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Homebrewing: How to Brew A Winter Warmer


[Photograph: Marie C. Fields on Shutterstock]

When it comes to homebrewing, I am a procrastinator. I tend to brew the beer that I want to drink today, not the one I want to drink two months from now, when it will actually be ready for sipping.

But today is different. Today, I am attuned to the footsteps of winter approaching—ice on my car in the morning, clocks falling back to standard time, and Oscar-quality movies queuing up on the marquée. Today, as I sip a summery IPA and finally keg my Oktoberfest ale, I am thinking about what beer I want to drink in the depths of winter, two to three months from now. That beer is a Winter Warmer.

Winter Warmer, or Winter Specialty Spiced Beer, is a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) recognized style—number 21B. Do not let this constrain your creativity, however, as the guideline is riddled with phrases like, "many interpretations are possible," and concludes with this overall impression: "A stronger, darker, spiced beer that often has a rich body and warming finish suggesting a good accompaniment for the cold winter season." You might ask yourself, stronger than what? Darker than what?

When I create a Winter Warmer, I try to capture the sensation of a spiced seasonal dessert—like gingerbread or fruitcake—brought together with a sip of cognac. It leads me to ingredients like chocolate malt, molasses, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and orange peels—and an alcohol content north of 7%. I also think about yeasts that have spicy or fruity characters, such as Scottish and Belgian varieties.

The key to a delicious winter warmer is to be creative—but also to exercise restraint. We have all tasted commercial and homebrewed Christmas beers that are way overspiced. Think about gingerbread. Sure, you taste lots of ginger, cinnamon, and molasses. But would you enjoy it as much if you left out the flour and butter? The goal with a Winter Warmer is to make what would be a fundamentally good beer in the absence of spices but is improved by the subtle addition of spices and, perhaps, specialty fermentables like molasses. It should be on the sweet side and without much hops character, which would clash with the spices.

How do you know how much spice to add without going overboard? Here are a few strategies:

Do you brew Christmas ales or Winter Warmers? Here's my version, which clocks in at around 8.7% ABV.

Get the Recipe

Winter Warmer »

About the author: Peter Reed is a homebrewer and future pediatrician, at once causing and curing disease.

Printed from http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/11/homebrewing-how-to-brew-winter-warmer-christmas-beer-spiced.html

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