Friday, 31 January 2014

Winter Ales Of Our Discontent?

As mentioned previously I’m off this coming Saturday to the Dark and Delicious Beer Festival at the Cooper’s Arms, Crowborough. It promises to be a good do, and one I’m really looking forward to. Pub beer festivals always seem more homely, personal and atmospheric than events held in old town halls, exhibition venues and other large public spaces. Well certainly in this country that is.

The following weekend sees Dover, Deal and Sandwich CAMRA holding the 21st Festival of Winter Ales, housed in Dover’s historic town hall - the Maison Dieu. I’ve attended the event on several previous occasions, including last year, but with this festival following hot on the heels of the one in Crowborough, I’ll more likely than not give it a miss. Don’t get me wrong, the Winter Ales Festival is an excellent event, albeit a little dangerous. I say dangerous because all the beers are 5.0% abv or above, and I’ve returned from previous visits slightly the worse for wear. However, there are quite a few other things happening during February, not all of them beer related, that I would like to participate in, so it won’t hurt to miss the Dover Festival this time round.

I‘ve had a quick look through the beer list for the festival, and whilst there are some cracking winter ales that I would love to sample, there are also a significant number of beers that I wouldn’t class as winter ales. They may well be 5.0% abv or above, but IPAs, Red Ales or Amber Ales do not in my book warrant inclusion in a festival like this. Granted the organisers have stated “The festival features around 75 winter and strong ales, of between 5% and 10% abv, which have been selected from mostly small independent and micro-breweries from across the country”, but looking at the beer list, nearly half of the 75 beers fall into the aforementioned category of IPAs, Red Ales or Amber Ales, and whilst they are all strong in terms of strength, they are not “Strong Ales” in the accepted use of the word.

I know I’m being extremely pedantic here, and for the record I really like strong, hoppy IPA's. However, there's a time and a place for everything, and the place for the enjoyment of these beers is not a winter ales festival. But without sounding too churlish, I suppose that even with 35 or so of the beers not falling into the category of true winter ales, there are still some 40 or so which do, and surely this is enough to satisfy even the pickiest of beer geeks? Perhaps there's another reason though for the inclusion of the strong IPA’s , Red Ales etc., and that is are enough Winter Ales brewed to provide sufficient variety for a festival of this sort? Did the organisers struggle to find sufficient numbers of true winter ales, and then ended up having to supplement those they did manage to source with other types of strong beer?

I obviously need to get out more, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask these sorts of questions. Does anyone know the answers though?  

For the record, CAMRA judges the following categories of winter beer styles against each other at its annual Festival of Winter Ales in order to crown the Champion Winter Beer of Britain. These Categories are:
  • Old Ales & Strong Milds
  • Porters
  • Stouts
  • Barley Wines & Strong Old Ales.

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