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A Pint Beside The Fire

The holiday season is a tribute to excess. We gorge ourselves on a lot of fatty food and we fill up on fruitcake. We make sure to drink copious amounts of wine, enjoy our rum and eggnog, sip a snifter of brandy, or even down a nice cup of Manischewitz. Beer, however, often gets the short shrift during the holidays. Some find it too filling for a post-turkey nightcap; others think that beer should be left at the pub or the frat house. Despite this, there’s a small but growing demand for holiday-themed brews. There are a slew of them coming out of our own local breweries, and some would be a tasty addition to your holiday feast.
We’ve already taken a look at a few local seasonal beers, and the reigning champion is still Great Lakes Winter Ale, which some have described as tasting like sitting beside your fireplace during a snowstorm.
If you’re looking for a lighter, less filling spiced beer to drink after stuffing yourself with turkey, you may want to check out Trafalgar Brewing’s Abbey Belgian Spice Ale. It’s light, smooth, and has a nice mix of citrus and Christmas-y spices. The taste is great, but for some reason the beer smells quite a bit like vomit, which may dissuade you from slowly sipping it with your parents.
A great beer to have with your fruitcake or trifle is Heritage Brewing’s Blackcurrant Rye. We’re not quite sure what a blackcurrant tastes like alone, but after tasting this beer, we think that we’d probably like it. It has a substantial sweet taste, but also has a slight bitterness to it. The fruity flavour makes it almost wine-like, so it’d be a good choice for wine aficionados looking to get into holiday beer drinking.
One beer to stay away from is Old Credit’s Holiday Honey. It tastes like yeast and there’s barely any honey flavour. It’s altogether mediocre—even Lakeport and Labatt make better honey beers than this. Whatever flavour it does have is fleeting. This is an underwhelming, watery brew—avoid it.
We mentioned this beer last time, but pick up some of Windsor-based Walkerville Brewing Company’s Amber Lager while you can—the fantastic brewery declared bankruptcy earlier this week. Let’s hope this isn’t a prophecy of doom for some of our other local brewers—we wouldn’t want to get stuck with Canadian or Coors Light during the holiday.

Photo by ariehsinger from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


  • McKingford

    Here’s my plug for Walkerville – great beer, both the Amber and the Blonde. Let’s hope this is just a reorganization, not a permanent shuttering…

  • tgreenleaf

    I second the Winter Ale. I didn’t think Great Lakes could do better than their Orange Peel Ale, but they did.

  • quest

    This Innis & Gunn special release IPA is where it’s at!

  • Skippy the Magical Racegoat

    Scotch-Irish’s John By Imperial Stout came out a day or two ago, and it’s one of the best stouts ever produced in this province, if not the best. Might want to look out for that one.
    This is actually great season for the LCBO, the best in memory, with releases like Brakspear, Harvey’s Porter, the (awesome) Fullers Vintage 2007 and the Thomas Hardy’s Ale, which is a godsend and to some, a Holy Grail for barley wines (makes Mill Street’s look like Swill Street).
    I’ve had the Winter Ale on tap and found it weak, but I’ll look for it in the bottle. I’ve only seen the gift pack, but I don’t really need any more glasses, to be honest.
    Now, if Harvistoun’s Old Engine Oil makes it to the LC this year as promised, I will explode in my pants with delight. But I recommend not buying any, so that there will be more for Skippy. Oh yes. Skippy likes his craft beer.

  • Mathew Katz

    I actually went looking for some of the John By Stout yesterday, but I’ve checked a few LCBOs and haven’t seen it. Where have you seen it? Maybe I should check Summerhill.

  • Skippy the Magical Racegoat

    The best thing to do is look up the product on and see where it’s in stock. Then call the store itself and spell out the product number for them, because they’ll have no clue what the hell you’re talking about…if it’s not “critter wine,” most LC staff will never give it a second look.
    If it’s supposedly in stock but you don’t see it on shelves, pressure one of the employees to go into “the back” and have a look around. Unfortunately that’s how they roll at the ‘Bo. Good luck!

  • Greg Clow

    The vomit-like aroma you got off of the Abbey Belgian is due to the fact that Trafalgar has a lot of quality control issues. Their beers are notorious for becoming infected by rogue bacteria, which can cause everything from nasty aromas, or sour flavours, to beer that literally explodes out of the bottle when you open it.
    They’ve been having these problems for some time now, but don’t seem to be in any hurry to do anything about it. Too bad, as they are pretty adventurous as far as a styles they produce. But every infected bottle they send out will either piss off a craft beer drinker who won’t buy their stuff again, or piss off a mainstream beer drinker who tries it on a whim and gets turned off of craft beer because of it. Either way, it’s bad news.