Gingerbread Winter Warmer

We’ve only barely hit fall, but I do need to start looking ahead to winter beverage selections. For the past two years, I’ve done a pumpkin ale, both of which turned out fairly nice. Although I was tempted to rebrew a new version of last year’s recipe, I instead decided to switch course altogether. This meant: winter warmer!

The recipe is pretty much entirely my own,with an aim towards creating a rich, flavorful sipping beer that evokes gingerbread cookies. This should be something to enjoy by the fireplace, while the California winter rains pour down outside. (I know, it should be snowfall in some quaint northeastern town, but I much prefer my California winters.) I kept the hops on the lower end, because I figured that the extensive spice roster would up the perceived bitterness sufficiently.

For the yeast, I ended up using two freebie dry yeast packets from the 2015 San Diego homebrewers convention. They were both Belgian Abbaye / Abbey yeasts, one from Danstar and the other from Fermentis. The packets were a few months past their expiration dates, so I upped the yeast pitching rate accordingly. The Danstar variety is supposed to tend towards the clove and fruit end of the spectrum, whereas the Fermentis strain is a little more subtle. So, I elected to pitch a greater quantity of the Danstar, in hopes that its yeast character will dominate.

Because this is such a high alcohol beer, and a very experimental recipe, I didn’t really want five gallons worth. So, I elected for a 2.5 gallon batch. And with that small size, it really lent itself well to brew-in-a-bag. My plan is to ferment for 4-6 weeks, and then keg, with a few weeks of additional conditioning before serving.

honey, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, and yeast, with mortar & pestle, for the winter warmer

Spices, sugars, and yeast, ready to go for a winter warmer.

Gingerbread Winter Warmer

  • 7 lbs. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 1.28 lbs. honey malt
  • 0.6 oz. de-bittered black malt (Dingemans)
  • 6.4 oz. dark brown sugar (added to wort before boil)
  • 0.5 oz. Nugget hop pellets (13.3% alpha acid), 60 minute boil
  • 1 cup molasses (Grandma’s brand, 1/3 cup of this original, 2/3 cup of this robust), 60 minute boil
  • 0.5 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient (Fermax), 10 minute boil
  • 1 lb. 4 oz. honey, 1 minute boil
  • Spice blend, 10 minute steep after boil
    • 4.75 oz. crystallized ginger, chopped finely
    • 1 cinnamon stick (0.35 oz.), ground
    • 5 g (0.17 oz.) of ground nutmeg
    • 2.5 g (0.085 oz.) of ground mace
    • 2.5 g (0.085 oz.) of ground allspice
  • 1 pkg. Abbaye Belgian dry yeast (Danstar)
  • 0.5 pkg. Safebrew Abbey Ale dry yeast (Fermentis)

Brewing Targets

  • 60 minute mash at 156°
  • Brew-in-a-bag, no sparge
  • Original gravity = 1.110 (actual = 1.107)
  • Color = 22 SRM
  • IBU = 35
  • 60 minute boil


  • I mashed in with 4.75 gallons of water at 169°, to hit a mash temperature of 159°. This was down to 152° after 30 minutes, so I added a bit of heat to raise the mash up to 154° during the last 15 minutes.
  • Once I removed the grains in their bag from the kettle, the gravity was 1.056. This was a bit lower than I wanted, so I added 0.4 lbs. of dark brown sugar. This raised the gravity up to 1.064.
  • I boiled per the schedule above, with hops and other items added at the appropriate time. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and added the spices, letting it all sit for 10 minutes before chilling.
  • I chilled the wort down to 80°, and then transferred it to the fermenter. I aerated with the in-line Venturi pump as well as the line-end wort sprayer during the transfer. Then, I capped the carboy and sloshed it all around for about 5 minutes, to aerate further.
  • I brewed this beer on 17 September 2016. Starting gravity was 1.107, and I did the first 5 days of fermentation at 68°. I roused the yeast three times during the first five days, to ensure steady fermentation. Because I needed to use my fermentation chamber for cold-crashing of my Vienna lager, I removed the gingerbread ale on 22 September 2016, and let it sit at ambient temperature (around 72°). I’ll leave it here for at least two more weeks, before kegging and letting the beer condition for at least a month. As of this writing, the main evidence of fermentation seemed to have wrapped up. I gave it an additional shake today (24 September 2016), to rouse the yeast one last time.
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Equinox IPA Kegged

Today I kegged the Equinox IPA. It had been in the primary fermenter since 27 August, just a little over two weeks. After the first week, on 3 September, I moved the beer out of my fermentation chamber (which was getting switched over for a lager), and let it ride at ambient temperature for a week or so. I figured this would be OK, because the main run of the yeast had presumably wrapped up by this point, so the risk of getting off-flavors from a hot fermentation was quite low.

