By David Nuttall
As we head into the depths of winter, most of the people who don’t escape to the far south think of curling up to warm fires while enjoying hot beverages or wine. Very rarely does beer enter the picture. But hold on, isn’t hot cocoa and hot spiced rum just the functional equivalent of chocolate and spiced beers?
Now admittedly, there are some beer purists who resist this need to add secondary ingredients to beer. After all, chocolate is a natural flavour evoked by the use of chocolate malt in porters and stouts, and some grains, hops, and yeasts can elicit spicy characteristics just by themselves.
All this is true, but the use of spices in beer has been going on for thousands of years, so it’s not exactly a new trend. Before hops were recognized for their ability to provide bittering notes and preservative qualities to beer around 700-800 AD, gruit, an herb and spice mixture, had been used for centuries.
These days you will find many beers with “chocolate” in their name, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the brewer added any to the beer; sometimes they just let the malt do the talking. If added chocolate or cocoa is what you’re seeking, look for those named Double Chocolate. There can be a lot of flavour profiles in this style; expect anything from sweet to bitter and even white chocolate versions.
Spiced beers often have more than one seasoning in them, and those aren’t always listed on the label. Sometimes, half the fun of drinking them is trying to guess what is used in the brewing, while with others the answer is in the name, such as beers with ginger, chili, vanilla, etc. While one spice may be highlighted, it doesn’t mean there aren’t others involved too.
Much like chocolate beers, a few are brewed year-round, but most of them, with the exception of Belgian styles like wits, tend to show up in the fall beginning with the now ubiquitous pumpkin ales, and run through to the spring.
Below are a few beers that tend to be available regularly in many stores through the province.
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, England
A sweet stout with added dark chocolate, chocolate essence, and sugars, that has a touch of vanilla in the end. A chocolate bar in a glass.
CSPC +749038, $6, 500 mL bottle
Rogue Chocolate Stout and Rogue Double Chocolate Stout, Oregon, USA
The chocolate stout is the lower alcohol version (5.8% vs. 8.9% ABV) with a slightly sweeter, milder cocoa flavour. The double has bittersweet Dutch chocolate and honey added for a more complex body. It’s for those who want the chocolate flavour minus the sweetness (without scrimping on the alcohol).
Chocolate CSPC +721871, $11, 650 mL bottle, Double Chocolate CSPC +747144, $18, 750 mL bottle
Samuel Smith Organic Chocolate Stout, England
Considering this brewery has been around since 1758, this is a relatively new release, having been on the market for only about 6 years. Made with 100 percent organic ingredients, which includes organic cane sugar and cocoa extract. Sweet and creamy.
CSPC +760509, $8, 550 mL bottle
Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer, Scotland
At one time, it was the only alcoholic ginger beer in Alberta. Thanks to the rise of all things ginger, and especially the Moscow Mule cocktail, the spice has enjoyed somewhat of a rejuvenation. This is one of the sweeter ginger beers, with added citrus, so it tastes more like the non-alcoholic version than most.
CSPC +738008, $6, 500 mL bottle. Also comes in raspberry-ginger flavor
As one of the first craft breweries in Canada, Unibroue is known for their interpretation of Belgian styles, commonly packaged in 750 mL corked bottles which usually retail for around $10-$12; slightly more for their specialty brews. Many of their almost two dozen varieties of beer have a combination of fruit, honey, and/or spices in their recipes.