Juleøl – Norwegian Style Spiced Christmas Ale

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Brewed on 10/17/15.  One drunken night at our mutual friend Scotty’s house, my friend Alex and I were discussing beer (Shocking, I know).  Alex was describing a Norwegian spiced Christmas ale called Juleøl that he had while over in his ancestral homeland.  Alex explained to me that Christmas beer was a focal point of Norse Christmas traditions, and how he hadn’t been able to find anything quite like Norwegian Christmas beer in the States.  Naturally, I was buzzed and I boasted that I could brew him some Juleøl right here in Illinois.  This, of course, turned out to be a more involved quest for the perfect recipe than I anticipated.

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Alex on the left, and me on the right checking strike water temp

Alex contacted some Norwegian breweries about what they used in their festive winter brews.  Alex found that those breweries were pretty tight lipped about giving out their secrets and only provided some fairly basic information.  I did my own research, and was able to find a few bits of helpful information.  It seems there are no real sets of guidlines for these beers.  They were truly Norwegian farmhouse ales where any ingredients available were used to brew the beer.  These beers were brewed in celebration of the Winter Solstice.  The Juleøl tends to be darker, can be an ale or lager, and may be spiced or unspiced.  The lager versions tended to be similar to Vienna Lagers or Dopplebocks.  Alex stated that the version he wanted to recreate had mulling spices, and was a fairly strong ruby/brown colored ale.  Alex stated that the brewery informed him that they used English ale yeast.

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Given the flavors Alex described, I figured I could get us in the ballpark.  My house yeast is Wyeast 1318 London Ale III, so I have the English yeast covered.  For the spices, my research found that Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg, Ginger, and Orange Peel would all be appropriate in this beer.  I went with a smaller amount of each spice since this beer won’t have a ton of time to condition.  Alex stated that he tasted a caramel and raisin flavor in the beer.  I figured Belgian Special B malt should help with that.  I also used some Crystal 40 to add another layer of sweetness.  I love Golden Promise as a base malt, and while I have no historical basis for using it here, I felt it would be a nice addition to this brew.  It certainly won’t be out of place, and will be a great bready and sweet malt base.  Alex described this beer as being on the fuller side of medium bodied, so I added a half pound of flaked oats that I had left over.  I added a quarter pound of Midnight Wheat that I had left over to contribute some color to the brew.

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Mashing in!

The brew day went very smoothly and was a lot of fun.  Alex is well versed in beer and the brewing process (Check out his Facebook page for his Brewz Brothers series HERE!), but had never been around for a homebrew brewing day and was eager to help.  My wife Kristin was, as usual, my awesome brewing companion, and we had our friends Matt and frequent White Pointer drinker and brew assistant David over as well.  We had the Chicago Cubs NLCS game on the projector, the beer was flowing, and we filled our bellies with deep dish pizza.  Other than being a chilly October day and the Cubs losing (I should be used to that, but this is a young, exciting team!), I couldn’t have asked for a better brew day.

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Whiskey, the brewhouse dog

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Kristin, having fun with the camera

As far as the brew itself goes, everything went pretty well.  I ran out of propane and had to switch tanks, but I had an extra on hand so that was no big deal.  My target mash temp was 154, but I hit 156.  Rather than try and adjust this, I let it slide since I don’t want this drying out too much anyway.  This was a pleasant break after brewing a DIPA last batch, as there was no hopstand and not a lot of hops to filter out going in to the carboy.  The spices smelled wonderful in this thing.  My OG came in just a point short, going for 1.072 and coming in at 1.071, so that was good.  Ill let it stay in the carboy for three weeks, then I’ll bottle this batch with half going to Alex.

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This is one of three beers I’m brewing for Christmas this year, so be on the lookout for my posts on my Black Rye DIPA, Black December, and my Imperial Red, Hoppy Grinchmas, coming in November.  As usual, updates to follow at bottling and then tasting.

