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National Winter Ales Festival – a moveable feast

The National Winter Ales Festival (NWAF) will be held at The Roundhouse in Derby from 11th-14th February and is organised by Gillian Hough. This is the second time Gillian has organised the festival and previously she has organised the Derby Winter Beer Festivals and was a member of CAMRA’s National Executive. The festival has previously been held in Manchester, Burton-on-Trent and Glasgow and is expected to move on in 2017.

Organising the festival is a massive challenge but one which Gillian takes in her stride, explaining that she lives and breathes NWAF! “I never switch off,” she says “I don’t count the hours or minutes, it’s like second nature to me. Even onsite I will be thinking about next year’s festival. It’s such a remarkable opportunity to be able to boost breweries and cider makers, promote pubs, campaign and help promote the city of Derby.”

Gillian is supported by around 250 CAMRA volunteers and there has been a huge growth in visitor numbers since the Derby Winter Festival became the National Winter Ales Festival in 2014 and one of CAMRA’s flagship events. In 2011 the number visitors was 6,500 but 2014 exceeded all expectations with over 13,000 people attending and this year Gillian is budgeting for around 15,000. The number of beers which will be on sale is also extraordinary with nearly 500 cask ales available as well as ciders and perries, bottled beer and mead.


“National Winter Ales Festival is the ultimate pop-up event,” says Gillian. “We move into The Roundhouse on the 6th February and ten days later we’re gone! When I talked to visitors last year there was lots of praise for the beautiful venue, the beer quality and selection and the food.”

This year will see a new beer which is being specially brewed for NWAF. Absent Friends, from local brewery Dancing Duck, will offer drinkers the chance to toast and remember absent friends, and for many CAMRA members this will mean two CAMRA luminaries as Bob Jones and Gillian’s husband Julian Hough both passed away in 2014. Gillian hopes that this will mean something to any visitor who’s lost someone and that it will become a permanent feature of the festival. This year’s Absent Friends is a ruby, hoppy beer which will be around 4%ABV.

The beer festival will be a great place to found lots of new beers and Gillian reckons that around 50 of the beers, or 10% will be new. One of the festival aims is to have innovative and interesting beers and to provide a launch pad for breweries. Last year Leatherbritches brewery successfully launched Raspberry Belter made using raspberries from the Chatsworth Estate which went on to do well in the trade. There will be many winter beers from all over the UK but these will be balanced with other beer styles. Gillian aims to create “a balanced palate of pale, hoppy ales with treacly liquorice winter brews.”

As well as offering the opportunity to try heaps of new beers, the trade session on 11th February provides the opportunity to network and is open to all members of the beer industry. Gillian is expecting a high number of trade visitors, last year there were 550 and she is expecting upto 700 on trade day. In just a week nearly 200 tickets have already been claimed and local pubs will also be sent trade tickets. You can apply for these via the NWAF website. The Winter Beer of Britain will be announced at the festival during the trade session. The winner last year was Dunham Porter.

There will be four brewery bars as well as a number of CAMRA bars, this year the brewery bars will be Blue Monkey Brewery, North Star Brewery, Brunswick Brewing Company and Brass Castle Brewery and Gillian reckons that she can sell these spots many times over. CAMRA buys all the beer from the breweries and the breweries are responsible for providing and staffing their brewery bars. All the beers will be available in pints, halves and pints with the exception of Hades from Falstaff Brewery which is 15.4%ABV. Gillian heard about this beer in the summer as it was Falstaff’s 1000th brew and asked them to put a cask aside for NWAF. This beer will only be available in halves or thirds as it is a very special limited edition. All the beer should be served in tip-top condition as Cask Marque will be inspecting the beer.

One beer which Gillian says everyone is raving about and which she is really looking forward to trying is Bad Kitty from Brass Castle in Yorkshire which is described as a chewy chocolate and vanilla porter.

Visitors can attend tutored tastings hosted by Roger Protz, Adrian Tierney-Jones and Christine Cryne as well as a presentation on Derby pubs and their architecture, and as the last day of the festival is also St Valentine’s Day there will be a number of opportunities for couples to win a £20 voucher for a local pub meal. 

In answer to the final question about why she does it, Gillian replies “to see the smiles on customers’ faces, the pride that the volunteers take when they realise how well it’s going and the chance to work with the breweries to provide a national showcase for British beer as we serve up around 43,000 pints over 3½ days.”