Thinking about your winter beer offering
As the nation heads into chillier climes, Craig Hawtin-Butcher reveals how drinkers’ tastes for winter change and how hoteliers can adapt to them.
“Most venues seem to be contracted [to one of the big two],” says Tom Pigott of Solotel’s The Bank. “For venues under those contracts, they have so many more options now, with those big companies having invested in smaller craft breweries. I would encourage venues with those contracts to consider the Pirate Lifes, 4 Pines, Goose Islands, Matilda Bay ranges. They don’t lose out by trying to experiment. There’s such a big growth still in the craft beer market that people are always looking.”
With those words of encouragement, now is the time to embrace seasonal shifts.
“May is a special time of year,” says Dean Romeo of Felons Brewing Co in central Brisbane. “Mainly because it’s that transition from the warmer weather into the colder weather. So there’s an ability to be open to these fruit sour beers, but also lean in to those roasty-toasty notes of porters, stouts and dark ales.”
The large brewpub venue, Felons, opened last November and, while Queensland winters are milder than many, how they will fare as the weather cools is something of an unknown quantity, given it will be their first winter in operation. However, as Romeo explains, “we’re pretty into what’s in season at the time of our seasonal releases. When we’re conceptualising each beer we’re very sensitive to what local farmers are growing and what’s available,” says Romeo.
“For seasonal peaks, we look at what sort of fruits are in season,” says Romeo. “We’re just coming out of the peak of summer here in Brisbane [in April], mandarins are really starting to ripen on the trees, so we’ve got a little mandarin gose up our sleeves. It’s a session sour beer.”
Meanwhile in Sydney’s Camperdown, Wayward Brewing Co has a pretty clear idea what to expect this winter.
GOING DARK FOR WINTER
“As soon as the weather starts to cool down we find people instinctively begin to gravitate to richer, more malt driven styles,” says Tully Mansfield, National Sales Manager with Wayward.
“For us, Autumn has always been a big month for our Red IPA… as it’s a great balance of something a bit more malt-forward that’s still clean and hoppy – perfect for the seasonal transition.”
The result of that popularity is an updated version of their red IPA now in can and joining Wayward’s core range.
“Definitely you’ll see a rise in amber/red style ales,” says Pigott. “For a string of our pubs I definitely see more putting on 4 Pines amber ale. It’s a nice approachable easy level, where it’s darker in colour but it doesn’t lose all its hoppiness so you don’t push away those who are getting into the more darker style ales.
“We’re definitely seeing a rise in red IPAs. That’s probably a style I’m seeing more and more of. A personal favourite of mine is the Hop Nation American Red, which is my go-to Winter beer,” says Pigott
Across town, James Thorpe, co-owner of Thorpe Hospitality and The Taphouse, Darlinghurst and The Oxford Tavern, Petersham says:
“As the weather cools we start to see some of the richer, maltier styles coming out. Red ales and amber ales all the way up-to bigger darker porters and stouts.”
SWEET FOR WINTER
Thorpe has also spotted some distinct new trends heading into these cooler months.
“Over the last few years, we’ve definitely seen a big rise in sweeter dark beers, like milk stouts & dessert stouts, as well as barrel aged stouts,” says Thorpe. “People are starting to realise that not every stout has to be a dry Irish stout like Guinness.”
Wayward’s Mansfield agrees. “Bigger Imperial and/or Barrel Aged Stouts are becoming more and more popular as people continue to diversify their beer drinking preferences beyond the more traditional Pale Ale and IPA styles. Richer, higher alcohol beers that are for sipping and savouring are definitely perfect for the cold months.”
It’s not just the changing seasons that are driving patrons tastebuds, says Solotel’s Pigott. Upcoming changes to excise laws mean that smaller-size kegs will increasingly become an affordable option for hoteliers.
“With the excise law change coming in,” says Pigott, “I think we’ll see more, heavier ABV beers – 8 or 9%, Russian stouts or big, heavy stouts that more venues will be able to get because of the smaller keg at a much more decent price than we’re used to.
“A lot more breweries will start to use those smaller kegs to get out limited beers that more venues will be more attracted to,” says Pigott.
Meanwhile, The Local Taphouse’s Thorpe says unfortunately some other Winter styles are apparently on the wane:
“We’re seeing a bit of a decline in the more English style ales, like ESBs, bitters & brown ales, which is a shame as we really enjoy drinking those styles,” says Thorpe.
Mansfield is also seeing some other styles drop away in popularity:
“Things like Black IPAs, which people couldn’t get enough of a few years ago, seem to have taken a bit of a back seat in the last 18 months. Also a lot of classic English and Belgian style dark beers, while not on the wane per se, are definitely a bit underrated when it comes to great cold weather drinking.”
ALL HAIL THE PALE
However, it’s important to remember that for many drinkers, the changing seasons don’t always change their drinking preferences.
Customers will drink pales, NEIPAs and sours whatever the time of year, says Thorpe. “As much as we like to complain about it, our winter in Sydney really isn’t that overbearing, and most drinkers still want to drink those lighter beers that they’re used to all year round.”
“You still see people coming in and wanting to start with something light,” says Solotel’s Pigott, “even though Sydney’s winter is quite mild relatively, it’s not cold enough where a pale isn’t still going to be enjoyable.”
While seasonally-led food menus adapt to seasonal ingredients and the craving for heartier dishes, the year-round quest to complement food and beer offerings continues into Winter.
“These styles naturally lend themselves to be used in cooking,” says Thorpe. “Something we like to play around with at both [The Taphouse and The Oxford Tavern]. Stouts in particular work really well in a range of dishes, especially a good meat pie. We also enjoy pairing the beers to our food, and find that the robust flavours of these wintery beer styles pair really well with our heartier dishes, such as our Sunday Roasts.”
The answer to changing seasons is to adapt the beer offering, encourage experimentation, ensure the food menu and drinks lists are complementary and explore the opportunities.
This feature was first published in the May issue of Australian Hotelier.