Oh the weather outside is frightful… When it gets cold and snowy a strong, flavorful beer is a great way to warm the spirit. A winter warmer is just that: a malty, spiced sweater in a glass.

Harpoon Winter Warmer was my introduction to the style, a stepping stone on the way to imperial stouts and other stronger, darker fare. A winter seasonal beer, it has strong malt flavor balanced with seasonal spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. They’re often dark but closer to a brown ale than a stout, and generally they’re on the stronger side with an ABV of 6% or higher.

Like the last few recipes, this one is also adapted from Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer.


Style Winter Seasonal Beer (BJCP 30C)
Recipe Type Extract
Batch Size 3 Gallons
Original Gravity 1.077
Final Gravity 1.022
ABV 7.3%
Color 21°L


The ingredients for a winter warmer, including darker malts, english yeast, and winter-y spices.

Kind Amount Color (SRM)
Light Liquid Malt Extract (LME) 6.6 lb 5°L
Crystal 80 6.8 oz 80°L
Black (Patent) Malt 2.3 oz 500°L
Kind Amount % AA Time
Horizon 0.5 oz 12% 60 min
Kind Amount Stage Time
Ground Cinnamon 1/2 tsp Boil 1 min
Ground Ginger 1/4 tsp Boil 1 min
Ground Allspice 1/8 tsp Boil 1 min
Ground Nutmeg 1/8 tsp Boil 1 min
Kind Amount
White Labs WLP013 “London Ale” 2 packages (80 mL)

A note about the spices: the mixture above is for a 5 gallon recipe, so don’t use it all! I recommend mixing the spices and using a heaping half teaspoon of the mixture to avoid being overpowering.

Winter spices like cinnamon and ginger will lend this beer the flavor of gingerbread.

To hit our target ABV, we need plenty of malt extract for a boost of fermentable sugar. We also need plenty of yeast, and the easiest way to do that is to use a second package. You can also make a yeast starter, which I’ll learn how to do myself one day. Unlike the English Mild, which has a similar yet smaller grain bill, we’re using hops with higher alpha acid content. These hops will provide more bitterness to counter the sweet malt profile. My local shop was out of Horizon, so I used Magnum hops instead.


I tried something radical for this recipe: instead of making an educated guess, I used the amount of water my software, Beersmith, calculated that I should use. And guess what? It was much more accurate than I usually am!

Start by adding 2.75 gallons of water to your brew kettle. Bring the water up to 155°F and steep the grains for 15 minutes. The dark and roasted malt will give the beer its color.

A little dark malt goes a long way when giving a beer some color.

Next, remove the grain and stir in the liquid malt extract. This is where the most of the fermentable sugar will come from. Then, bring the wort to a boil and add the hops. Let the wort boil for one hour. During the last minute or so of the boil, stir in the spices.

Give it the good old fashioned hop drop! Using a muslin bag keeps most of the trub contained.

After an hour has passed, remove the hops and chill the wort to about 72°F. Before pitching your yeast, check your gravity! As Beersmith predicted, I ended up with a bit less than 2.5 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.096. After two stages of adding water and remeasuring, I hit my target gravity of 1.078 at 3.1 gallons of wort.

Check the initial gravity of your wort and slowly water it down to reach the target.

Once you’ve achieved your target gravity, it’s time to pitch the yeast. Transfer the wort to your fermenter, add the two packages of yeast, and give it stir. Seal up your fermenter and let it sit for two weeks before bottling. After another two weeks, it should be ready to enjoy!


This winter warmer pours like a stout, but tastes more like a brown ale.

Appearance Dark brown, tan head, hazy in the light.
Aroma Molasses sweetness, hint of spice, effervescent.
Mouthfeel Balanced, evenly coats mouth, not syrupy for such malty beer.
Flavor Malty, not roasty, sweetness leads into spice, cinnamon lingers, dessert-like.
Overall A strong but not too strong brown ale with a little extra going on.

This recipe is on the darker side for the style, but the flavor is comparable to other winter beers like Harpoon’s Winter Warmer and Southern Tier’s Old Man Winter. It’s malt forward with just enough spice to balance out the sweetness. And it’s quite drinkable for 7% ABV, perfect for sipping by the fire (or noisy radiator, or whatever).

Harpoon's winter warmer is lighter and more crisp, but mine has more malt and spice without going overboard.

I happened to have some Harpoon Winter Warmer on hand for a quick taste test. Harpoon’s beer is a classic: it’s like drinking gingerbread! Mine comes in with more malt flavor and body, while Harpoon winter warmer is light and crisp in comparison; mine is a a rich pumpkin pie to Harpoon’s gingerbread. But I’d happily drink either this winter!