Something strange starts happening to brewers as winter approaches.
They’ve spent spring and summer working double shifts making all the pilsner and NZPA they can. In autumn the hops are harvested and it’s time for big pale ales. Then, as the shortest day approaches, things can get very experimental (weird).
Winter brings the opportunity to make beers that are more flavoursome, more complex. Winter beers don’t have to be all refreshing and sessionable like a summer beer. Winter warming beers tend to have more alcohol than summer quaffers, and alcohol carries flavour. So an archetypal winter beer will have relatively high alcohol content, carry lots of malty, rich, even spicy flavours, and will be made to enjoy in smaller volumes.
Winter beers are being celebrated this month with events in Wellington and Christchurch. SOBA’s Winter Ale Festival is always a big hit, and is on this Saturday afternoon at the Hunter Lounge in Wellington. Christchurch has the Mid-Winter Ales Festival on Saturday 26 June at Rolleston Community Centre. The Wellington gig sold out weeks ago; tickets are still available for Christchurch as at this morning, but be quick as it sold out last year too.
The Winter Ale Festival (i.e., the Wellington one) has been around for seven years now. This year it will serve up 31 different beers from 28 breweries and with an average alcohol content ≠6.674%. Some of the one’s I’ll be seeking out include Garage Project’s Rum & Raisin (11.5%), aged for 18 months in rum barrels; Kereru’s Imperial Moonless Stout (10.7%); and for something different, Concept’s Gratzer (2%) oak-smoked wheat.
One of the most technically complex (and weird) beers there comes from the combined creativity of Fork Brewing’s Kelly Ryan and Choice Bros’ Kerry Gray. These are two of the most innovative (weird) brewers in New Zealand – Kelly has produced more than 60 beers for Fork in two years, and last year Kerry served up a Winter Ales special that included a roast dinner in the ingredients.
This year look out for Kinot Noir (9%). It’s a blend of two different beers – a dark saison and an imperial stout – with pinot noir grape must, a co-fermentation using saison and Brettanomyces yeasts, and, just to make things interesting, a dosing of kina/sea urchin/Evechinus chloroticus roe instead of hops.
"It's a bit of an exercise in blending some pretty weird stiff together, but I thought since I was doing a collaboration with Kerry, we might as well get weird," Kelly says. "I've always wanted to do a stout with kina. It's savoury, it's sweet, it's creamy and if you harvest it at the right time it can be bitter too. We put it in a bag, put it in the boil for ten minutes, and then we ate it!".
And really, who hasn’t sat back of a winter’s evening and asked themselves what an imperial saison kina pinot noir stout would taste like, hmm? Available at SOBA's Winter Ale Festival this Saturday, 30L only.