We begged and pleaded, and at long last spring is here. Now get yourself to a patio.
Between the snow, ice, piercing winds, and mountains of road salt, it’s been the kind of winter one drinks to forget. But now spring is in the air, with its promise of flowers, birds, and no more long johns. Patios are filling up again, outdoor events are being planned, and a new crop of seasonal beers is arriving in time for the warmer weather. Here are some ideas for what to drink and where to drink it this spring.
Seasonal Beer at the LCBO and Beyond
Coming off successful stints with Quebec brewers in fall and Michigan’s Founders Brewing Co. in winter, the LCBO is getting a little more local with its latest seasonal brewery feature. Four new barrel-aged beers by Ottawa Valley’s Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co.—all inspired by ancient Mesopotamian mythology and each wrapped unnecessarily in individual paper packaging—are on liquor store shelves. Appropriate for the transitional early spring weather, the Gilgamesh old ale is a darker beer aged in rum barrels, with notes of toffee and roasted nuts on the nose and a fairly sweet taste that’s offset by rum and a bitter finish. The Ashnan wheat wine is lightly floral, with some white wine, hops, and citrus. The Siduri white pepper saison packs some spice, along with grape flavours. There’s also a ginger beer that, frankly, this writer couldn’t muster the guts to try. Overall, it’s a decent showing, but at nearly $10 a bottle, you might want to go in on a few bottles with some friends for a tasting, and save your money for other things.
Things, for instance, like Thrust!—a new ale from Etobicoke’s Great Lakes Brewery that simultaneously proves that punctuation is the new frontier in goofy beer names and that the brewers at Great Lakes know how to make hoppy beer really well. A light, cloudy ale with tropical fruit flavours and lots of satisfying hops, enjoying it is the perfect way to pretend that whole winter thing never happened. You can find it on tap at various pubs throughout the city.
And for a barrel-aged beer that really excites the senses, pick up a bottle of Bellwoods Brewery’s Lambda. It’s a complex Belgian-style quadrupel that’s aged in red wine barrels and tastes like it, with notes of coffee, raisin, and chocolate, and a tartness that lingers. At $12 a bottle it isn’t cheap, but it’s well worth the trip to Ossington to try it out.
A bit later this spring, look out for Collective Arts Brewing’s second beer, the Saint of Circumstance blonde ale, on LCBO shelves. The people at Collective Arts may not be as prolific as other brewers, but what they do make, they make very well. You can also pick up the brewery’s first beer, Rhyme and Reason, complete with some fancy new labels, at the liquor store.
This spring’s lineup of imports at the LCBO isn’t quite up to the standards of recent seasons, but there are still some good beers to be drunk. One of them is La Morsure, an India pale ale by Quebec’s Le Trou du Diable. It’s a refreshing beer with notes of pine, citrus, and, most importantly, hops. In a not altogether different vein, we have England’s Oakham Ales’ Citra, a very drinkable pale ale with a floral aroma and lots of lemon.
There are also several Belgian beers worthy of your time, money, and brain cells. Brasserie St-Feuillien’s multi-award-winning Saison is substantial yet easy drinking, with citrus on the nose and a bitter, hoppy palate and spice. Brasserie de l’Abbaye des Rocs’ Montagnarde brings the sweetness with strong caramel, toffee, and brown sugar flavours, but balances those out with a bitter finish. And look out for Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck’s Kasteelbier Donker, a sweet brown ale that will be on shelves in the days to come.
Celebrate the Return of Tolerable Weather by Getting Out
You enjoy reading about beer, so why not hear about it as well? That’s more or less the premise of Bar Hop’s new “Hop Talks” monthly speaker series, in which brewers discuss their beer with interested beer drinkers, all while everyone consumes the stuff they’re talking about. The series launches April 2 with the crew behind the Junction’s Indie Alehouse.
There are plenty of good reasons to get out of the city during the dog days of summer—but until then, beer. On April 12, party with brewing students at the first-ever Niagara College Craft Beer & BBQ Festival. Some really great beers (and some far less great) have come out of Niagara College’s student projects, and many will be on hand to sample. If the thought of drinking booze made by a university student scares you, there will also be a dozen other breweries offering up their creations and an assortment of grilled food. If you don’t have a car but still want to get out of the city, wait a week and catch a shuttle bus to the Albino Rhino Beertuberoolapolooza Festival in Ridgeway. It’s a great opportunity to get to know some of Niagara region’s brewers, and it puts you in a great position to meet up with someone who does have a car and then to make a cross-border beer run.
Closer to home, you can also drink up and support a worthwhile cause at this year’s Beer4Boobs charity events, which raise money for breast cancer support services. A number of brewers—including Mill St. Brewery, Amsterdam Brewery, and Granite Brewery—are preparing one-off batches for the occasion. It’ll be taking place in Toronto on April 27, and in Hamilton on May 11.
Later in spring, check out the various events running throughout the region (and province) as part of Ontario Craft Beer Week. In the lead-up to it, former show-closer Session Toronto, a two-day beer, food, and music festival, moves into new digs at Yonge-Dundas Square—which seems like a clear sign of the growth and increasing popularity of the craft beer industry (why did we ever think tasty alcoholic beverages wouldn’t be popular?). If you don’t feel like being in the middle of the city that weekend, head east to the nearly lakeside Beach BBQ & Brews Festival. Basically, it’s what you get when you combine a ribfest with good beer. And when the weather gets warm, what more do you need?
Photos by Brendan Ross.