First brew - how to make it Christmassy?


My wife gave me a homebrew kit for my birthday… it’s the English best bitter version of this:

It’s a 5 litre kit. Ideally I was thinking of Christmas-ing it up a bit so that I could give bottles to friends/family at Christmas. I have never brewed before, so really operating totally in the dark here and looking for advice at complete newbies level.

If I wanted to, say, add cinnamon/ orange/ nutmeg or other Christmas flavours to the brew, or sweeten/ strengthen it a little, how would I set about doing this, what quantities would I need and at what stage would I need to add them to the brew? Would I need to sterilise these ingredients first and if so how? Is it as simple as bunging a couple of cinnamon sticks in boiling water for a few minutes and then adding the sticks and (cooled) water at the dry hop stage?

Any (simple!) advice would be appreciated, as it’s a gift from my wife I’d really like not to bugger it up too much.

Thanks in advance for any help you more experienced folks can give me.



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Best thing to do with spices is to soak them in vodka (or anything else that strong). Kills all the nasties and lots more flavour comes out. I tend to soak for a few days and then throw the whole lot in. Some people soak longer and then just throw the vodka in. Since it’s Christmas, I’d definitely be tempted to use brandy or rum for the soaking…

As for strengthening you just need to add more sugar! You can either buy more extract from a homebrew shop or use some other source of sugar. I’ve got a brown ale in the fermenter which we added some palm sugar to. Lots of other options though. Something like honey might be nice in a Christmas beer…

I think I may have just talked myself into making a spiced English strong ale with honey, dried fruit and brandy now.


Clove works sell, but VERY potent, I use maybe 4g for a finished 17-20l batch.

Cinnamon is a bit tricky to get to stick if using in the boil.

Ground Seville oranges a teaspoon or two.

Dates, figs and raisins add a bit complex sweetness.

Saffron is nice, but super potent, more than 0.5g tens to be too much for a20l batch.

Generally I add 5 min before end of boil.


Easiest way to screw up the whole batch is by not sanitizing all equipment that the wort/beer comes in contact with after the boil.

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Many thanks for the advice. After reading both responses I’m thinking of soaking a cinnamon stick and some cloves (how many?) in whisky (Talisker for a bit of smokiness), and also adding raisins and muscovado sugar.

A couple of further questions if I may -

  1. Do I need to chop the raisins before adding, and how much raisin and sugar should I add? I’m nervous of adding too much sugar and making the kit explode or something!

  2. If I’m adding all this 5 mins before the end of the boil, I assume I strain out all the lumps before primary fermentation? Or do I leave the cinnamon/cloves/raisins in until bottling?

Thanks again for all the help.


Ooh, just thought, what about adding marmalade? Again, how much, when?

Btw, having read the instructions, it’s actually 8 litres not 5 as I originally said.


Cutting the raisins will make it easier to extract the sugar.
For an eight liter batch use perhaps 100g or so of raisins.

I tend to strain the spices out witg the hops by end of boil, orhers add all to the fermenter.

For 8 liters I wouldn’t add more than 4-5 cloves, grounded in a mortar if wanting to get the most of it.

A local brewer uses moonshine stronger than vodka for extracting the flavor from herbs and spices. I have to admit that his adjuncts are some of the cleanest that I tried.
My experience making limoncello is that there is absolutely no comparison with vodka: 96% (almost pure) alcohol wins hands down.
I think it’s sold as Everclear in the US…