Northern Brewer Winter Spice Ale

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pericles

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It's time for a Yule-Ale! My all-grain brews are still pretty hit or miss, so I'm stepping back to extract for this one. I started a Northern Brewer Winter Spice Ale Extract Kit yesterday; I usually check people's experience with kits and recipes before I brew them, but HBT didn't have anything on this kit (that I could find when I searched.) So. . . STARTING THE THREAD!

Recipe (I tweaked timing a little bit, the original is here):

Boil Volume: 2.5g
Batch Size: 5g
OG: 1.052
FG: 1.011
ABV: 5.4%

1lb Simpsons Dark Crystal (steeping)
1oz East Kent Goldings Hops (60min)
3.15lbs Gold Malt Syrup (30 min)
3.15lbs Gold Malt Syrup (10 min)
1tsp Irish Moss (10 min)
.5oz Mulling Spices - Ceylon cloves, cracked cinnamon, allspice,
cardamom and mace (1 min)

Wyeast #1728 (Scottish Ale Yeast)​

My OG, adjusted for temperature was 1.052. The yeast has an optimum temperature range of 55-75F.

17-Nov-09 15:00pm: 70F - Heavy Airlock Bubbling
18-Nov-09 19:00am: 72F
18-Nov-09 14:30pm: 71F
18-Nov-09 10:00pm: 70F
19-Nov-09 17:00am: 69F
19-Nov-09 15:00pm: 71F
19-Nov-09 10:00pm: 71F
10-Nov-09 17:00am: 68F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 67F - Light Airlock Bubbling
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 67F
11-Nov-09 19:00am: 62F - No Airlock Activity
10-Nov-09 17:00pm: 64F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 64F
12-Nov-09 17:00am: 62F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 60F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 62F
13-Nov-09 17:00am: 58F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 61F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 62F
14-Nov-09 10:00am: 60F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 63F
10-Nov-09 11:00pm: 63F
15-Nov-09 11:00am: 64F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 65F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 64F
16-Nov-09 17:00am: 64F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 63F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 63F
17-Nov-09 17:00am: 59F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 61F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 63F
18-Nov-09 17:00am: 63F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 63F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 63F
19-Nov-09 17:00am: 63F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 63F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 63F
20-Nov-09 17:00am: 63F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 63F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 63F
21-Nov-09 17:00am: 63F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 63F
10-Nov-09 10:00pm: 63F
22-Nov-09 17:00am: 63F
10-Nov-09 15:00pm: 63F - Transferred to Secondary

15-Dec-09 15:00pm: Bottled - FG 1.011
 
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pericles

pericles

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I bottled today (as the schedule above indicates.) Whenever the beer has been racked, either to the primary fermenter, or to the secondary, or to the bottling bucket, people have commented on how good it smells. I haven't tried any yet (I'm patient) but I'm expecting something really great by Christmas.
 

permo

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There is no doubt in my mind that you will have a great beer on your hands...your fermentation temperatures were nice and low......good clean flavors will be your reward. Be patient, let those spices blend in the bottle.....I am a bad brewer...I taste most of mine after a week in the bottle. I can't help it.
 
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pericles

pericles

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Definitely going to let it wait for at least two weeks in the bottle. The beer was so clear when I bottled that I'm actually a little concerned there isn't enough yeast to carbonate the bottles!
 

Poolplayer

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I'll be bottling my batches of Winter Ale Wednesday. I'll be crossing my fingers it will be palatable just before Christmas or If I should just save it for New Years. I'm usually keeping my bottles conditioned at 66 degrees.
 

shredderator

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I made this last year, it seems that NB changed the recipe, it called for dry hopping with spices when I made it. That made it waaay too spiced. The only people who really liked it were people who didn't normally drink beer or drank BMC. If I made it again I'd do it the way you did, and omit the dry-spicing
 
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pericles

pericles

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Northern Brewer also noted that they had decreased the amount of spices this year; apparently you weren't the only one who complained!
 

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My batch from this NB kit will be at three weeks in the bottle on December 21st (the first day of winter). I am going to try to wait until then to check it but I gave it a nice long secondary so I think it will be blended well.
 

Troubs

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I did a dry spicing on my recipe too (I think it was NB recipe). Kinda got lazing and didn't bottle it when I should have. Came out tasting like Santa's nuts (don't ask, I REALLY wanted that bike when I was 13). Anyways the spice seems to have mellowed quite a bit. Hopefully it will be drinkable by Christmas

**EDIT** I just checked the page for the recipe on Northern Brewer and it looks like they reduced the mulling spices substantially. IIRC, I used .5oz at 60minutes, .25oz at flameout and .25oz in the secondary. Glad they changed the recipe but bummed they changed it after I ordered my kit.
 
