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A Guide to Winter Beers, at the LCBO and Beyond

How to make the most of the season.

Photo by Brendan Ross/Torontoist.

It’s still anyone’s guess whether the coming season will be one of sledding, snowshoeing, and merrily catching snowflakes on the tip of the tongue, or just another Vancouver-style rain-out. Regardless, you can always kick back with the bold, boozy beers of winter. Here are some bottles (and events) to look out for.

Every Season Is the Season for Seasonals, But This Season Especially

Releasing a different beer for every season has become the norm for many local breweries, but winter is when the seasonals really shine. The highlight of Great Lakes Brewery’s seasonal cycle, the Winter Ale ($6.95), offers a nice mix of citrus, ginger, and holiday baking spices. If you’re willing to make the trip to Oakville, you’ll be rewarded with bottles of Cameron’s Brewing’s hoppy and bitter Rye Pale Ale. But if you can’t make the trek, try it on tap at one of a dozen bars around Toronto.

If you still associate Amsterdam Brewery with its pleasant but unadventurous Blonde, Dutch Amber, and Nut Brown beers, one sip of Tempest Imperial Stout ($5.95), with its strong chocolate and roast coffee flavours, ought to put you right. That is, if you can remove the dripped wax over the bottle cap and get the damn thing open. And if you’ve ever wished there could be a beer made by the beloved rock group Barenaked Ladies, your very weird and specific dream has come true. Flying Monkeys Brewery teamed up with the group to make the BNL Imperial Chocolate Stout ($13.95), a powerful chocolate brew so good it probably doesn’t need the gimmick.

Winter Offerings From the LCBO: Not Always Cheaper Than a Movie, But Usually Better

When the LCBO’s list of seasonal imports for winter 2012 was announced, the consensus among beer geeks was that this might be a good time to go get a second job. There are many brews worth your time (and money) hitting the shelves over the next couple of weeks, but here are a few that caught our eye.

New Zealand’s Renaissance Brewing Company brings its award magnet, the chocolatey and malty Elemental Porter ($5.50), to LCBO shelves this year. It should pair nicely with all those tubs of holiday treats you’re totally not going to bring to the office after all. From Scotland, Orkney Brewery brings its ominously named Skull Splitter barley wine ($3.30), a smooth brew with flavours of dried fruit and spices.

Austria’s Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg has its fruity and boozy Samichlaus doppelbock, which, at 14 per cent alcohol for only $3.95, is sure to upset those people who want the price of booze driven up to cut down on abuse. British Columbia’s Howe Sound Brewing Company brings its Pothole Filler ($11.35), a thick imperial stout with a re-sealable cap, which should be handy given that the beer comes in a one-litre bottle.

A bit closer to home, Quebec’s Les Trois Mousquetaires brings its sweet and fruity Grand Cuvée Weizenbock ($9.95, pictured above), perfect for converting vodka cooler drinkers over to the world of hops and barley.

Finally, many LCBO locations also still have Ontario Craft Brewers’ holiday discovery pack in stock. While these sampler boxes often contain dull, pedestrian brews, this particular one could be just the thing to introduce a New Year’s Eve party to the world of local beer.

UPDATE DECEMBER 30, 2:37 PM: Because the holiday party is largely over we’ve removed some information about events that have passed since we first published. Winter beer is still very much in season though, and these brews should be around for a while yet.

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