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.

Claremonter Weisse

Wort in the kettle, after souring
and just before the boil

Sour beers don’t do much for me; like most brewing fads, the majority of examples I have tasted are too over the top to be enjoyable for more than half a glass. Occasionally, something grabs my attention–for instance, I experienced a Lichtenhainer at NHC that was absolutely delicious and refreshing. More recently, fellow homebrew club member Jason brought a tasty Berliner Weisse to our club meeting. I was intrigued, but didn’t think souring was for me. I had heard that once you go down that road, you basically have to commit a set of fermentation equipment to sours (to avoid cross-contamination of non-sours). It didn’t seem worth it for a type of beers I don’t plan on brewing frequently. This all changed when I learned that Jason’s Berliner Weisse was made using a technique called kettle souring*.  Basically, everything is soured before the boil–no need to contaminate carboys, hoses, or kegs! Quick, easy, and mostly painless. With some additional information in hand (both from Jason–who also gave me an extra lacto culture–as well as an online presentation via Five Blades Brewing), I set out to give souring a try.

The grist for this is simple, and the techniques (outlined below) are fairly simple too. Although it’s technically a Berliner Weisse, more or less, there are enough American twists that I renamed the beer to reflect its geographic influences. Apologies to my German friends.

*This is a great example of how joining a homebrew club has paid off for me; I’ve tasted all sorts of styles I wouldn’t have otherwise, and have been clued in to new techniques by my friends in the club. I probably never would have made a sour beer if not for my homebrew club!

Claremonter Weisse

  • 2.5 lbs. Pilsner malt
  • 2.5 lbs. white wheat malt
  • 1 oz. Cascade hops (whole), 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Lactobacillus Blend (Omega Labs, OYL-605), prepared in 1L starter
  • 1 pkg. California Ale yeast (WLP001), prepared in 1L starter 8 hours in advance
  • On Tuesday, October 20, I prepared a 1L starter at ~1.040 gravity (100 g of extra light DME in 1 L water), and adjusted the pH down to 4.4 using 88% lactic acid. I boiled the starter in a 2L flask, and cooled it down to 100°. Then, I added the Lactobacillus culture and let it propagate for two days.
  • Because this was a fairly small batch, and because I wanted a quick mash with minimal equipment to clean, I followed a brew-in-a-bag protocol for the mash. On Thursday, October 22, I heated 6.85 gallons of water to 154°, and added the grains in a big bag. The mash stabilized at 150°. After 30 minutes, I added a little heat to slowly bring the temperature up to 152°, and let it ride back down slowly until 60 minutes had passed after mash-in. At this point, I raised the temperature to 168°, and let it sit for 10 minutes. In the end, I had 6.1 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.027. This is 86% efficiency!
  • I added ~3.3 tsp of 88% lactic acid to the wort, to bring the pH down to ~4.5. I added some ice packs to cool the wort to 95° and pitched the bacterial culture. I covered the wort with saran wrap to minimize oxygen. 12 hours later, I turned on a heat pad to help raise temperature a bit, to 85°. I let the Let sit until 2 pm on Saturday, October 24.
  • The pH was down to 3.4 by Saturday afternoon. A thin white pellicle covered the entire surface, and the wort had a slightly cidery aroma. I took the relatively pleasant odor as a good sign.
  • I removed as much of the pellicle as I could, and started a very hard and vigorous boil. After 40 minutes, I added the hops for 5 minutes and then removed them. After a total of 50 minutes on the boil, I turned off the flame and chilled the wort to 78°. I transferred approximately 4 gallons of wort into the fermenter and pitched the yeast.
  • The official starting gravity is 1.032. The yeast was pitched on Saturday, October 24, 2015, and I had signs of fermentation by that evening, with a good krausen by the next afternoon.