I often make a special, small-batch beer for Christmas, something that’s rich and high alcohol and perfect for cold (southern California) evenings next to the fire. For the 2021 edition, I threw together a Belgian-style winter warmer. I wanted a rich, sumptuous malt backbone, and to let the fermentation add any spice, rather than using actual species. I used up a few ingredients on-hand, which just happened to be perfect for my vision of the beer.
Winter Dream Ale
8 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
1.25 lb. Munich light malt (Chateau)
11 oz. Special B malt (Dingemans)
4 oz. Crystal 120 malt (Great Western)
0.75 oz. Magnum hop pellets (10.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
1.5 g yeast nutrient (WLN1000, White Labs)
8 oz. honey, add to flameout
2 pkg. Abbay Belgian ale yeast (Lallemand)
1.086 o.g., 1.018 f.g., 9.2% abv, 22 IBU, 22 SRM
Mash held at 150° for 60 minutes, and 10 minute mash-out at 168°, with ~0.75 gallon sparge
Claremont tap water
I heated 4.5 gallons of water to 159°, and added the grains to hit a mash temperature of 150°. I held here (with recirculation) for 60 minutes, before raising the temperature to 168° and holding there for 10 minutes. Then, I removed the grain basket and sparged with 0.75 gallons of hot water.
I collected 4.5 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.060, for 71% mash efficiency.This was a good efficiency but too high of a volume. So, I boiled for an extra 30 minutes before adding hops.
After 30 minutes of boiling, I added the hops, honey, and finings per the recipe, boiling for an addition 60 minutes.
Starting gravity was 1.076; this was a bit short of the recipe, but I didn’t worry about it too much.
I chilled to 80°, transferred to the fermenter, and let the wort chill overnight before pitching the yeast.
I brewed the beer on 12 October 2021, and pitched the yeast on 13 October 2021.
I fermented at 65°, and raised the beer to 70° (free rise) on 20 October 2021, to help the yeast ferment out.
I kegged the beer on 5 November 2021. Final gravity was 1.020, for 7.5% abv.
Deep reddish amber and very clear; there is a persistent and creamy ivory head.
Spicy aroma, with a bit of caramel and dried dark fruit.
Wonderfully rich! There is a caramel and toffee malt character with a bit of dried fruit and sweet candy. A bready malt quality sneaks up behind that. Bitterness is moderate, and the yeast character has a slightly spicy quality. Fermentation quality is really nice, and I dodged any hot alcohol character.
Medium body, with medium-high carbonation and a smooth finish. The body is maybe a little thinner than I had envisioned.
Would I brew this again?
I am really, really happy with the results in this recipe. It absolutely hit the rich, complex qualities I wanted, and is highly drinkable. The fermentation quality is perfect too! The only minor ding is that starting gravity was a touch low, which decreases the body a little, but I think that worked out okay in the end. I would rather the body be somewhat thin, than the beer be too sweet and cloying.
As I am pretty sure I’ve lamented previously, I sometimes get too far down the rabbit-hole of brewing to a particular style. IPA, stout, porter, pilsner…all are great, but that can be at expense of creativity. On the other hand, I grew wary of the big and bitter beers that I gravitated towards early in my craft beer days. And yet…I now find myself picking up a bottle of Arrogant Bastard every few weeks, and kind of enjoying it. The excesses of craft beer recipes are still excessive, but I’m finding that they can be enjoyable in moderation and on occasion.
To scratch this itch, I paged through the Craft Beer For the Homebrewer book, and my eyes settled upon a clone recipe for something called Ill-Tempered Gnome. Produced by Oakshire Brewing, this recipe looked big, dark, and bitter, and was billed as an American Brown Ale (on the website) or a winter warmer (in the beer book).
Quite intrigued, I pulled together the ingredients, making a minor substitution or two based on availability for some of the harder-to-find malts (e.g., I had to go with a different brand of coffee malt versus Franco-Belges Kiln Coffee Malt in the original recipe). That said, I did try to adhere as closely as possible to the book’s version, which I was told (by Denny Conn himself) came direct from the brewer.
