Several weeks ago we were in the brewery, working on our Scottish Winter ale. It was one of those brew sessions where a bunch of little thing conspired to make it a longer night than it needed to be. Then we looked outside to see the first snow of the season slowly coming down. Something seemed right about that and it lifted our spirits to continue brewing and get the beer in the fermenter. The brewhouse smelled of holiday spices by the time we were cleaning up and we were eagerly anticipating when the brew would be ready!So now you may be wondering what exactly is a winter or holiday ale? While there are no hard and fast rules about what makes up this type of beer, they are generally of an amber color or darker, higher in alcohol, and with some variety of spice. They are a beer meant to flush the face and warm the spirit on the cold winter nights. Brewing with spices is certainly nothing new. Before hops became a standard part of beer many varieties of spices were used for flavor. Even after the common use of hops there were many styles of beer that employed other things to create the character to the beer. Prior to the days of refrigeration and cheap over night shipping people relied on what was at hand. Licorice, spruce tips, coriander, and many other spices were employed to give a pleasing flavor to the beer. In a way winter beers are a throwback to long forgotten styles of beer. Because of this the design and flavor of the beer is open to interpretation by the brewer leading to a great variety. They run the gamut from not using any spices, to being spice forward where it dominates the flavor.
For our beer we went with a good Scotch ale base recipe, keeping it nice and simple but with a full malt body. We used only a slight hint of hops to give a touch of bitterness to balance against the higher alcohol content of the beer. Then we added spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. The spices come through strongly in the nose of the beer, but are somewhat mellowed by the character of the European malts that make up the recipe. It leans toward the sweet side of things and many who don't enjoy traditional beer flavors may find this brew to be right up their alley. It certainly is a holiday treat that can be enjoyed on its own, or paired with dessert to give a satisfying finish to a delicious meal.The scottish holiday ale is expected to pour next week, so stop in, take a break from Christmas shopping at the Ithaca Mall, sit by the fire and a have a pint.