Getting Cozy with Winter Warmers

Another installment of “Is This Beer for You”, coming right up! Our intent is to tickle your taste buds and your brewing imagination! This one is about Winter Warmers. Just writing that makes my mouth water and brings memories of friends and cold nights and those nice warming high gravity beers. Say Winter Warmer to a craft beer drinker and you will likely get a smile and a nostalgic tale of their favorite. Winter Warmers bring memories of cold winter nights by the fire and holiday spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. 

Winter Warmers aren’t a BJCP(Beer Judge Certification Program) style, but fall under Strong British Ale. These beers were brewed to pair with the rich and fragrant cuisine of the holidays.  As beer in past centuries was brewed in conjunction with the seasons, we find these strong malty beers making their appearance in colder months. One of the most recognizable was Burton Ale crafted at Burton-on-Trent in the 18th century. This is likely the father of many of the Winter Warmers we enjoy today on this side of the pond. The first Christmas Ale in the US came in 1975 from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. Originally called Our Special, it was a dry hopped English Ale. In 1987, they added spices, changed the name to Christmas Ale and still brew it today. 

The overall characteristics for this rich, malt forward beer are sweet, fruity, nutty and toffee. Add your favorite holiday spices if you wish to bring the Christmas aroma and flavor. Hop additions are minimal; just enough to balance the sweetness of the malt. These are no session beers for sure as most start at 6% ABV (alcohol by volume) and many are well over 10%. 

Some commercial examples are Christmas Ale from Great Lake Brewing Co., Winter Welcome from Samuel Smith or Nutcracker Winter Warmer Ale from Boulevard Brewing Co. Check out your local store for many choices. Remember, sip friend, sip! So you want to try a batch? Start now for next year’s reward. This is a beer that requires patience, but will be worth the wait! Here’s what I’m going to brew for next winter – Join me? 

Tröegs Brewing Co.’s Mad Elf

(5 gallons – all grain) OG=1.092   FG=1.015

  • 12.5 lbs Pilsner Malt
  • 2.63 lbs Munich Malt
  • .75 lb dark Munich Malt
  • .31 lbs caramel malt 80L
  • .13 lb chocolate malt
  • .31 lb Special B malt
  • 1 lb cane sugar (o min)
  • .25 lb honey (0 min)
  • 1.25 lbs tart cherry puree
  • .9 lbs sweet cherry puree
  • 2.7 oz Galena hops (90 min)
  • 2.3 oz Hersbrucker hops (10 min)
  • White Labs WLP 530 (Abbey Ale) or Wyeast 3787 (Trappist Style High Gravity) – 2 packs – consider a starter too

Using 21.5 qts of water, mash in at 146°F, rest for 10 min, then raise the temperature to 152°F and hold for 40 minutes. Increase temperature to 162°F for a final 10 minutes. Recalculate about 10 minutes to set the grain bed and then sparge with 2.2 gallons of water at 168°F and collect a total of 7 gallons of wort. Boil 90 minutes, adding hops as directed. Add the honey and cane sugar at flame out. Chill quickly to 65°F, pitch the yeast. After 24 hours of fermentation, add the cherry purees. After 12-14 days of fermentation, drop the temperature 6° per day for four days to clear the beer. Keg and carbonate. ENJOY!

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