November 17, 2023

Superior Christmas Ale Variants: Make Your Spiced Holiday Ale Even More Festive!

image of cinnamon sticks, ginger root, and Cascade hops

Chip Walton | NB Digital Producer

Put Your Twist on Our Great Lakes Christmas Ale Clone Recipe

‘Tis the season for spiced holiday beers, and our Superior Christmas Ale beer recipe kit brings layered flavors of ginger, cinnamon, and honey to the holiday party. Modeled after the quintessential Great Lakes Christmas Ale, our recipe quickly became one of our most popular seasonal beer kits and a favorite beer to have on tap at the NBHQ break room. Heading into the holidays this year, we got to thinking about modifications that would make the beer even more festive. Here are some ideas we have for adding flavorful flair to either the extract or all-grain version. See our Superior Christmas Ale ingredient collection for all the fun ingredients mentioned below. 

Variant #1: Imperial Christmas Ale

Clocking in around 7.5% ABV the base Superior Christmas Ale is no slouch, but it could certainly be made all the more jolly with a boost in booze and warm alcohol notes to complement the spice profile. For this, we suggest adding 3 pounds of Rahr 2-Row base malt to the grist (or 2 additional pounds of Golden Light DME for the extract version) and an additional pound of honey at flame-out. This will bump the alcohol content up to around 10% ABV while making sure the Final Gravity doesn’t finish much higher, leaving the beer a bit too sweet in the finish. A true fireside holiday sipper!

We also suggest adding another ounce of Cascade hops to the 60 minute bittering hop addition – so, two ounces total – to keep the bitterness in balance with the increased malt and ABV. This increase in original gravity will push the recommended London Ale yeast strain to the upper end of its alcohol tolerance; consider making a yeast starter or pitching two packets of yeast (and also aerate your wort!) to help power through fermentation.

We don’t necessarily suggest increasing the amount of spices as the additional alcohol will provide some spice-like notes of its own to accentuate the spices already included in the recipe.

youtube play button version of spices image

VIDEO: Great Lakes Brewing Company share their thoughts and tips
on our suggested twists to the classic Christmas Ale beer recipe kit.

Variant #2: Maple Bourbon Barrel Christmas Ale

This variant takes a cue directly from the brew elves at Great Lakes Brewing Company and their Barrel Aged Christmas Ale, as you can imagine a version of the beer conditioned in Bourbon barrels. Here’s how the pros do it: Great Lakes brews a production batch of Christmas Ale specifically for barrels early each year. It is cold-conditioned in a blend of Bourbon barrels for about seven months, after which it is canned and released October alongside that same year’s standard Christmas Ale. 

If you can get your hands on a recently emptied Bourbon barrel, bulk aging homebrew in a barrel is an option. We assume it’s easier for most homebrewers to impart spirit and oak flavors by adding spirit-soaked oak cubes or chips to secondary. But, we have an even easier and delicious idea for making a unique treat: Maple Bourbon Barrel Oak Chips. These special oak chips will impart wonderfully intoxicating flavors and aromas of maple syrup, bourbon, and oak including notes of caramel, brown sugar, and vanilla we think are reminiscent of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in this beer. Use 2 - 4 oz chips per 5-gallon batch. Sample the beer after one week with the chips. If a more intense flavor is preferred, age an additional week and sample again. Once the flavor is to your liking, transfer the beer off the chip and bottle or keg as normal.

Variant #3: Spicy Christmas Ale 

The style-defining warmth of the ginger in the standard Superior Christmas Ale got us thinking, “Let’s add another layer of heat – some real heat!” Enter: hot peppers! We’ve brewed with dried chili de arbol peppers before and enjoy a pepper flavor that is toasty, roasty, and slightly fruity. But they are hot! (Which we like.) Consider cracking the skin and removing the seeds for less intense heat. Or try dried chipotle morita peppers and add smoky flavor coupled with chocolate, tobacco, and dark fruit flavors. The method we like most for adding pepper flavor is to steep the dried peppers (with or without seeds) for a day or two in enough neutral grain spirit to cover them. Add this hot pepper extract tincture to your keg or bottling bucket, sampling along the way until you reach the desired heat level. Remember you can always add more if you want, but you can’t take it back, so evaluate the flavor as you go.