Here’s my water profile:

Ca+2         Mg+2         Na+          Cl-           SO4-2       HCO
89.6           6.6              22.4        137.2        82.4           28.295

Recipe Specifications
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Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal
Estimated OG: 1.072 SG
Measured FG: 1.071 SG
Estimated Color: 22.1 SRM
Estimated IBU: 30.2 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 73.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:
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Amt Name Type # %/IBU
11 lbs Pale Malt, Golden Promise (Thomas Fawcet Grain 1 78.6 %
1 lbs White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM) Grain 2 7.1 %
12.0 oz Special B (Dingemans) (147.5 SRM) Grain 3 5.4 %
8.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L (40.0 SRM) Grain 4 3.6 %
8.0 oz Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM) Grain 5 3.6 %
4.0 oz Chocolate Wheat Malt (400.0 SRM) Grain 6 1.8 %
0.50 oz Warrior [15.00 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 8 25.1 IBUs
0.50 oz Cascade [5.50 %] – Boil 10.0 min Hop 11 3.3 IBUs
0.50 oz Cascade [5.50 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 12 1.8 IBUs

0.75 Items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 mins) Fining

1.00 oz Orange Peel, Sweet 15 Minutes.
All other spices added at 5 minutes
.5 Tsp of ground cinnamon
.25 Tsp of ground clove
.25 Tsp of ground ginger
.25 Tsp of ground nutmeg

2.0 pkg London Ale III (Wyeast Labs #1318) [124. Yeast 14 –

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Full Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 14 lbs
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Name Description Step Temperat Step Time
Mash In Add 17.50 qt of water at 165.9 F 154.0 F 60 min

Bottling Update:  I meant to update this a little sooner since I bottled this beer about a week and a half ago.  The FG of this beer came in at 1.015, giving me an ABV of 7.3%, right in the ballpark of what we wanted here.  The beer tasted pretty solid from the hydrometer sample, the spices being evident without being overbearing.  I’ll be excited to see how this develops, and I’ll crack one open to check it out in a couple weeks when I put my Christmas lights up.  I won’t do an actual review of this one until around Christmas when the beer has properly conditioned.

Tasting Notes 12/27/15:

Appearance:  Juleøl pours a deep ruby/brown color with a thin off-white head.  When held to the light, the beer is crystal clear.  A bit like a glass of cola.

Smell:  The spices dominate the aroma, with hints of dark fruit and bread in the background.  The cinnamon and clove aromas are the most evident, with the nutmeg and ginger slightly behind those.  A very pleasing aroma to this beer, evoking images of sitting around a fireplace sipping this among friends and family (puke, I felt sappy just typing that, but its true!).

Taste:  There’s not doubt that this is a Christmas beer.  The spices are forward, but not in a harsh way.  No lone spice really dominates, and they play well with the base beer.  The Special B malt works really well here to bring out the raisin like flavors that Alex had described in this beer.  There’s just a hint of toasted bread in the finish under the spices and sweetness.  Reminds me of a liquid Christmas cookie.

Mouthfeel:  On the fuller side of medium bodied, with light/medium carbonation.  Once again, I love what 1318 London Ale III yeast does on the palate (I promise I’ll stop raving about that soon.)   For the ABV this is surprisingly drinkable.

Overall:  For what I set out for with this beer, I really couldn’t be happier.  I like this waaaaay better than the prior spiced ales I’ve brewed.  I was also excited to use London Ale III in a non-hoppy beer, and I loved it here.  Unlike in my hop bombs, the yeast dropped crystal clear in this one, so I’d feel great about using it in a wide variety of ales.  When Alex had this beer, the excitement on his face upon his first few sips was the best feedback I could have gotten.  The only thing I think I would do next time is to use fresh spices.  I was on a bit of a budget crunch here, so I just used the ground spices I had on hand.  I’m not sure I’d notice in the final product and the spice here is pretty spot on, but fresher is usually better.  I have no basis for comparison when it comes to a traditional Norwegian  Juleøl, but I’m happy with this result.

Alex’s Tasting Notes:

I feel that Eric was pretty spot-on with most of his tasting notes notes, and I’d like to bring a perspective to it to compare it to the 2014 spiced Juleøl from Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri.

Appearance: It does indeed look like a glass of cola, with crystal clear transparency. The ruby hue is more present at the bottom of the glass, as opposed to the very dark brown top, which is almost black. The head is a light tan.

Smell: The spices unleash with this one, with cinnamon being in the front, followed by clove and ginger. Eric may have felt sappy describing the images of sitting in front of a fireplace drinking this beer, but I will agree with him fully! In fact, when I had the Schouskjelleren spiced Juleøl at their brewery, it was in front of their indoor fire pit. The atmosphere in which he described the smell is exactly the setting in which the beer was meant to be enjoyed in, right down to the brewery which inspired the recipe.