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pericles

pericles

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December 21st - I like that! My wife is doing a beer exchange at her work, and we're giving out bottles THIS FRIDAY (complete with a tag warning everyone not to open for at least an additional two weeks.) The short of it is that I'll have to crack a bottle by Thursday, just to be certain that the bottles aren't infected, or too terrible to share. I know they'll keep getting better over time, but there are some tastes, even in the first week in the bottle, that are too scary to share with work friends. Assuming the bottles work out OK, I think I'll suggest that THEY wait until the first day of winter though - thanks for the suggestion!

As for Santa's nuts. . . Yeah, they've cut the spice-load in half, and I threw the whole thing in at flameout. I didn't do a great job of filtering the break though, so I'm a little concerned by the general consensus that the beer was too spicy last time! I guess we'll find out on Friday.
 
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I pulled the first bottle today to check on the progress of carbonation, and to check on infections. (We have to give a few bottles away tomorrow, and I needed to make sure.)

The beer was starting to carb, but wasn't anything LIKE done. There was a decent CO2 fog when I cracked the bottle, and a few lackluster bubbles, but the beer still tasted, essentially, flat. I've been keeping the bottles from this batch at about 64F, PLUS the wort was remarkably clear when I bottled, so I know carbonation will take longer than usual - I'm just used to a decently carbed beer in a week (even if it's still too green to drink.)

As for taste. . . I didn't candidly love it. It was just a little odd. Not quite . . .
Santa's nuts
. . . but still not my favorite. Time to condition and carb will help, I'm sure.
 

Brew_Weasel

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Pericles... I will set one aside if you want to do a swap in January. I haven't touched mine yet and it is trying my patience. I think towards the end of next week I will crack one to check progress.
 
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I've had this in the keg force carbonating for almost a week. However, I didn't make it for myself. I made it for my machinists at work. I just got a beer gun an am looking forward to testing it out in short order.
 

Brew_Weasel

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I have to say, I'm not impressed with progress at this point. Hopefully this is one that continued aging will improve. Pericles, I guess was have been reminded why we should brew Winter or holidays beers a couple months ahead of time.
 
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Mine is carbonated and is not impressive. It's a letdown as I really want NB kits to be better tasting. As much as I love NB, their kits have been a letdown for me thus far. I'm waiting until the last possible moment to bottle these for my machinists.

My drunk neighbor (who loves everything I've thrown at him thus far, even an IPA that had a strange funk about it that I couldn't drink) even said this was the first beer of mine he didn't enjoy.
 

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I have one that went into the bottles last weekend. I will probably try a test bottle later this week but they are really intended for consumption with Christmas dinner. I did not use a kit - after researching, I made a standard pale ale (extra pale extract, light steeping grains, and simcoe/cascade/amarillo in the boil (in that order). I used a grain bag and spiced it during cool down after the boil with cardamon, cinnamon, ginger and sweet orange peel.

My guess is that this beer will still be a little too young by Christmas but my brewing calendar was full. If it matures into a great beer, I will do it again next year but get it done earlier.
 

Poolplayer

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First weeks taste test and it was like watered down clove water. This is gonna take till the end of January before I think I could stand it. Seeming to be as bad as the Cream Ale I did 2 months ago and it still is weird in all aspects. Those are two kits I am avoiding. A really good kit is the SH2B from NB. I've done two of those kits and they are really nice all around compatible brew. Just bottled a Bavarian Hefe and that is gonna turn out nice for a wheat beer-not a huge fan of the "Weizens" but my friend is. We brewed a Patersbier and that's a great beer from the NB guys and on here.
 
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pericles

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I cracked a two week bottle last night. It's still not appropriately carbed, which is a problem of both temperature, and yeast volume. I think.

First off, as I noted above, the beer that got bottled was EXCEPTIONALLY clear. I probably should have repitched for carbing, but I guess it'll just take a little longer.

Second off, I've been experimenting with carbonating temperatures with this batch. Ordinarily, the bottles go in a 80F closet, and I've been starting to notice off flavors. This time around I left them in my cold room which, I think, has been TOO cold for them. Now they're carbing in a corner of my 68F living room.

Carbonation aside, the flavor was better. Like liquid ginger-bread. There's still FAR too much spice, but I have some hope that the conditioning will turn out well before Christmas!
 
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pericles

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As much as I love NB, their kits have been a letdown for me thus far.
You know, I think that I might have to agree. I'm getting BACK into kits, because they tend to be cheap and easy. But I'm not loving the Northern Brewer stuff which, in my opinion, has been over-malted and under-hopped for their respective styles.

How have people been feeling about AHS, MWS, or MB?
 

