Shiver me timbers! Winter warmers helping our brewery trade to thrive
It has been a British tradition for centuries – light beers in the summer, strong and heavy brews in the winter.
And according to brewers in the West Midlands, seasonal ales have never been more popular, with drinkers eagerly awaiting the annual arrival of their favourite tipple.
It is all part of the continuing revival of real ales, which is helping small breweries across our region to reflect the tastes and character of the area where they are based.
Sarah Hughes Brewery, based at the Beacon Hotel in Sedgley, has a long standing tradition of producing seasonal ales.
They include the award-winning Snowflake, which has been brewed each winter since the late 1980s.
The potent brew weighs in at an eye-watering eight per cent, and is a real winner with customers who look forward to its arrival at the pumps, according to operations manager Simon Massey.
“It is always a really good seller and every year we have people asking us when it is coming out,” he said.
The brewery, which is famed for its Dark Ruby Mild, was reinstated in 1987 and is set to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. It unleashes Snowflake at the end of November to tie in with the Dudley Winter Beer Festival.
And by the time its two half brews are finished – usually by early February – around 2,300 pints of it have been supped.
Mr Massey says stronger ales tend to be really popular in the winter months and are perfect for cosy nights in at the local.
He says drinkers tend to prefer a lighter beer in the summer months to help them cool down.
Other ales from Sarah Hughes Brewery include Hedgerow, a 7.4 per cent barley wine which comes out in March.
“A pint of Snowflake will certainly warm anyone up,” he says. “People come from all over to drink it. We have people coming here from all over the country, as well as expats coming back from Australia saying they can’t wait to try it.
“It is sad that the pub trade has struggled, but it is good to see that local breweries have continued to do well and seasonal ales are a big part of that.”
“We are very lucky in the Midlands to have a lot of great local breweries that are still producing popular ales.”
The Wood Brewery in Shropshire fits squarely into that category. Based in the village of Wistanstow, the brewery is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, with a pledge to continue its ethos of being proud of its local heritage.
It was founded by the Wood family at the Plough Inn and was taken over by new owners in 2018, who have worked with the existing team to make a range of progressive changes to the brewing process and quality control.
Alongside its popular Shropshire Lad and Shropshire Lass beers, Wood’s has launched a range of new beers.
They include its winter ale Shiver, described by the brewery as a single-hopped, dark session ale, with a slightly sweet, malty finish.
Stephen O’Neill, joint managing director at Wood’s, said it was important that local breweries continue to innovate and be creative.
He said his brewery had championed traditionally brewed beer at a time when there was a surge of keg beer companies flooding the market and threatening the existence of traditional English ales.
“The response to our new winter beer has been brilliant,” he said.
“And the uptake of the beer in the county’s pubs has been great. We are thrilled our latest brew has been so well received.
“As we approach our 40th year in 2020 we want to continue our dedication to producing quality, real ale.
“We take great care throughout our production process – carefully selecting our natural raw ingredients, and faithfully delivering the finished product to the network of pubs and shops that sell our quality beers.
“The Wood’s ethos is about being proud of our heritage and region, so we are doing everything we can to keep producing great Shropshire beers.”
Around 300 new breweries have been launched annually in the UK as a boom in craft beer sales have encouraged start-ups. The growth in sales of craft beer in both pubs and supermarkets has also seen a resurgence of home brewing.