Ill-Tempered Gnome Clone
12 lb. California Select 2-row malt (Great Western)
11 oz. crystal 15° (Great Western)
5 oz. coffee malt (Simpsons)
5 oz. honey malt (Gambrinus)
5 oz. special B malt (Dingemans)
4.5 oz. special roast malt (Briess)
3.5 oz. chocolate malt (Briess)
1 oz. Nugget hop pellets (12.9% alpha), 60 minute boil
0.5 oz. Centennial hop pellets (8.1% alpha), 20 minute boil
0.5 oz. Crystal hop pellets (4.5% alpha), 20 minute boil
Full volume mash at 154° for 60 minutes, with 10 minute mash-out at 168°
Claremont tap water, adjusted to reach estimated profile of 75 ppm Ca, 11 ppm Mg, 93 ppm Na, 149 ppm sulfate, 105 ppm Cl, 156 ppm bicarbonate; RA 68, 128 ppm alkalinity; 60 ppm effective hardness.
I heated 7.5 gallons of water to 161°, adding a Campden tablet to remove chloramines. Then, I mashed in with the grains to hit a temperature of 154°. I added 7 mL (1.5 tsp.) of 88% lactic acid to adjust the pH of the mash, and recirculated at 154° for 60 minutes. Then, I raised the mash temperature to 168° and held it there for 10 minutes, before removing the grains.
In total, I collected 6.35 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.055, for 68% mash efficiency.
As I brought the runnings to a boil, I added 5 g of gypsum to adjust the water profile.
To bring the gravity up a bit, I boiled for an extra 10 minutes, before beginning to add the hops. I then boiled for an additional 60 minutes, adding hops and kettle finings per the recipe.
After the 60 minute boil, I chilled to ~75°, transferred to the fermenter, and chilled down to 65° in the fermentation chamber. Then, I pitched the two packages of yeast.
I brewed the beer on 9 October 2021, and fermented at 65°. Starting gravity was 1.061.
On 20 October 2021, I let the beer free rise to 70° (after removing it from the fermentation chamber).
I kegged the beer on 23 October 2021. At this point, its gravity was 1.017. This equates to 5.9% abv.
The beer pours with a thick and frothy ivory head, and awesome lacing as the head subsides slowly. The beer is a brilliantly clear reddish amber in color in a tulip glass, and is a nice even brown in a tall glass.
Resiny hops are at the front, with toffee and coffee malt aroma alongside some caramel. The malt/hop balance is spot-on.
Moderately high bitterness, with a resin and pine quality to the hops, for an extended bitterness in the finish. This beer has a full malt character, with caramel at the front and a slight bit of chocolate at the back. Delicious!
Medium-full body, with moderate carbonation and an off-dry finish.
Would I Brew This Again?
YES! The resiny hops plus rich malt character are an awesome combo. The beer is straight out of 1997 in terms of its traditional hops and big flavors, but I love it for that. Who knows if my version is a true clone, but do I really care? I love this beer! In particular, it’s not really a winter warmer (in terms of the overspiced recipes so common out there), but definitely closer to an American brown ale. I’ll do this one again.
Way, way, way back in the innocent days of September 2016, I brewed a winter warmer. At the time, it was okay, but nothing great. I drank much of it right from the keg, and the rest got bottled. I sampled some back in January 2018, and it was aging nicely. After that, I forgot about the beer for awhile, and only just ran across my stash in the basement while putting away Christmas decorations. Being New Year’s Eve and all, I thought it would be fun to pull out a bottle and give it a taste!
Although I was tempted to review my recipe and brewing notes prior to opening the bottle, I decided to go into the tasting with minimal expectations. I vaguely recalled that there was some ginger in there, but that’s about it. My spouse shared the bottle (it was 22 ounces of beer, and I didn’t need to drink all of it myself!), and we talked over the beer as watched the southern California sunset from our yard.
Very clear, deep amber beer, which pours with a moderately persistent cream-colored head.
Raisins, light hint of leather, ginger, dried figs…very rich! No hop aroma noticeable.
Malty, with moderate bitterness. Lots of pleasant notes from aging, including dried figs, raisins, and a touch of spice (ginger). Yeast character was surprisingly clean, with no unpleasant aspects that I was afraid might seep in after a few years.
Big body, very smooth, moderate carbonation.
Would I Age This Again?
YES. Although I don’t recall this being an exceptional beer four years ago, it sure is something special now. Everything has just come together in a rich, flavorful way, and I can’t think of a better beer to enjoy as we close out 2020. I’ll brew this again soon, to have at least a little aging under its belt before next New Year’s Eve.
