Sunday, August 7, 2011

Creating a Christmas beer for the ages

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What do you suppose the above has to do with brewing a Christmas beer? Let me tell you.

Seasonal beers and Christmas beers in particular are an annual traditional in the world of good beer. Better breweries put out seasonal beers a few times a year, and Christmas beers are a major part of that.

With that in mind, I set out to make a beer for the holiday season. Something to drink and enjoy when the weather is cold, holly hangs from the eaves, and pumpkin pie tastes best. I also wanted something that would LAST. Something that could be enjoyed both this holiday season and next holiday season ... and the one after that, and maybe the one after that.

I settled on a Belgian dark style, which, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I love.

The base of my recipe was the Raisonette Trappist (PDF warning) recipe courtesy of Brewer's Apprentice in New Jersey. It's based on Raison D'Etre by Dogfish Head.

I added a small amount of brown sugar to slightly boost the alcohol content, then added cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg to the mix to give it some winter spicing. The beer fermented for one month, then I let it mature for another month in a big glass vessel ... cleverly disguised so Mr. Eric would let me keep it in the living room:

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This process started in June. Yes, I was planning out my Christmas beer that far in advance.

So, after two months of letting this big bastard age, it came time to get it into bottles. The first goal was to get it into something special. If it's going to be a long-term beer, after all, why not make sure the bottles are long-term, too? So, I bought some gorgeous bottles that will help say, "This is a special beer."

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Cool bottles, and the sort of thing that will look great when you break 'em out at the holidays -- which is the point. But out of the five gallons typical with a homebrew batch, I only put three gallons into bottles. The other two gallons became the subject of a pair of beer experiments. Those experiments started like this:

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Golden raisins to your left, sour cherries to your right, plus a little bit of oak for good measure. (The oak is meant to simulate aging in an oak barrel.)

I racked one gallon of this Belgian dark onto 6 oz of golden raisins. I can't imagine how that will turn out, since the Dogfish Head "Extreme Brewing" book recommends that amount for a full batch! The other gallon was racked onto 6 oz of tart cherries. Both got doses of nutmeg and cinnamon again, too.

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However they turn out, I'm excited about the possibilities. They could each be very offbeat, very special, very delicious beers. Or both variations could turn out horrible. It's possible, but hey, they're experiments. And isn't being creative part of why we home brew in the first place?

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