counting down from 60 minutes. After about 20 minutes the smell was amazing, and oddly enough, it smelled just like pumpkin. Weird.
  6. With 20 minutes remaining on the clock, I added 2 oz. of Fuggles hops.
  7. At the end of the 60 minutes, I removed the adjuncts and hops (which were in boil bags) and transfered the wort to my primary fermenter (a sanitized food grade bucket). I had about 3.5 gallons, much better than the 1 gallon last time with the pumpkin beer. I brought it up to 5 gallons with filtered tap water and chilled down to about 70 degrees (F).

Original gravity reading was a whopping 1.099. If this beer gets down below 1.024, I’ll be looking at another 11% beer. Angelos‘s batch (pretty much the same amount of sugars) weighed in at 1.104 (he just has to break 1.030 to get to 11%). With the Trappist Ale yeast, I should be able to hit the 1.024 mark. The beer will stay in the primary fermenter probably until the weekend and be transferred to secondary sometime this weekend, where it’ll then sit for a couple/few weeks. The vanilla beans will be added directly into the beer upon going into the secondary fermenter.

No tasting notes on this one, since we were running late, but the aroma was wonderfully sweet with a very defined pumpkin-like aroma. The licorice root was milder than I’d thought, but there is a bit of a peppery kind of scent, so who knows. The cinnamon is there but not overwhelming (which is good), and the sweet orange really mellows it out. I’m hoping the vanilla adds just enough flavor to “bring it all home”, so to speak.

This is one beer I can’t wait to try. Expect it to be ready right around Christmas.


4 Responses to Planning the Monster Holiday Beer (updated)

  1. Anonymous says:

    As always: lose the wheat malt. Grins.

  2. Angelos says:

    I think your math is wrong.

    That, or that chart I have…

  3. techcommdood says:

    Huh, I’m using Papazian’s formula with Excel doing the calculations… If it’s off, I blame Microsoft, not Charlie. 😉

  4. This beer sounds awesome! You will have to share.

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