Troubs

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So I'm going to to crack one of mine open tonight and give it another try. I put them in a very warm closet for about 3 weeks to try and speed up the aging process and see if I could get some of that spice to mellow (my batch was with the original spice load before they changed the recipe). I'll report back later

EDIT: Just some more quick details. Made this about 3.5 months ago. It has been in bottles for about 6 weeks total
 

Scotty_g

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I made the NB Winter spice ale (the scottish ale + mulling spices, including a dry-hop addition) in mid-November 2008 figuring it would be just ready for Christmas. After 6 weeks we tried it on the holidays, and it was very unimpressive. It was pretty green yet, had an unusual and unpleasant taste I don't exactly remember, and the spice wasn't right. I thought we had made a crap batch of beer.

My father busted another one out in February and it was much, MUCH better. The greenness had all faded, the carb was good, the spice had mellowed appropriately, and it was wonderful--just late.

Moral of the story: make your spiced Christmas beers the end of September or early October.

Sub-moral of the story: More time is always better for homebrew.

Overriding moral: Never pour out beer unless there's stuff growing in it that waves hello when you pop the fermenter lid.
 

SteveM

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More time is always better, but my spiced pale ale is already awesome, in time for Christmas dinner, as hoped/planned. I had a brewing backlog to work through and at the moment, just one fermenter, but all's well - the gluten free, the regular Black Diamond pale ale and the Green Triangle spiced pale ale are all ready.

The Green Triangle, by the way, is a take off on my normal brew designations based on ski run color/shape designators. The international norms are green circle (easiest), blue square (more challenging) and black diamond (most difficult). The green triangle suggests a Christmas tree, while retaining the color/shape theme.
 

Troubs

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Ok, so I went back and tried another one and I have to say that it still sucks. Way too much spice and not much else in terms of flavor. Pretty bummed. Maybe it will be drinkable by next Christmas.
 

reLAXin230

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I made this kit over Thanksgiving break, had it in the primary for a week and a half and then the secondary for a week and a half. I also added 1 pound of Vienna malt and 1 pound of carapils to the kit. I then force carbonated it and tasted it 3 days later.

I thought it came out fine, but could have used some more hops. Mine was very clear as well. The spices seemed to stick around for a bit after tasting it, but I didn't feel that they were overpowering. The extra grain might have helped it not seem as spicy. I wasn't blown away by this kit, but also wasn't upset after trying it. I definitely thought it was drinkable.
 

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Maybe some more time in the fridge will help. I had an undrinkable cream ale that I left in the fridge for three weeks. It was like a total change in result. My friends cream ale that he has left in the closet still taste as funky so we're gonna refrigerate those now to see if that is the real cure. I have a sixer of winter ale in the fridge on week two now also hoping it's gonna transform into something a little more desirable.:D
 

Pharmguy

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I made a similar holiday ale that I am drinking just now....I brewed it a year ago and the spices finally mellowed. I know you want it for today and tomorrow but this time next year that will be a great beer.
 
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I just cracked another bottle - this is week three in the bottle.

MUCH more palatable, but still not awesome. There's a bit of a sour milk flavor at the front of the taste, and then the spices are still too strong. Let's try again on. . . three kings day?

EDIT: I forgot to mention - the carbonation is MUCH better now. It's not too heavy, but there's about a half-inch head that the glass retains for five minutes or so. I'd say it's appropriate for a spice beer.
 

Scotty_g

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I just cracked another bottle - this is week three in the bottle.

MUCH more palatable, but still not awesome. There's a bit of a sour milk flavor at the front of the taste, and then the spices are still too strong. Let's try again on. . . three kings day?

EDIT: I forgot to mention - the carbonation is MUCH better now. It's not too heavy, but there's about a half-inch head that the glass retains for five minutes or so. I'd say it's appropriate for a spice beer.
3 weeks in the bottle is about the minimum to get a good carbonation, and most beers will be pretty green at that point (following 1-2-3, it's only 6 weeks old) - especially a spiced beer. Unless you're trying to do research (which I encourage!) on how quickly this beer mellows, leave the bottles alone for another month.

Patience is a hard attribute to acquire as a brewer, but this is why it's important to brew frequently (which I also encourage!). You can keep the pipeline full of beer that's appropriately conditioned.
 
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pericles

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Scotty G isn't wrong, but for anyone who's brewing this beer next year for the holidays, I should make a few points:

First, the beer was actually seven weeks old as of my last test bottle, not six. While longer periods of conditioning are appropriate for spice beers, this is well into the range of what could be acceptable, given the right recipe.

Second, holiday beers are usually brewed with a drink date in mind - Christmas for me, December 21 for others, January 1 for still others. The purpose of this thread is to both evaluate the finished product, AND keep track of how long it takes for the batch to be ready. That way, NEXT year, anyone who tries this kit (or one like it) will know to start on the appropriate date.
 
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