On Xmas & Winter Seasonal Beers: what is traditional and what is not?
The issue of Xmas and Winter Seasonal Beers is a vast subject and this is a brief and partial take.
What is in mind is to ponder, over a beer naturally, what if anything is ‘traditional’ about such beers.
I can remember a time when such beers when they appeared at all were distinctively regional and almost always in cask format.
For example the London winter seasonal beer for many years was Youngs Winter Warmer. It appeared in barrels on the bartops of Youngs’ pubs before and after Xmas. As readers of my blog will know it still exists- brewed by Charles Wells- and tastes much as it ever did.
It was however the only such beer you were likely to come across in a London pub in the 1970s and 1980s.
That is far from the case now. Wetherspoons have for some years in December run a list of Xmas ales. Some of these such as Batemans Rosey Nosey (not on the list this year I don’t think) were decent beers. Others were hardly likely to suggest anything too merry about Christmas..
Most had some form of spice added to them- and in more recent times the spiced stout has become a more significant seasonal feature.
I’m not a huge fan of spice in beer but it is not just a modern affectation to tweak a beer for Xmas. As recent talk by beer writer of the year Pete Brown reminded me, the use of spice in Victorian winter drinks was common in form or another. The works of Charles Dickens make many references to such things.
To my mind though the tradition really likes with regional beers like Youngs WW and Adnams Tally Ho (brewed from 1869 it would seem). Hook Norton’s 12 Days is arguably another in this genre although you can find a You Tube clip of James Clarke noting that it was the first beer he introduced when he joined the brewery 20 or so years ago. Perhaps he was inventing tradition then.
Very recently we’ve started to see imperial stouts (sometimes barrel aged) appear more frequently at this time of year. These often clock in at 10% or above ABV so they are for sipping in third pint measures not drinking by the pint like Youngs Winter Warmer (5%). Notables currently are from Cloudwater and Beavertown amongst others.
There is some tradition here because the production of strong, warming beers at a time of year when it is at least meant to be cold is hardly a new one.
As Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger noted all tradition is invented so my interest has to be tempered by that.
In the week before Christmas I was fortunate enough to try three Xmas beers brewed by Crafty Devil in Cardiff- a cranberry pale, an mint chocolate stout and a smoked amber as well as the Cloudwater collab Christmas cake imperial stout. All were well made highly drinkable beers within what I’d take to be the modern tradition of seasonal beers in December. That is good beers in themselves with a little Xmas twist.
Is it perhaps time too for a Double Winter Warmer to be brewed…