Final gravity was 1.010, down from 1.062, equating to 6.8% abv. I added the dry hops (3 oz. of Equinox hop pellets) at this time; they’re in a bag, weighted down with some stainless steel washers and suspended in the keg via unwaxed and unflavored dental floss. I will leave it at ambient temperature for a few days, before tossing it into the keezer to carbonate at the lagering temperatures.

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Decoction Envy Vienna Lager

Continuing my exploration of Vienna malt, I turned my sights onto the most Viennese of all Vienna malt-based brews: Vienna lager. This is my first time with the style, and only my third time brewing a lager beer, so I did a fair bit of research to flesh out the basics for this batch.

My recipe was modeled primarily on “Nothing But Vienna” from Gordon Strong’s Modern Homebrew Recipes. As the name implies, Strong’s recipe was a SMaSH, which appealed to me as a way to delve as deeply as possible into the mysteries of Vienna malt. The recipe from Modern Homebrew used a decoction mash to develop the rich amber color characteristic of the Vienna lager style, which meant a great chance for me to expand my techniques!

Vienna Malt

Once I had a base recipe in mind, I couldn’t resist the urge to modify it. Some of this was based on necessity, and some of this was based on my own inclination. The original brew called for whole Sterling hops; pellets were easier to track down. I also elected to use dry yeast, both for simplicity as well as to give dry lager yeast a try (in this case, the well-reviewed Saflager W34/70). Finally, I knew that I wanted to build up some water for this, but Strong’s water suggestion (RO water with just a bit of calcium chloride augmented by phosphoric acid) also departed from the “traditional” recommendation of a profile that matched some wells in Vienna itself (as listed in Noonan’s classic work). So, I modified that a bit too.

Based on my previous experience with a decoction mash, I knew that hitting mash temperatures after decoction additions was going to be a challenge. So, I adjusted all of my decoction volumes up. I got some assistance from the BeerSmith software on this. What I did was tinker with the step temperatures a bit. Let’s say my first mash step was at 144°, and my next step aimed for 150°. I knew that the mash would slip a bit below 144°–let’s say 138°–while I was doing the decoction. So, after I had the volumes for the 144° step, I changed the temperature target for that step to 138° (or whatever I thought the mash would end up at). I left the temperature for the next step the same. So, even though I was actually going for a 144°->150° mash temperature boost after the decoction, I told the software I was going for a 138°->150° boost. This upped the calculated decoction volume accordingly. As noted below, I ended up closer to my mash targets, but still not quite there yet. The main issue is that my temperature drop was more than expected, probably due to cooling in the mash tun as I strained out each decoction volume. Something to adjust for next time!

All in all, this was one of the most technically demanding (and fun!) brew sessions I’ve done to date. Here’s hoping the results match the effort!

Decoction mash in progress

Decoction mash in progress

Decoction Envy Vienna Lager

  • Distilled water, adjusted as outlined below
  • 10.5 lbs. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.9 oz. Sterling hop pellets (8.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.1 oz. Sterling hop pellets (8.1% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 0.5 tsp. yeast nutrient (BSG Fermax), 10 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. Saflager yeast (W34/70)

Brewing Targets

  • Double decoction mash, with 20 minutes at 144°, 20 minute boil of decoction and raise mash to 154°, 20 minute boil and raise mash to 168°
  • Original gravity = 1.052 (actual = 1.055)
  • Color = 5 SRM (probably a bit higher due to decoction)
  • IBU = 29
  • 90 minute boil total


  • To 6 gallons of distilled water, I added 5.1 g of gypsum, 1.5 g of calcium chloride, 5.4 g of chalk, and 1.5 mL of 10% phosphoric acid, to approximate the Vienna water profile. I note that the chalk didn’t really dissolve much, so for future brews I’m not really sure if this is a worthwhile addition.
  • I mashed in with the water at 151°, to hit a mash temperature of 145°. The mash at this point is quite thin.
  • After 25 minutes, I withdrew 5.5 quarts of thick mash, raised the temperature to 158°, let the mash sit for 15 minutes, and then boiled for 20 minutes.
  • I added the decoction back to the mash tun, which raised the mash temperature to 147°.
  • After 15 minutes, I removed 2.675 gallons of thick mash, raised it to 158° for 15 minutes, and then boiled for another 20 minutes. I added this back to the mash tun, which raised the overall mash up to around 150°.
  • After 10 minutes, I vorlaufed and drained the mash tun. I added 4 gallons of sparge water (adjusted with phosphoric acid and other minerals to match the Vienna profile) at 190°, which raised the mash water to 174° or so, but put the mash bed at 170° on the dot. After a few minutes, I collected the remaining wort.
  • Overall, I collected 8 gallons of wort with a starting gravity of 1.045. Wow! The efficiency was through the roof at 89%. To compensate for the high volume, I decided to boil down the wort for 30 minutes before adding the hops.
  • After 30 minutes of a very vigorous boil, the wort volume was down to 7.3 gallons and 1.049 gravity. After 60 minutes or so of boiling, we were at 6.5 gallons with a gravity of 1.053. At this point, I dialed back the boil a bit, so that I wouldn’t overshoot my target gravity. At 8 minutes to go, I added .25 gallons of tap water (with Campden tablet shaving) to lower gravity a bit; prior to this, the gravity was at 1.055 and thus the absolute outside limit of the Vienna lager style. The water addition brought it down to 1.053.
  • I added all hops and other additions per the recipe, with a total 90 minute boil.
  • At the end of the boil, I turned off the heat and cooled the wort down to 80°. At this point, I transferred it to my fermentation chamber and set it to cool to 55°.
  • Once the wort reached 55°, I sprinkled the yeast into the fermenter.
  • I brewed this beer on 3 September 2016. Visible signs of fermentation were apparent by the next morning.
  • I’ll be fermenting at 55° for 10-14 days, before raising the beer up to 68° for a diacetyl rest. After a few days of that, I’ll crash the beer to around 32° for a few days and then transfer to the keg.
Posted in decoction, lager, Vienna Lager | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Vienna Brown Ale Kegged

