I found a Christmas Ale recipe on the BrewUK forum (link). It was an extract recipe, but it piqued my interest and I thought I'd have a go at an All-Grain version.
I'm getting this done in the summer so that it has plenty of time to condition in the bottle before Christmas.
I decided that I'd scale the strength back a bit - the expected 8% - 9% abv was a bit stronger than I'd prefer.
5kg Golden Promise Pale Malt
300g Black Malt
250g Chocolate Malt
250g Crystal Malt
36g Northern Brewer Hops (90 min boil)
26g Cascade Hops (20 min boil)
1 tsp Irish Moss (20 min boil)
30g grated root ginger (12 min boil)
2 whole nutmegs (5 min boil)
3 cinnamon sticks (5 min boil)
3 oranges, peeled and quartered (5 min boil)
6 whole cloves (5 min boil)
1020g Clover Honey (5 min boil)
The grains were mashed in 15 litres of water at 66C for 90 minutes, then sparged with 18 litres of water at between 75C - 80C.
I ended up with 24.4 litres of wort going into the fermenter at an original gravity of 1.062
I pitched a packet of Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale Yeast (this is the Guinness strain, I believe). The ferment took ages to kick off - much longer than any other brew I've done. In fact, with four days of no activity I ordered a second packet of Wyeast 1084 just in case the first one was too old. Later that day the ferment started to bubble away.
After 13 days in the primary fermenter, I dropped it to a secondary fermenter. Gravity at this point was 1.012, making the beer 6.52% abv at the moment. I doubt it'll drop any lower than that.
I'm going to recover and wash the yeast from this - even though I've got a new Wyeast 1084 in the cellar I want to start reculturing the yeasts I use, and see what happens. Every day's a school day.
Update: Bottling and Initial Tasting
The Christmas ale has been bottled and cellared for conditioning now. I have, however, had a cheeky early taste of a bottle. I say "early" because I wouldn't really expect it to be conditioned earlier than a couple of months after bottling - that's a week for every 0.1 points of Original Gravity above 1.0, plus a bit (scientific calculation alert) for all the additional spices.
My early taste was after four and a half weeks of bottling (far too early), and it was obvious that the beer was still quite green.
There's a harshness in the malt taste from the black and/or chocolate malts, which ought to mellow out with time. The cloves are very prominent in the flavour too, so if that doesn't also fade with time, I'd probably halve the clove addition if I brewed the recipe again.
The beer is pleasantly medium bodied with an inpenetrable opaque black colour and a creamy brown head, which disappointingly is gone within a few moments of pouring. I wonder if the oils released by the orange peel would have contributed to the head disappearing so quickly? Perhaps a small addition of wheat malt next time to aid in head retention.
Overall: good but not great, but promising. It's still very early for a complex spiced beer like this.