Taste: Spices once again come to the front, as they were meant to be. Our balance was a wonderful one as each spice came through, and not one of them overpowered the palate. The spices remind me of those used in mulled wine (also known as gløgg in Norway). I think there may be something about these mulling spices that the Scandinavians like to use. The malt taste was almost that of a cinnamon raisin toast, like a breakfast. One note that I would like to add is how while the beer starts as spicy and bready, the finish is slightly bitter. My guess is, this would be from the orange peel.

Mouthfeel: I agree with Eric on the notes of the body, I love that wonderful London yeast! In fact, many Juleøl recipes use English yeast, and it worked quite well here. The choice of yeast did wonders for the body and carbonation. While Eric described it as light/medium carbonation, I would actually stay it was a solid medium. In fact, the carbonation is phenomenal until the last sip. That last drop of the beer does not go even slightly flat. The entire bottle could be poured out without any residue, which tends to happen for home brewed beers. For an ABV of 7.3, this beer is very easy to consume, even with the spiciness.

Overall (with other feedback and comparison to the 2014 Schouskjelleren Spiced Juleøl):

When I smelled that beer, I knew that Eric and I have made something wonderful. It smelled just like that beer in Oslo. It tasted even better. I was having some serious flashbacks to the smell of the wooden benches and fire-ash covered bricks of the underground brewery. I cannot possibly imagine getting any closer to their recipe. I had to make sure that is just wasn’t an overreaction to being excited, and I sent a handful to my friend in Colorado who traveled with me to Norway. Her reaction was the exact same as mine, and had to call me up to talk for a full hour about the beer and reminiscing about our trip. This is, without a doubt, a genuine Norwegian spiced Christmas Ale. I would have no fear serving this beer in Oslo.

Feedback from others has been overwhelmingly positive too. One of my co-workers said that she would happily buy a six pack. Two of my Colorado friends were in town for the holiday weekend, and how they have never had a beer like it and America really needs to make Juleøls a thing.

Perhaps the most surprising bit of feedback I received from everybody (including myself) was DO NOT CHANGE A THING. It’s very rare to get new batch of beer perfect in the first try, and I was anticipating making a few changes for next year. This beer needs to stay the same, as I would not change a thing. The only thing I can think of, in agreement with Eric, is to try fresh spices next time. Even then, I don’t know how much of a difference it will really make. While I played my part in being specific about the recipe, I give Eric full credit on doing the chemistry to put it all together. What he made was nothing short of masterful, and I could not have done this without him.

In the harsh winters of Norway, Juleøls are an important tradition that goes back centuries. I’m happily ready to continue that tradition here in America next year! Skål!

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Tree Tipper – English Dry Cider

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My wife and I have lived in our house for a little over a year now.  I remember everyone telling us that we had an apple tree in our backyard, but last year nothing grew on it.  Wow, was this year different.  This thing was packed to the brim with apples!  I’m still not entirely sure what type of apples these were, but they fit the look and description of Bramely apples, so that’s what I’m going with.  The apples were pretty tart, but still edible right off of the tree.  I used a couple pounds of diced up apples with my Saison, Farmhouse Disco, but that left a ton of apples that I needed to use.

I decided to do a 3 gallon batch of cider.  I credit Yooper on homebrewtalk.com for the way I made this cider.  I didn’t have an apple press or juicer, so I needed a way to extract the fermentables from these apples.  I diced up a ton of them and then froze them in big freezer bags for a few days.  I then put the apples into big mesh grain bags and put them in a big plastic bucket.  I sprinkled a ground up campden tablet on there, and then added some pectic enzyme.  I left that until the apples began to thaw and then I used my mash paddle to smash them as much as I could.  I did this several times over the course of the day until the apples were as pulpy as I could get them.  I then sprinkled a pack of Safale S 04 yeast over that and sealed up the bucket for about 5 days.  The usual sanitation practices apply.

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Next, I sanitized my hands and grabbed each mesh bag of apples and squeezed every last bit of juice that I could out of them before discarding them.  Like I said, I got about three gallons of cider from this method.  It was pretty labor intensive, but fun to say that I did this completely from scratch with my own apples.  I added a bit more enzyme to help clear it, and then fermented that for about another week.  The OG of the juice was 1.044.  I then racked to my 3 gallon better bottle and let that sit for another month or so until it cleared.  The cider finished at 1.002.  It had some nice flavor at bottling, but I’ve read that cider takes a while to come into its own.  I bottled that up and am awaiting the result!  I’ll post tasting notes when the cider is good to go.

