The Beers That Winter Brings
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The Beers That Winter Brings

We're Canadians. We can take whatever foul weather winter throws at us... especially after a couple of drinks. Here are some warming beers to help you get through the cold months.

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Bellwoods Brewery Blitzen 2013.

The holidays are approaching, the weather is getting cold, and birds across the country have already said, “Eff this, I’m out of here.” In other words, winter has arrived. And with that, brewers both local and international are putting out beers designed not so much to refresh as to knock you on your ass. Perhaps it’s a defence mechanism for the brutal days ahead. Either way, the robust beers of winter are appearing at pubs and liquor stores across the city. Here are some to enjoy, and some ways to enjoy them.

Local Beers for a Cold Evening

Toronto’s Collective Arts Brewing has an awesome mandate—collaborating with local painters, graphic artists, musicians, and filmmakers—and some great-tasting beer to back it up. The brewery’s first release, the Rhyme and Reason Extra Pale Ale, is on LCBO shelves now. It’s a pleasantly hoppy ale with notes of citrus and pine and a lingering taste of grapefruit, and it’s totally sessionable (beer lingo for, ‘Drink several’). And with individual labels created by local and international artists, it’ll help you look sophisticated in front of your wine snob friends.

Amsterdam Brewery made a big affair of launching its new Barrel Aged Double Tempest Imperial Stout a couple of weeks back. If you didn’t nab a bottle, you can still enjoy some Amsterdam pitch-black wintery goodness by picking up the beer’s cousin, the Tempest Imperial Stout, at LCBOs across the city. It’s a nice, hair-on-your-chest-putting beer with notes of chocolate and coffee.

For something on the lighter end of the flavour spectrum that’s still nonetheless festive, consider Bellwoods Brewery’s Blitzen 2013 Imperial Saison. It’s a pleasantly sour beer with citrus and coriander accents, and some bite. And it’s festive, because there’s a reindeer on the bottle, and it can be purchased now at the brewery’s bottle shop. And purchase it you should.

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Ontario Beer Company 100 Mile Ale.

If you’re looking for local, well, it doesn’t get much more local than beer brewed entirely with ingredients grown within the province. That’s what the folks behind the Ontario Beer Company are doing with their 100 Mile Ale and 100 Mile Lager, both available at the LCBO. Brewed using exclusively Ontario-grown ingredients, these beers are truly local, despite strangely eschewing the metric system. They’re pretty tasty as well.

Brews From Around the World… but Mostly Scandinavia

As nice as hoppy and fruity beers can be, sometimes you just want something to warm you up on a cold winter night, or to get you going on a cold winter morning. The people behind Sweden’s Sigtuna Brygghus must hear that a lot, because the brewery’s Midvinterblot pretty much nails it. The nearly black beer delivers tastes of dark chocolate, coffee, roasted malt, and a little vanilla. And unlike many other craft beers, it comes in a single-serving 330-mL bottle, so drinking one won’t require clearing a block of your schedule.

Speaking of which, an early contender for this winter’s perfect beer to accompany a dark night of the soul is the Black Magic Woman Imperial Stout by Denmark’s Hornbeer. It’s a pitch-black stout with notes of smoke, chocolate, dried fruits, and booze. You might not taste all of its 10 per cent alcohol, but you will certainly feel it.

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Nøgne ø Sunturnbrew.

As well as the dark stuff, there are several barley wines coming to the LCBO this winter. Look for the Woolly Bugger Barley Wine from British Columbia’s Howe Sound Brewing, and New Zealand’s Renaissance Brewing Company’s Tribute Barley Wine in the weeks ahead. For now, go pick a bottle or six of Sunturnbrew by Norway’s Nøgne ø. It’s a incredibly complex brew, with the aroma of a wood-burning stove, and tastes of fruits, liquorice, and caramel, followed by an earthy finish.

Also due to make an appearance at the LCBO shortly as part of a winter feature is a whole whack of beers by Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company. The brewery has a well-earned reputation with beerophiles and numerous awards to its name, so if you plan to pick some of the stuff up, do it early before the hoarders snap it up.

Celebrate the Holidays and Beyond

It’s a busy time of year, between Christmas parties, family gatherings, and lazy evenings spent staring at the wall and wishing you had a fireplace. But for some beer-themed holiday cheer, check out the inaugural Tallboys’ Christmas Craft Beer Carnival at the Centre for Social Innovation. With a variety of participating breweries from Toronto and throughout southern Ontario, it’s a good opportunity to try something not widely found around town.

Next month, prove how totally not sick of winter you are by freezing your ass off at the Roundhouse Winter Craft Beer Festival, an outdoor fest held at Roundhouse Park across from the Rogers Centre. While many of the participating brewers—such as Great Lakes Brewing and Mill Street Brewery—are mainstays in the craft beer scene, you’ll also have the chance to try beer from Niagara College’s Teaching Brewery without having to take the trip out of town. If by February you’re still up for being out in the cold, 2014’s Brewer’s Backyard series kicks off on Family Day. And if past events are anything to go by, there will be an indoor component, so you won’t have to be outside all afternoon.

With Christmas approaching, you’re probably looking for some easy, thoughtless gifts to give those people on your list for whom you have no idea what to buy. Well, alcohol. You’ve probably noticed a good number of beer gift packs on offer at the LCBO. And, unless you’re the kind of person who thinks the “Best of Belgium” includes Stella Artois, you’ve probably walked right by them. However, there are a couple of gift packs that are worth your time. On the Belgian front, 6 Exclusive Belgian Ales offers a much better taste sampling of the country’s brewing potential. And, whether it’s a gift for a friend or yourself, it’s hard to go wrong with the Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection, a pack of three barrel-aged beers from the American mega-but-awesome brewery.

Photos by Brendan Ross.