Blast from the Past: Gingerbread Winter Warmer 2016

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.


  • Appearance
    • Very clear, deep amber beer, which pours with a moderately persistent cream-colored head.
  • Aroma
    • Raisins, light hint of leather, ginger, dried figs…very rich! No hop aroma noticeable.
  • Flavor
    • 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.
  • Mouthfeel
    • 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.
  • Overall
    • 10/10
Here’s to cellared beer, and 2021!

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.