This was my first cider, and it may be my last.  The tree in my backyard had to come down unfortunately.  My back yard is slopped downward pretty steeply, and this tree was planted on that slope.  It’s had a lean since we’ve been here, but when it became full of fruit, the lean got worse.  When had a bad storm one night late summer, and the tree’s roots began coming out.  It was apparent that this tree had to come down.  This cider from it’s fruit will hopefully be a fitting tribute to it!

Tasting Notes 12/27/15:

Appearance:  This cider pours straw colored and crystal clear with a thin lingering white head.  A very nice looking cider.

 

Smell:  Pretty strong aroma on this that reminds me of champagne with a bit of cider like funk to it.  The aroma is pretty pleasing.

Taste:  Meh.  The cider is on the bland side with a bit of tartness.  The initial flavor is there and it’s nice, but it quickly fades and the aftertaste is a bit funky.  Its not like I can’t get through a glass, its just kind of boring.

Mouthfeel:  Bubbly and light.  Pretty standard for a dry cider.

Overall:  This cider is just ok.  I didn’t have super high expectations given that most ciders use several varieties of apples to get a more complex flavor.  I’m sure there are things I could have done as far as post fermentation additives to improve this, but I have no idea what I’m doing with ciders….and to be honest, I didn’t feel like diving too deeply into it.  It was a fun little thing to do with the ton of apples I had and this is drinkable, so I’ll live with a somewhat bland result.

Update: 06/09/16:  I wound up drain pouring the rest of this.  Time in the bottle wasn’t helping.  There flavors weren’t developing in a pleasant way, so this cider was put out of its misery.

White Death Version 5 – Northeast Style DIPA

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Perfecting this beer has become my white whale, my never ending quest for perfection.  The problem is, I always mess something up or change too much.  I still have sky high hopes for this batch, and it may still be the finalized recipe for this beer that I was hoping to find, but I made one error that I need to touch on before I get on with this:  I used the wrong base malt!

My LHBS sells a number of different base malts in bulk out of big containers.  In my haste to get in and out in a reasonable time since I was running late on this brew day (Much like the post about it, this beer was brewed 09/20/15), I saw Canada Malting Pale Malt.  In my rush to get my things together, I didn’t realize I got the Canada Malting Superior Pale malt, thinking instead I had their regular 2 Row.  This malt is kilned slightly darker than your standard 2 Row.  I had intended on just going with 2 row this time around, and getting that golden orange color from a half pound of light Caramalt.  I now have a beer that is potentially darker than I intended.  I say potentially because I was shooting for an SRM of about 5 to 5.5, now I’m around 6 to 6.3.  I’m not even sure in reality I’d notice the difference, but I’m a beer perfectionist so things changing from the plan on brew day threw me off.  This could still turn out exactly like I want it to though, so I’m trying not to get ahead of myself here and make changes that don’t need to be made.  The Superior Pale is supposed to be a really nice base malt, so this could be a fortunate mistake and I may end up loving it.

The other changes I made (Intentionally this time) to this batch from the prior ones is balancing the Citra and Mosaic more with the Columbus and Simcoe.  The last batch was a bit harsher and resiny, and I wanted the fruity characteristics to come through more so I bumped the Cirtra and Mosaic additions up.  I also used Warrior as my bittering hop.  Columbus for bittering was just a touch harsher than I wanted in this beer.

This is also the first batch of White Death to use Wyeast 1318 London Ale III rather than Conan.  I came to this decision after doing my side by side yeast comparison of the two in an otherwise identical pale ale (Read about that here).  1318 is just awesome and I’ve used it a few times in lower OG beers.  I can’t wait to try it in a DIPA.

As has become typical for me, I had a higher chloride water profile to smooth out the mouthfeel for this beer.  If you are reading this and haven’t read my other posts, I’ve been trying to chase the mouthfeel and body from guys like Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, Trillium, Tree House, and Tired Hands.  I think yeast selection and water profile are huge components to that.  Really, I’m trying to make the quintessential Northeast DIPA here.  A smooth mouthfeel, smooth bitterness, and a fruity juice like hop quality with a bit of earthy dankness to go with it.

The brew day itself was the usual.  Our neighbors came over to hang out for a while, so did my brother Kevin and his family.  My wife came back from a Las Vegas trip just in time to help me mash in, so that was great!  I hit my numbers on the dot.  I cooled the beer to 180 for my 30 minute hopstand and then transferred it to the carboy.  I dry hopped with the first dose right as fermentation slowed around day 5.  I’l keg it in another day or so with the second round of dry hops and then get carbing!

