Winter isn’t over yet! Sip one of these beers during a cold snap
Winter beers have been around as long as breweries have been making beer. Historically, they have always been especially popular in Britain, Belgium and Germany. While each brewmaster has his own recipe, the common themes among these beers are that they are usually dark ales, most are malt driven rather than hoppy, some are spiced with various ingredients, and many are often above 5% ABV. Brewed usually from October to March, these beers are more for savouring than chugging, should be drunk at a slightly warmer temperture than regular beers, and go well with the hearty meals served this time of year.
So to salute our multi-month winter, here are some Canadian winter beers well worth checking out, which should be available in stores now. But remember, just like icy roads, they too will be gone when the warm days return.
Undoubtedly the king of winter beers in Western Canada is Granville Island’s Lions Winter Ale, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Consistently a best seller for the small Vancouver brewery each year, it is a smooth blend of caramel, cocoa and vanilla. Lower in alcohol (5.5% ABV.) than most winter beers, it does have a dash of hop bitterness (22 IBUs) to counteract the toffee sweetness. Available in 6 pack bottles, approximately $15.
Following the success of Granville Island, two other B.C. breweries have produced similar winter ales. Kelowna’s Tree Brewing Co. has been making its Vertical Winter Ale since 2010. Now available on its own (it was formally in mixed packs only), it is similar to Granville Island’s ale, with its caramel, cocoa and vanilla flavours, but is a little less robust in its hop finish and alcohol content (5% ABV.). Available in 6 pack bottles, $15.
Vernon based Okanagan Spring Brewery has being producing its Mild Winter Ale only since 2012. Following the British style of a mild session ale, this reddish-brown beer is brewed with three malts andtwo hops and has the treacle, caramel flavour with hints of chocolate that many other winter beers have, but its nutty flavour, pronounced effervescence, and 4.8% ABV., make it a bit thinner than most beers mentioned here. Available in 6 pack bottles and cans, $15.
Lest you begin to think that all winter beers are similar, there are as many varieties out there as Christmas chocolates. To that end, Edmonton’s Alley Kat has produced a Chocolate Orange Porter which is remeniscent of those big chocolate oranges you find this time of year. Made with subtle use of Sterling and Cascade hops, it is only 16 IBUs but a solid 6.3% ABV. With aromas of roasted malt and flavours of chocolate and Curaçao oranges, this porter is almost a dessert in itself. The label even has a line to fill in a name to personalize the bottle. 650 ml. Bottle, $6.00
If you want even more chocolate flavour in your beer, then Muskoka Brewery’s Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout from Bracebridge, Ontario is for you. This is beer is full of roasted dark chocolate malts, real cocoa, 70% dark chocolate, and local cranberries. This beer is so rich you won’t even notice it is 8% ABV. Drinking this beer at a slightly warmer temperature is like consuming a cup of cocoa. 750 ml. corked bottle, $11.
Revelstoke, B.C.’s Mt. Begbie Brewing has produced a brand new beer for the winter of 2013-14. Its Darkside of the Stoke is brewed with specialty malts, oatmeal and roasted coffee. The flavour of this jet black stout reminds one of roasted coffee with milk or cream, but also has undertones of chocolate and some mild hops bitterness. 4.8% ABV. 650 ml. bottle, $6.
Many people take milk with their coffee, so Vancouver’s Parallel 49 Brewing Company’s Ugly Sweater fits that to a tee. Named after the kitschy Christmas sweaters that have inexplicably gained popularity once again, this is a milk stout that is slightly sweet but very creamy. Made with lactose (milk sugar), the sweetness balances the roasted malts and masks its 30 IBUs. Six pack bottles, $14.
As is their tradition, Calgary’s Big Rock Brewery has produced a mixed six pack for this winter called the Lumberjack Pack, comprising two beers each of three of brewmaster Paul Gautreau’s brand new creations. Spruce Goose Ale is a spiced beer, using fresh tips of Colorado and Engelmann spruce trees combined with a little honey for sweetness. As weird as that may sound, coniferous trees have been used for centuries as a flavouring in beer, often in areas where there was an absence of hops. Although this amber beer has three different hops in it, the unmistakable floral notes and citrusy flavour of spruce come through. Probably the first beer (and maybe the only one) you’ll have this year that reminds you of your Christmas tree! 5.6% ABV.
The Twisted Antler Dark Ale fortunately does not contain any antlers. It does, however, have five different malts, selected to give the beer a natural dark colour without roasting. Coupled with the addition of black licorice and Columbian coffee, the result is a pure dark ale full of complexity. 6.3% ABV.
The last beer, Hibernation Ale is full of ingredients that your average bear forages for just before hibernation. With elderberries, juniper, wild strawberries, dandelion root, birch bark, maple sugar, rose pedals and honey, this herbal brown ale is a potpourri of aromas and flavours. Part floral, part woodsy, part sweet, this is a true celebration of Canadian winter. 6% ABV. All three beers in a six pack of bottles, $15.
There are many other winter beers that are also available in Alberta, from both sides of the Atlantic, so look for them too. In addition, look for the return of Village Brewery’s Chai Winter Porter, Wild Rose Brewery’s Cherry Porter, and special winter ales available on tap at Brewster’s, Banff Avenue Brewing, and Grizzly Paw. These beers will do more than just warm you up; they will give you a reason to not hate winter so much. Perhaps.