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.