Today, after two weeks in the primary fermenter, I kegged my Vienna Brown Ale. Final gravity was at 1.013, down from 1.048, for 4.6% abv. I am hoping this one mellows a bit in the keg; right now it has a little acidity at the backend, and my fingers are crossed that’s not an infection in the making!

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Equinox IPA

I have been seeing a fair bit about Equinox…err, HBC 366…hops during the past year, and wanted to try them for myself. Like many of the recent American varieties, it is supposed to pack quite an aroma and flavor punch. Even if it’s totally stereotypical for a homebrewer, I do like big, aroma-rich hops, so a batch with Equinox made it onto my “brewing goals” list.

This was also an opportunity to continue my exploration of Vienna malt, so I crafted a SMaSH-ish recipe that had a decent late-hopping dose of Equinox. The only minor deviation from a true SMaSH is that I threw in a touch of de-bittered black malt for color.

Finally, I am using this batch to recalibrate some of my brewing parameters. For a few batches now, I have noticed that my wort volumes and starting gravities are a touch off, so I am going to adjust the mash and boil-off assumptions accordingly in BeerSmith. Additionally, the night before brewing, I completely disassembled and cleaned my mill (a Monster Mill 2). There was some grain dust worked into places, and as a result it wasn’t holding the gap as well as it should (hence my low mash efficiency on some previous batches). After reassembly, I set the gap to around 0.039″. As noted below, I had incredible mash efficiency (84%!), but the mash itself was a little slow to drain. So, after this brew I widened my gap to 0.041″.


Equinox IPA

  • 12 lbs. Vienna Malt (Weyermann)
  • 1 oz. de-bittered black malt (Dingemans)
  • 0.5 oz. Equinox (HBC 366) hop pellets (14.2% alpha), first wort hop
  • 0.5 oz. Equinox (HBC 366) hop pellets (14.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Equinox (HBC 366) hop pellets (14.2% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Equinox (HBC 366) hop pellets (13.4% alpha), whirlpool
  • 0.5 tsp. gypsum, added to boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. Safale American dry yeast (US-05)

Brewing Targets

  • Mash temperature = 149°
  • Original gravity = 1.067 (actual = 1.062)
  • Color = 8.5 SRM
  • IBU = 63
  • Note that I originally targeted this for a lower gravity, ~1.058. Because I ended up with very high mash efficency (~84%), I had to adjust the recipe per the above. If I brew this again, after adjusting my mill gap, I’ll need to tweak the malt bill to reach the same gravity.


  • I mashed in with 4.6 gallons of water at 159°, to hit a mash temperature of 151°. The mash was down to 147° after 30 minutes, and 146.5° by 60 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, I added 0.7 gallons of water at 190°, to raise the mash bed to 148°. After 10 minute, I vorlaufed and collected the first runnings. Due to the fine crush, it took awhile to drain the mash bed.
  • I then added 3.75 gallons of water at 182°, to raise the mash temperature to 160°. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • Wow! I collected 7 gallons of wort at a gravity of 1.055, for 84% efficiency. As a result, I adjusted my original recipe to the one above.
  • As soon as the wort was on the flame, I added hops. At the boil, I added the second addition, and everything else was dropped in at the appropriate time.
  • After flame-out, I chilled the wort to 84°. This wasn’t quite cool enough to pitch the yeast, so I transferred into my fermenter and put it all into the fermentation chamber for a few hours. Once the overall temperature had come down, I pitched in the two packets of yeast.
  • Starting gravity was 1.062, a little lower than expected (probably due to a slightly lower boil-off rate than assumed by BeerSmith). I brewed this on 27Aug2016, and am fermenting at 66°.
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