Water Profile:

Ca+2       Mg+2        Na+        Cl-         SO4-2      HCO
139.3       6.8            22.3       199.0     118.1       0.034

Recipe Specifications
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Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Estimated OG: 1.074 SG
Estimated Color: 6.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 113.2 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:
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Amt Name Type # %/IBU
11 lbs 8.0 oz Pale Ale Malt 2-Row (Briess) (3.0 SRM) Grain 1 76.4 %
1 lbs Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM) Grain 2 6.6 %
1 lbs White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM) Grain 3 6.6 %
8.0 oz Caramalt (Thomas Fawcett) (15.0 SRM) Grain 4 3.3 %
5.0 oz Acid Malt (3.0 SRM) Grain 5 2.1 %
12.0 oz Corn Sugar (Dextrose) (0.0 SRM) Sugar 6 5.0 %

2.00 oz Warrior [15.00 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 7 90.7 IBUs
1.00 oz Citra [12.00 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 8 7.2 IBUs
1.00 oz Mosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] – Boil 5.0 mi Hop 9 7.4 IBUs
1.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 10 7.8 IBUs
1.00 oz Citra [12.00 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 0.0 m Hop 11 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus (CTZ) [15.50 %] – Hop 12 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Mosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] – Steep/Whirl Hop 13 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 0.0 Hop 14 0.0 IBUs
Dry Hop split into two doses
2.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] – Dry Hop 5.0 Days Hop 16 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Citra [12.00 %] – Dry Hop 5.0 Days Hop 17 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] – Dry Hop Hop 18 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Mosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] – Dry Hop 5.0 Hop 19 0.0 IBUs

2.0 pkg London Ale III (Wyeast Labs #1318) [124. Yeast

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 15 lbs 1.0 oz
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Name Description Step Temperat Step Time
Mash In Add 17.89 qt of water at 163.7 F 152.0 F 60 min

Kegging Update:  I transferred this one into the keg over the weekend for the second round of dry hops.  I do a closed transfer under C02 for all my beer, and for whatever reason I lost my siphon.  I think the bottom of the cane may have gotten clogged with some trub, but even after clearing it and checking the dip tube and poppet on the out post of the keg that I was transferring the beer through, I couldn’t get the siphon started again.  I was pissed!  This is my favorite beer I make, and there was about a six pack or so left of beer still in the carboy.  I was not going to waste it.  I used my old autosiphon to put the beer in some glasses, cooled it down, and then used the neighbor’s sodastream to carb it up.  I lost about another beer worth of foam, but at least I was able to drink most of it over the course of the evening.  I also noticed the beer was a bit darker than I wanted, but not by much.  I likely will go with plain 2 row next time, or cut or lower the caramalt.  Still, the beer tasted awesome already.  The FG came in at 1.013, giving me my 8% abv I shoot for with this beer.

Tasting Update 10/13/15:

Appearance:  As I had suspected, this beer turned out just the slightest bit darker orange than I’d prefer it be, but that’s pretty nitpicky of me.  The color is still in the ballpark of what I was going for, and its still a pretty beer.  It pours a nice orange color with a good white head.

Smell:  This beer smells fantastic.  Very heavy on citrus and other fruity aromas such as orange, a bit or grapefruit, passion fruit, pineapple, and some subtle dankness.  Some subtle yeast esters are under all the hops.

Taste:  This is great stuff!  I love the London Ale III with this beer, I’ll be keeping it for sure.  There’s a firm, but pretty smooth bitterness.  When I brew this again, I may still dial the bittering charge back a bit more, but its still not harsh.  The hop flavors follow the nose, lots of citrus and some tropical fruits.  There’s a bit of sweetness that’s pleasing in the finish.

Mouthfeel:  Pretty much perfect for this beer.  So smooth and silky.  Nothing I’d change in this regard.  Nice medium body on this, but it still finishes dry enough to be refreshing.  This thing is chuggable for an 8% beer.

Overall:  This beer is 95% there.  The last 5% is really just dialing in the details.  I do think I’ll try regular 2 Row next time with just a bit of crystal to shoot for an SRM of about 5.  I’ll dial the bittering charge back a bit, but the flavor and aroma hops are all spot on.  This beer is so juicy in taste and feel, it just brings a smile to your face!  The water profile seems to be right on as well.  Wyeast 1318 London Ale III was fantastic in this brew, and I’m glad I went with it over Conan.  I’m very confident the next time I brew this beer, it’ll be the finalized version barring any mistakes by me!