My fridge is currently full of porters. Everyone seems to think I drink nothing but IPA (and granted, I do heartily disagree with those who say things like “I like IPA but it’s not the sort of beer you can drink more than a couple of”) but like many beer drinkers, my tastes tend to change a little with the seasons. In summer you’ll find a lot of pilsner in my fridge and when the weather cools I tend to turn to Belgian dubbels, porters, stouts and the like. But generally, you don’t find a great deal of wintry beers in South Africa – or at least you didn’t until recently.
I’m noticing a marked increase in seasonal brews in this country and I have to tell you, I think it’s awesome. I think it really shows that our still young industry is beginning to mature. It suggests that brewers are becoming confident in their skills and and are willing to experiment, to read up on a new style, to test out a new recipe. Even better, it shows that beer drinkers here are likewise experimenting and opening their minds and mouths to new flavours and styles of beer.
Of course, cooler weather tends to inspire darker, heavier beers. So far this year we saw Aegir Project release their Wee Heavy (still my favourite name for a beer style), Citizen brought out a winter porter with vanilla and chocolate, the Brewers Co-op launched a limited edition Russian Imperial Stout (though I’m not sure if this is going to be a seasonal beer or an occasional brew – not quite the same thing) and seemingly the kings of seasonal brews, Woodstock Brewery, sold the last bottles of the wonderful autumnal release, Mr Brownstone, a mere week before their winter brew, Lady of the Night was launched.
Woodstock are really nailing the seasonal thing, I think. Each time a new brew comes out, they hold a mini launch party in their taproom. They brew enough to see us through the season, then move on to the next. I read Karl Tessendorf’s post on Crush Magazine, calling for drinkers to get the hazelnut brown ale added to the year-round line-up, singing its praises and rating it more highly than Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown. When it comes to tasting, I couldn’t agree more – I recently had a similar conversation with fellow beer fans who generally agreed that Woodstock’s version beat Rogue’s hands down. But when it comes to adding this beer to the year-round line-up, no, no and thrice NO! I’ve seen several SA brewers do just this – brew a seasonal, discover that it’s popular then add it to the range. And what do you end up with? A core range of 15 beers and a bunch of bored drinkers looking elsewhere for something fresh.
To you, Woodstock, I would say keep Mr Brownstone seasonal. In fact to any brewer brewing a seasonal, I would ask you to try and stick to your guns. Sure it must be severely tempting to brew a popular beer year-round, but seasonals help to grow a following, they keep your brewery interesting and relevant. They keep the drinkers coming back for more. I have one bottle of Mr Brownstone left in my fridge (yes, I was the person who snapped up those last bottles) and I doubt it will still be there this time next week. Would I like to be able to buy it all year round? Perhaps. But will it taste even better next autumn when I get my glove-clad hands on the first bottles out of the tap room? You bet your ass.
(Note: last I heard, Roeland Liquors still had a few bottles of Woodstock’s Mr Brownstone left – get there quickly).
What’s your favourite seasonal? Which 2016 seasonal brews have I forgotten about? Would you rather see a great beer available year-round or do you enjoy the Christmas-like feeling of waiting for your favourite brew to get re-released? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.