Winter Warmers

by Steve Renshaw

It really is amazing how many different flavours brewers manage to produce just from the traditional ingredients of water, malted barley, hops and yeast. With ninety-nine new breweries opening in the last twelve months, there are now well over eight hundred across Britain. Did you know that there are twenty breweries within a 25-mile radius of the centre of Lincoln? Thousands of ales are produced and no two are exactly alike.

On a recent visit to The Strugglers, I had a pale ale – White Sea from the excellent Newby Wyke Brewery in Grantham – and you would swear that it had grapefruit juice in it. At the same time, my wife was drinking a sweeter beer from Lancashire’s Fuzzy Duck Brewery that had hints of chocolate and coffee.

And then, of course, to add to the spectrum of flavours, brewers will experiment with additional ingredients in their speciality or seasonal ales. These include honey, coriander, lemongrass, ginger, bananas, elderflowers and even oysters.

For many people, beer is associated with cooling off, thanks to the proliferation of mass-market lagers. Images of beaches and bikinis and slogans like “extra cold” emphasize beer’s role as a cooling refreshment. But what do we do when the weather turns frosty and the nights draw in? Warm up with a hearty winter brew, of course. For centuries, brewers have made seasonal beers for winter that are fuller in body and maltier than standard styles.

In order to banish winter’s chill, these beers should be served no colder than 12oC, which is ideal for showcasing their delicious flavours. Serving ice-cold suppresses flavour; a good strategy only if you’re not keen to really taste your beer.

So how am I going to find a winter ale to showcase? By definition, a seasonal beer is only going to be found in pubs that have guest ales. But these days, that doesn’t narrow things down too much, so even if I just stay in the city, I’ve got a lot of pubs to go at.

Rather than using leg power to track down my quarry, I decide to use new technology. A quick tweet to the followers of the Lincoln CAMRA Twitter account and the suggestions are soon coming in. The Golden Eagle has Castle Rock Snow White – The Strugglers has Oldershaw’s Yuletide. But wait, here’s the one I’ve been waiting for. Once you’ve seen the flashing red nose on the pump-clip of Bateman’s Rosey Nosey, you know that Christmas really is on its way.

So it’s off to The Victoria, just behind Lincoln Castle, to get into the festive mood. I have to say that the guest beers in Bateman’s houses can be fairly pricey, and The Victoria is one of the more expensive pubs in the city. It’s not so long ago that we were bemoaning the fact that the average price of a pint had reach £3, but that was the cheapest price in The Vic, when I visited. It’s hardly surprising that pub-going habits have changed.

And what about the beer? At 4.9%, ABV Rosey Nosey is a bit stronger than I usually drink, but the extra alcohol certainly brings a warm glow to my cheeks. It’s full of complex flavours, like a liquid Christmas pudding but with a lingering bitterness. There are also hints of bonfire toffee. Now shall I have another to see if my nose flashes like Santa’s.

If you develop a taste for warming ales and fancy a day out in Manchester, why not visit CAMRA’s National Winter Ales Festival which runs from 18th to 21st January 2012.