Why we should brew seasonally
21 March 2016, By Jonny Garrett
We’re in the midst of hoptomania at the moment, as the US ships over all its lovely citrus hops to eager British brewers. The result is a delicious flood of IPAs that always hits the bars at this time of year.
Along with the recent release of Beavertown’s Bloody ‘Ell 2016, it got us thinking about the idea of seasonal brewing. In food it’s the most sustainable, healthy and tasty way to eat. It encourages eating local ingredients, cooking from scratch and using what tastes best at any time of year. It goes beyond having a stew when it’s cold and a salad when it’s not.
In beer we’re yet to take advantage of the seasons, which is very strange when you think about it. Any brewer will tell you that the quality of ingredients is paramount to how good your beer tastes. For example, it’s no coincidence that Czech and German lager is the best in the world – they have noble hops and exceptional local malt. But now those ingredients are available the world over, why are they still (usually) the best examples?
Ingredients matter in brewing
It’s because brewing ingredients and beer degrade as much as the food or drink in your fridge. Stored at room temperature, some studies show that the amount of alpha acids (or bitterness and aroma) in hops could reduce by 25%. If that sounds like a lot, imagine leaving your double IPA out for 6 months at room temperature and drinking it then – a huge amount of the aroma will have disappeared into thin air.
So it seems hops have the same three enemies whatever form they are in – light, oxygen and temperature. Breweries take measures against the degradation of their hops, storing them in cold rooms and even freezers. But another hugely important way to improve the quality of the hops you’re using is to use them fresh, and that means brewing certain beers when certain hops are available.
Breweries who mess with their recipes aren’t purely doing it to experiment, they are doing it according to what is available, and an element of seasonality is bound to work its way in. As a rule, American hops reach the UK in February and March, Australian ones in August and September with New Zealand just behind and then English hops after the harvest, around October.
We’ve seen trends for beers of certain types around these times but the only brewing singing the praises of seasonal brewing is Cloudwater, who now release biannual range linked to the season. Not only does it mean they are using the freshest hops, it’s also given them the ability to change up their beers four times a year, learning from each batch and progressing as a brewery faster you might expect from their one year of production.
There is, of course, a consumption angle too. Lagers and IPAs are always going to sell better in summer, and Cloudwater have just released their bergamot hopfenweiss which is just made for Munich beer gardens. And while I’d say porters and stouts aren’t just for winter, there is no feeling like a roasty, toasty beer by the fire. Preferably with an aged hard cheese.
Bloody 'Ell, there's more?
Moving away from hops, adjuncts are perhaps the place where brewers have been a little more savvy with seasonal produce. Every October the American market drowns in pumpkin beer, and we have seen a huge surge in people in the UK looking for them. Beavertown Bloody ‘Ell is another big seasonal release that always gets people excited.
But brewers and drinkers aren’t looking to the seasons enough – Belgium in particular is fantastic at it, with spring, Easter and Christmas beers a huge deal over there. Meanwhile, Cantillon produces its fruit seasonals as and when those fruits are ripe and as we learnt quickly from working with them, not one day before. However much we want the beer. The result is an ever changing array of beers coming from the same breweries, which keeps drinkers and wholesalers coming back for more. It’s obvious how British breweries could benefit from that.
Do you guys drink seasonally, and do you want to see more seasonal beers from your favourite breweries