Beer is a versatile luxury. It keeps us cool in summer, it keeps us warm in winter too.
Winter is the time to look at beer from another perspective. It is time for the darker malts to shine. Hops are set aside so we can enjoy the richer malty flavours, often augmented with spices and higher alcohol content. These are beers to be slowly savoured on cold nights.
So, just a few weeks after celebrating the hop harvest in Hopstock and the Fresh Hop Festival, we’ve moved on to the winter beer season.
SOBA organises two winter beer festivals. Last Saturday was the sixth Winter Ales Festival in Wellington, and on Saturday June 27 the City of Ales festival will be held in Auckland. Both sold out weeks ago.
SOBA President Dave Wood says these SOBA festivals are about good beer rather than making a profit. “The festivals are a really good way of raising the profile of different beer styles. We have a lot of volunteers and good will, so we can just break even to bring the costs down and give people the opportunity to try a lot of different beers and styles in one event.”
Winter Ales had 500 people attending – well up on last year’s 380 – and SOBA is looking for a new format to meet the growing demand. “We want to increase capacity but we want to keep the feel of the Festival. If we just keep letting more people in to a bigger room, it will lose the nice community vibe. It’s just like one big pub for the afternoon. So we’re most likely going to move to a two-session format next year, with about 300 people per session and two sessions on the same day.”
Thirty-four ales were presented at the festival, and many of the limited production brews ran out during the evening. Peoples’ Choice went to the very-deserving Kereru Brewing Imperial Nibs, followed by Funk EstateAffrogato and North End Baby Grand.
And while Dave was unable to test the beers at the event (Duty Manager and all) he does enjoy winter beers himself. “It’s always nice to look out on rainy, wintery, day and to be inside enjoying a winter ale. On this year’s entry list the typical winter ale is strong and malt driven, spices, nutty flavours, maybe barrel aged, and higher alcohol. This year we’ve seen an increase in sour beers as well, with Brettanomyces or sour bugs in them.”
It was a genial crowd and the single security guard seemed untroubled. The food queue was long but the atmosphere was great and this is an unmissable beer event. Beertown.NZ attended the Winter Ales Festival as a guest of SOBA. Cheers, and thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors who made it possible.