My beer tastes run towards the lighter, lower-alcohol side, but I sure do like a nice and robust beer in that stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I just finished the keg of Stygimoloch Bock, and this year’s Christmas Warmer went on tap in its place.
The goal for this batch was to have something with a bit of character and a bit of kick. I wanted a rich malt character, alongside a bit of spice. I looked through Gordon Strong’s Modern Homebrew Recipes, and found “Christmas Beer” as an inspiration. The malt proportions in my version are pretty similar to Strong’s recipe, but I did a ton of swapping for brand and even malt type. Golden Promise got replaced by Vienna, and Belgian Aromatic got swapped out for Honey Malt, among other things. The original recipe is far more English in character, including the hops and yeast, and I did away with that entirely! Instead of English ale yeast, I brought in Hornindal kveik. My logic was that its orange/citrus qualities would fill that space of orange zest in Strong’s recipe. Plus, I had the kveik on-hand, and thought it would be a fun variation.
Because this was a pretty experimental batch, and because I didn’t want ridiculous amounts of a spiced beer, I knocked the recipe back to 2.5 gallons. This gave me a chance to do a test-run for a small batch on my Foundry system. I quite like the result, but am glad that I don’t have endless quantities of it. Even a good spiced ale is best as a treat in moderation!
Christmas Warmer 2020
3.5 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
1 lb. Munich II malt (Weyermann)
1 lb. honey malt (Gambrinus)
0.5 lb. Caramunich I malt (Weyermann)
0.5 lb. caramel 40° malt (Briess)
0.5 lb. flaked barley
2 oz. chocolate malt (Briess)
1 lb. honey, 1 minute boil
1 oz. robust molasses (Grandma’s Brand)
1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5.5% alpha), 30 minute boil
1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
Steeping spices (steeped for 10 minutes after boil)
Claremont water, with Campden tablet to remove chloramines.
I mashed in (using my Anvil Foundry) with 4.5 gallons of water at 160°, adding 2.5 mL of 88% lactic acid to adjust pH. I let this settle down to 154°, mashing for 50 minutes with recirculation. I then raised the mash to 168° over 10 minutes, let it rest for 10 minutes, removed the grains, and brought the runnings to a boil.
The mash yielded 4 gallons of wort at 1.041, for 62% mash efficiency. This was a bit below where I wanted to be, so I added 0.5 lb. of extra light DME, to raise the gravity.
I boiled for 60 minutes, adding the hops and other ingredients per the schedule.
After the boil but before chilling the wort, I steeped the spices in a bag for 10 minutes.
I cooled down to ~80°, transferred to the fermenter, and let it run at ambient. Because it was later in fall when I brewed this, ambient was around 70° or so for the start.
Starting gravity was 1.061. I brewed the beer on 20 October 2020.
I kegged the beer on 6 November 2020, and force carbonated.
Final gravity was 1.017, which works out to 5.8% abv. I’ve noticed that this kveik strain seems to underattenuate, measuring 61% to 71% in the batches I’ve done.
Deep amber beer with some haze; pours with a persistent beige head.
Candied ginger, general spice, with a touch of citrus peel. Slight malty/biscuity character, and a slight tartness. There is a hint of cinnamon/spice as the beer warms up.
Medium-low bitterness, and a light tartness (from the kveik?). There is a subtle spice character, with a bit of cinnamon and molasses that become more prominent as the beer warms.
Medium body, moderate carbonation. The finish is off-dry and fairly smooth.
Would I brew this again?
This is a pretty good beer, but still needs a little work. For my personal conception of a “holiday beer,” I’d like a bit more base malt character. For a rebrew, I might use all Munich I as the base, and also add some dark crystal malt (maybe crystal 80 or crystal 120?). The beer could also use a little more sweetness–perhaps from lactose or crystal malt–to round out the profile. The level of bitterness is about perfect. Finally, I might change the yeast to an English ale yeast rather than kveik. In sum, this is a perfectly drinkable experiment, and will be worth a future revision.
Last night I pulled out a bottle of my 2016 Gingerbread Winter Warmer, and poured a snifter. Although I had kegged that beer way back in the day, I emptied the keg into a few bottles for extended aging. I figure I’ll open one a year, until the bottles are gone.
More than a year after brewing, this is a fairly enjoyable winter beer. It’s got a decent banana note, a rich, malty flavor, and a thin ivory head that disperses a few minutes after pouring. I think there might have been a little secondary fermentation in the bottle, because it seems a bit more carbonated than I remember.