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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One thought on “Juleøl – Norwegian Style Spiced Christmas Ale

  1. Pingback: Juleøl 2016 – Norwegian Spiced Christmas Ale | White Pointer Brewery

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