Two-Day Brewday (Day 1): Fruitcake Ale

It’s Christmastime!

Well, for brewers, anyway: if you’re making anything to be consumed around Christmas, and you haven’t already gotten around to brewing it, now would be a good time.

For me, Saturday would actually have been a better time, but I was a bit sick, and the mill-shop where I have my grains crushed was unexpectedly closed. (I’ve had a lot of unexpectedly closed / unexpectedly sold-out types of experiences lately, enough to drive me to ranting, indeed. But I’ll save that for another post, except to say that after a failed attempt to find someone else to mill my grains, I gavve up and went home to order myself a Barley Crusher.)

In any case, yesterday I ended up grinding my grains using my blender — which means, I suppose, I over-crushed the grains, but the runoff and sparge were actually stunningly clear for all that. (Still, with how time-consuming the blender work was, the barley crusher will be worth it.)

My plan involves not a parti-gyle — I’m not really feeling mathematically up for such a thing, plus I want both beers to be about the same OG — but simply a split batch, though with separate boils. (Because of differing spice additions at the end of each.) One half of the beer will become a Saison de Nöel — but an unusually dark Saison, of a brown color –and the other half will be a vaguely English ale with a heavy fruit addition in secondary, to make a “fruitcake ale” (which is inspired by the Christmas beers discussed in Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing).

I’ll discuss the grist here, since it applies to both beers. It is relatively simple: 6 kilos of Pilsner, 3 kilos of Munich, plus 800 grams of Special B, 500 grams of torrefied wheat, and 300 grams of Caramunich.

I’ll mention hops, spices, yeast, and other stuff separately, though, since I’m brewing these beers on two different days, and would prefer to have two different posts to enter updates on the two different beers. From here on

Hopping/spicing will be simple: an ounce of Fuggles at 60 minutes. I also will add about 8 grams of cinnamon, a gram of nutmeg, and a couple of grams of candied ginger (which is 40% ginger, so less than a gram of actual ginger in total).

My yeast choice for the Fruitcake Ale is some of my old Cry Havoc yeast, which I hope will still be active after sitting in the fridge about six months; the London Ale yeast I had earlier this year got infected somehow, but the Cry Havoc did an admirable job on the ESB I used it on… and I will then have a nice yeast cake I can use to ferment something in a lager style, since Cry Havoc happens to (quite comfortably) swing both ways.


It’s been a long brewday; I mashed in (hitting about 65°C) at 1pm, but then I had to go teach for an hour at 2pm, and when I got back (by about 3:15pm — living on campus has its occasional benefits) I had to take care of some other things. The mash was still at about 62°C when I got back to it, but because I forgot to heat enough sparge water for a double-sized batch, I only managed to get the sparging done by just before 6pm, but Miss Jiwaku and I had already agreed to go out for dinner, so I gave the wort a very short (15-minute) boil, and then shut the pot and went for dinner. When we got home a few hours later, the wort was still at about 90°C, but some protein had clumped together on the surface. If only I’d had something to strain it out with, but since I didn’t, I just pitched the hops and restarted the boil.

In terms of the secondary for the fruitcake ale, I will need to have a second glass carboy free, so that I can transfer the almost-finished beer onto a bunch of dried, rehydrated fruit I plan on adding. It’s going to be a lot of fruit — a couple of hundred grams of four or five kinds of dried fruit… but each fruit will be rehydrated in hot water (for pasteurization) prior to addition!

I carefully searched for dried fruit without preservatives and especially anti-clumping oils, but we’ll see whether my search was successful. In any case, 150-200 grams each of a selection of dried fruits, plus some orange zest, will go into the secondary for a couple of weeks. Then I’m going to rack the beer to a keg and force myself not to touch it till Christmastime. Given the number of other kegs I need to clear out, it shouldn’t be hard!

So, process for the Fruitcake Ale:

6pm: Finished runoff, brought the Fruitcake Ale to a boil for 15 minutes before going out. (Had no choice.) Left for dinner at about 6:40pm.

