A holiday brewing recipe from Lord Wolfgang Starcke.

As some of you may know I play around a lot with early styles of beer. Alternative bittering agents were common in many regions well into the 17th century or later and are even making a small come back today. Juniper berries, spruce tips and an amazing array of other plants & spices have been used to provide that bitter note to offset the natural sweetness you get from a fermented malt beverage.

The spread that accompanied the Crusader Ale at Janos' vigil, photo by Sir Ian Kennoven.

The spread that accompanied the Crusader Ale at Janos’ vigil, photo by Sir Ian Kennoven.

I’ve experimented several times using a mix of spices as the bittering component. This recipe was made for the vigil of Master Janos Meszaros at the Rhydderich Hael Baronial Investiture.

Crusader Ale

2 gallons of water

Batch started with 8oz of amber malt, cracked and steeped in a cheesecloth up to 160 degrees then removed whole grains and added: 3 lbs of amber dry malt extract, 1 lb of English dark dry malt extract. Brought the wort up to a boil for 1 hour.

I probably got some interesting burnt caramel notes from accidentally singeing the cracked malt. I failed to notice my cheese cloth resting on the bottom of the pan so it got a bit more direct heat than intended.

In a different pot:

Steeped the spice mix in cheesecloth with 1 gallon of water for an hour and then added to the wort before cooling.

Spice mix:

All spices started whole and were hand cracked/ground in a mortar & pestle.

4 inches of cinnamon stick
1 tbs cumin seed
1 tbs cardamom pods (seeds removed from pod then ground)
1 tsp whole coriander
1 tsp whole clove
1/2 tsp grains of paradise (was going to use long pepper but couldn’t get it quickly)
1 tsp nutmeg (shaved)

After cooling to 95 degrees, added Nottingham ale yeast and let ferment for 10 days at room temperatures (65-75) before transferring to a keg.


Although rarely seen now, Beernog was served well into the early 20th century. Sometimes called “Hunters Punch” or a variety of other names it is a warm & rich winter treat.

6 cups of ale
6 cups of half & half or light cream
6 egg yolks
1 cup (or more to taste) sugar
Spices as desired (usually cinnamon and nutmeg)

Heat the beer in a crockpot or stockpot on low, make a thin custard in another saucepot with the egg yolks, cream and sugar, then combine the beer and custard in the crockpot. Add the spices and steep, keeping warm until serving. Serve in mugs or punch cups and dust with more nutmeg if desired.

You can also add the brandy or rum of your choice, either to the whole batch or per mug while serving.

Cautionary note on the beer: Unless you really like bitter drinks, do not use an IPA or anything hoppy for this. You want a nice smooth vanilla stout, caramel porter or an un-hopped ale if one is available.

Enjoy the season and stay warm & happy by the fire!
Wolfgang Starcke
Guildmaster Æthelmearc Brewers Guild