Swell Time Sour Cranberry Spiced Holiday Ale

IMG_5061Whew, that’s a mouth full. This recipe has gone through a few incarnations before landing on the one I ultimately went with. The original idea was just a cranberry Berliner Weisse, using my standard Berlin(er Weisse) recipe and adding cranberries as I have with raspberries and cherries in the past. I planned to make it for Thanksgiving, but the scheduling didn’t pan out.

The beer was pushed back to Christmas and the recipe changed quite a bit to reflect that. First of all, I decided to raise the gravity a bit, which meant moving back to my normal mash tun instead of the brew in a bag mash that I normally do for Berliner Weisse. I also decided to switch to Red Wheat instead of white because I really liked the flavor I got from it in Moist and I was going for a darker color anyway. The next addition to the grain bill was Acidulated Malt.

Sometimes just called Acid Malt, this stuff is used by German brewers to adjust the pH of the mash without using additives that would go against the Reinheitsgebot. It has more recently been used by some brewers to boost the acidity of sour beers or even to imitate sour beers without going through sour fermentations. These uses require a lot more of the malt than was originally intended by German brewers. I went with a pound, which considering my five gallon batch size is more than would be used for minor pH adjustments, but not enough to make the beer noticeably sour on its own. I want to play with Acid Malt more in the future and this was a first experiment just to see what would happen, but I was also hoping that maybe I could get sour a little quicker than with my Berliner Weisses.

I ended up waiting just as long though, mainly for scheduling reasons again. I made a lacto starter last Thursday, the thirteenth, then did my mash on Monday, the seventeenth. I added the lacto starter along with a pound of cranberries.
Those cranberries were very old. They’d been in the freezer for a long time and never got used for anything. I added them for a few reasons. First, just to get rid of them. Second, to help chill the wort. And third, to see if they would do anything. Normally, I just freeze fruit before adding it to my beer. Freezing fruit breaks cell walls and allows the juicy goodness to get out and flavor the beer. The relatively thick skins on the cranberries didn’t seem to allow this to happen, though.

I decided for the main cranberry addition that I would heat the berries to break them down, as I have done when making cranberry relish or sauce in the past. So, on Thursday, the twentieth, I added four pounds of cranberries to a pot on the stove with enough water to keep them from scorching on the bottom and heated them for about twenty minutes over medium heat, stirring periodically along the way. By the end of this time, the berries had just about all popped and there was a lot more liquid than there had been in the beginning. It was a thick, red, juicy mixture. This will definitely have a lot bigger impact on the beer than the frozen cranberries. I put it in the fridge until Saturday.
Saturday is when I moved on to the next step in the brewing process: the boil. In my Berliner Weisse beers, I boiled only for a few minutes and only to kill the lactobacillus. This time, I boiled for fifteen minutes, still short but long enough to add more ingredients.

I added hops, nutmeg, ginger, a cinnamon stick and Irish Moss at the beginning of the fifteen minute boil along with my wort chiller. Before the boil, I scooped out the old cranberries and as much of the grain from the lacto starter as I could with a wire mesh strainer and took a gravity sample.
I was surprised to see that the gravity was down to just barely above 1.00. With an original gravity of 1.045, that meant the beer was already about 5.5% ABV. After the boil, I added some Cranberry Honey and Wildflower Honey, taking the gravity back up to 1.028. Then I added the beer to a carboy which already held the cranberries, then added ale yeast which I harvested from Elkland Amber Ale.

The plan from here is to let the beer ferment for about five to seven days, then rack it off of the fruit and give it another five to seven days to clear somewhat. This is still going to be a cloudy beer, I’m sure, if I had more time I would let it sit for much longer and get it clearer but I’m already way behind. I want to have at least a couple weeks to enjoy this before Christmas. I will try to list the recipe below, but with the strange process on this one, I hope no one will try to repeat it without reading all this first.
Swell Time
Style: Sour/Spiced/Fruit Beer
Brew Date: November, 2014
Serve Date: December, 2014
OG: 1.073 (adjusted)
Expected FG: 1.010
Approximate ABV: 7+%
IBUs: 8

Mash at 154º:
50% Red Wheat Malt
42% Pale Malt
8% Acidulated Malt

Ferment with Lactobacillus for about five days.

15 minute boil with:
1 oz EKG
.5 oz ground ginger
1 tsp Irish Moss
.5 tsp Nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick

After the boil:
4 lb cranberries
2.5 lb wildflower honey
12 oz cranberry honey


3 thoughts on “Swell Time Sour Cranberry Spiced Holiday Ale

  1. I know this is an older post, but I was wondering how strong the cranberry flavor was in the final product. This is a great option for my next holiday brew.


    • I actually found this recipe to be too cranberry forward and cut back in future versions. If you really want cranberry, this will be plenty, cut it a bit for more subtly.


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