9pm: Returned home, commenced boil on Fruitcake Ale in earnest. I was very surprised to find that some proteinaceous matter had condensed together and was floating on the surface, but since I didn’t have anything handy to sieve it out with, I just left it in for the boil. Whirlfloc will take care of it anyway, right?

10pm: Finished boil, added spices (4 grams candied ginger (40% ginger)), 1 gram nutmeg, 8 grams Saigon Cinnamon). Can’t find Whirlfloc tabs, but it was never going to be a very clear beer anyway. Post-boil rest.

10:15pm: Begin chill, run off into fermenter, aerate vigorously. Clear out mash tun for use with an ice bath. Move fermenter to ice bath (alongside Super Sekrit Wheat Beer brewed with Rowan last week). Chill.

12:00am: Pitch Cry Havoc yeast, and hope hard. Pitch handful pilsner malt (ie. natural lactobacillus) into the Saison wort and run some CO2 into the bucket to prevent aerobic bacterial activity (bad). Set in a small closet where it should stay warm, with an electric blanket to help keep it warm. Sleep.

1 Nov, 9:30am: Realize that I didn’t actually note the gravity reading for the Fruitcake Ale. It’s higher than my hydrometer can handle, but the result I got from dilution cannot be right. In any case, it’s clearly over 1.060, and I’m pretty sure it’s at least 1.068 judging from the unmarked spot on the hydrometer where the level was when it stabilized. But when I diluted the sample by 50% and then added water to make up the difference, the apparent gravity became 1.020, which makes no sense, even factoring in a temperature change. So I’m just going to call it 1.068.

Otherwise, the results look good: the hopping is very mild, and it’s quite cinnamony, with a hint of other spices. Should be a good, fruitcakey beer. I even have a nice thick krausen on the surface of the wort already, less than 12 hours after pitching!

UPDATE (19 Nov. 2011): I’m happy to report this beer finished out at around 1.010 or 1.011 at the end of primary fermentation. I let it go all the way to the end, because I wanted to harvest the yeast — it’s still leaving a weird foam on top of the beer, but no off-flavors are apparent so I’m going to just be cautious and acid wash the yeast before I use it again.

As for the flavor: it’s nice, but much less cinnamony and ginger than I’d hoped. Mosher’s recommendations make for a strong spice flavor at the outset, but I think I may have to add more of these ingredients when I add fruit, which should be happening in the next day or two. I couldn’t find blueberries, but I do have plums, dates, and figs. If I can find cherries, I’ll use them too, but I haven’t seen a lot of fresh cherries in the shops lately.

UPDATE (26 Nov. 2011): I shouldn’t have used the phrase “finished out” in my last update. In fact, that was only primary fermentation. I added fruit earlier this week — about 100 grams of raisins, and 200 grams each of dates, figs, and prunes, along with some yuja (Chinese citron) zest, two cloves, and a couple of sticks of cinnamon. I added all that after rehydrating the fruit (and pasteurizing the whole lot) in boiled water. I wanted to add cranberries and blueberries as well, but I couldn’t find any that hadn’t been packaged with oil. I did, however, manage to find some cranberry syrup that seems to have been made with maple syrup and organic cranberry syrup. I’ll have to research the ingredients a bit but it looks like a good candidate for using in the beer.

The sugars in the fruit have restarted fermentation, as expected. I will need to get a carboy free and then rack it over for a quick cold crash before bottling. I figure on leaving the fruit in for a week or ten days, then racking the beer into another container, cold crashing it, and bottling, because this bad-boy needs to get sent out pronto!

UPDATE (17 Jan 2012): Ah, yeah, right. So I ended up letting it sit on the fruit and spices for a good long time. I had hoped more fruit would come through, but basically, I taste a little spice, and Miss Jiwaku’s impression is that it starts with cinnamon, and ends with caramel. Which ain’t so bad, but… kegged today, in the hop of force-carbing and bottling to send out. Yeah, really.

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