How a brewery creates a festive beer

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Season’s meetings: James Ramm talks about how Woodforde’s seasonal beers come to fruition
Season’s meetings: James Ramm talks about how Woodforde’s seasonal beers come to fruition

Related tags Cask ale Woodforde's Brewing Food

Norfolk brewery Woodforde’s wants to set the scene for enjoying a pint at Christmas.

It’s what a brewery may want to do when devising a festive drink and that’s how the latest seasonal beer from the brewer has been thought about, according to head of sales James Ramm.

Ramm joined the team at Woodbastwick in Norfolk three years ago having worked at a national brewer for 17 years.

He explains: “There’s a lot to think about when making a great festive beer.

“We envisage someone enjoying a nice cosy pint next to a roaring fire in their local and imagine what they would like to be drinking at that time.

“They will be looking for a good winter warmer, a slightly darker beer, with slightly more roasted malts to give it a fuller flavour.”

But it doesn’t end there, there is also the consideration of what Christmas food the drinker may be enjoying and what type of drink will pair well with that.

Ruby ales pair very well with cheeseboards, Ramm states, and stouts​ go well with Christmas desserts. Meanwhile, amber ales and pale ales go really well with lighter meats like chicken or pork, while beef or lamb pairs well with a good, malty bitter.

He continues: “We also look at the aspects some people will expect from a Christmas ale. You have the flavours and scent of spices and cloves at Christmas, which go well with a heartier flavour profile.

“There’s also the opportunity with limited addition ales to try a few new things. It depends on the market and who you are specifically targeting from a brewing perspective but, of course, everyone has a different palate – a lot of it is in the eye of the beholder.”

Rich and spicy fruit flavours

The latest festive beer from Woodforde’s is Tinsel Toes, which Ramm says boasts rich and spicy fruit flavours. It is brewed using a blend of roasted malts with hops including English Goldings, First Gold and Slovenian Savinjski Goldings.

The brewery produces cask and keg ales for the on-trade with its flagship beer being amber ale Wherry but it also manufactures a range of different styles of ales, lagers, IPAs and stouts as well as cyders. It also seels plenty to the off-trade as well.

However, cask makes up more than 50% of what is produced in total. “It’s very important to Woodforde’s specifically and something we are very proud of,” Ramm confirms.

“Cask is a very unique product, a living product, with a distinct flavour that can’t be replicated.

“There is nothing else on the market like it. It gives pubs that point of difference and something really special for their patrons to enjoy.”

Ramm states pubs hold a “very special place” in UK society where they are the lifeblood of their communities and bring people together from all walks of life.

“When we think of cask and its importance to the pub trade, we like to think more about how important pubs are to us and how we can help them thrive,” he enthuses.

“It’s crucial they are supported with different and exciting products for their patrons to keep them coming through the door. Giving them something unique and different to keep people coming back is vital.”

A seasonal beer is not just for Christmas, Woodforde’s has a seasonal calendar that ties into some of the events that take place during the year.

Naturally, whichever season the UK happens to be can have a big impact on what people like to drink.

What is on-trend?

Ramm says: “People tend to go for a lighter beer during the summer and generally prefer darker beers during the winter.

“When we come up with one of our seasonal beers, we look to see what type of beer would suit the season, and the weather.

“We also try to get our seasonal products out into pubs alongside our existing beers, so people can see Woodforde’s on offer and think ‘I’ll might give their seasonal a try today’.”

The way a beer comes to fruition begins with the sales team sitting down with the brewing contingent to understand what is on-trend, what new recipes are being developed and what is performing well.

The market is analysed for that particular time of year to see if there are “any other gems out there” that may offer inspiration and what the styles are that people are enjoying.

He continues: “Then we think about how we are going to achieve the beer we are looking to produce – that’s where our years of experience comes in.

“We also review the previous year’s seasonals to see what works and what doesn’t work.

“We have regular seasonals like Tinsel Toes and Once Bittern, our Halloween beer, but try to keep our line-up as fresh as possible.”

Ramm concludes the future is exciting with lots of new beers, new styles and new categories being pored over but nothing is set in stone yet.

He says: “We have got lots plans in the pipeline but we’re keeping our cards close to our chest.”

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