Winter Beers Bring Holiday Cheers
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Winter Beers Bring Holiday Cheers

Winter is coming. Celebrate the cold days, lack of sunlight, and interminable snow pile-ups with a variety of wonderful warming beers and beer-related events.

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L-R Black Oak Epiphany No. 1, Junction Craft Brakeman’s Session Ale, Mill St. Vanilla Porter, Spearhead Brewing Company Belgian Stout.

Remember long johns, shovels, and all those other things you cathartically burned last spring once the harsh winter was over? Well, the time to replenish your supply of winter gear has arrived again. But at least there are some great cold-weather beers to warm you up once you’re safely out of the cold. Here are a few suggestions.

Winter Beer at the LCBO and Beyond

The LCBO is a great place to buy gifts for people you don’t know that well—but while there’s nothing wrong with the many novelty gift packs available, there are also some truly fine offerings for the beer lover on your list.

Winter is the perfect time to embrace the darkest of beers, and Ontario’s booze overlords know it. There are plenty of stouts at the liquor store now. Michigan’s New Holland Brewing’s Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout is a standout despite its somewhat steep price tag. Notes of creamy vanilla, chocolate, and coffee, plus a slight bourbon burn, make it well worth the money. Danish brewery Hornbeer also has a strong offering in The Fundamental Blackhorn, a big and boozy number with coffee, cocoa, and caramel notes. It’s a good beer to store away in the cellar or drink right away. For something a bit different, try the renowned Beavertown Brewery‘s Black Betty, which should be hitting stores soon. It’s a black India Pale Ale with tastes of coffee, chocolate, pine, and a slight hint of grapefruit.

On the slightly lighter and more Belgian end of things, fan favourite Trappistes Rochefort 10 by Brasserie de Rochefort is back this winter. A tasty quadrupel with notes of dried fruit, caramel, and booze, it’s worth buying a few bottles to age for one to five years, as the alcohol burn will mellow out significantly over time. In the coming weeks, look out for Palm Breweries‘ Rodenbach Vintage 2012, an absolutely gorgeous beer with notes of sour cherries, apple, vanilla, and a slight oaky dryness that makes for an excellent introduction to sour beers, for those unfamiliar with the style. Also look out for Westmalle Abbey‘s Dubbel, a solid dubbel with notes of plum and raisin (and a nice burn).

Toronto brewer Mike Duggan has been quiet but busy since his downtown brewpub met an unfortunate end back in 2011. After years of brewing under contract at Etobicoke’s Cool Beer Brewing Company, he’s now re-emerged with a new brewpub on Queen Street West near Dufferin Street. In addition to Duggan’s LCBO beers, the brewery is pouring the Number 46 Parkdale Bomber, a strong lager with a nice balance of hops and bitterness and a barely perceptible boozy taste. There will also be a rotating cast of one-offs and seasonals, including a pleasant, smooth, and not-too-funky sour beer.

Folks in Toronto’s east end have had to deal with fairly slim pickings when it comes to craft beers, but that may change slightly with Louis Cifer Brew Works, which opened earlier this fall. While the new brewpub on the Danforth is still working out some kinks (such as still not actually having the equipment to brew on-site), the excellent guest beers on tap are hopefully a sign of what’s to come. The brewpub’s own roster isn’t as strong at the moment—the IPA has a bitterness and some pleasant citrus flavours, but too much carbonation, while the Dirty Blonde just doesn’t have enough of anything—but it will be interesting to see in what direction Louis Cifer goes with it.

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New Holland Brewing Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Remember when beers with “controversial” names could easily run afoul of the LCBO’s sensibilities? Well, Etobicoke’s Great Lakes Brewery is in the midst of getting its own somewhat rudely named beer onto the shelves. For now, you can find Pompous Ass pale ale—the latest addition to the brewery’s year-round roster—at the brewery’s retail store. It’s a very nice English pale ale with plenty of floral hops balanced with sweet malt, and it’s low enough in alcohol that you can drink a couple. Not a particularly wintery beer, but a nice antidote to the bold stouts that dominate the shelves this time of year.

Speaking of those dark beers, Toronto’s Spearhead Brewing Company recently launched one of its own. The Belgian Stout is a creamy black ale with some nice caramel, espresso, and brown sugar flavours. Those flavours could stand to linger a little longer, but it’s still an enjoyable take on the stouts that are ubiquitous this time of year.

Black Oak Brewing Co.‘s seasonal Nutcracker Porter is on LCBO shelves now. It’s a fine beer that’s totally worth your time, but the Black Oak beer you should really track down is the Epiphany No. 1, which was released earlier in fall. It’s a malty Belgian quadrupel with plum and raisin notes, a bit of a boozy burn, and some pepper. The beer marks the start of a new experimental line for the brewery, and that’s a very good thing.

Speaking of good things, Bellwoods Brewery will soon be releasing a new incarnation of its Lambda quadrupel. You can read our previous review of the beer here, or just take our word for it that it’s worth heading to the brewery’s bottle shop in early January for.

The folks at Collective Arts Brewing Co. have a smaller beer roster than many other brewers (albeit way more bottle labels), but the offerings so far have been solid. Early in the new year, look forward to seeing the brewery’s third release, the State of Mind session IPA, on liquor store shelves.

Holiday and Winter Beer Happenings

Until December 21, you can indulge in some festive sudsery at the Amsterdam Brewhouse‘s 12 Casks of Christmas event. The brewpub will be serving up a different holiday-themed cask ale every day, such as the Figgy Put-In and the intriguingly titled Toboggan Crash.

Got your gift shopping done? Of course not—it’s not even close to 18 hours before Christmas yet. But if you feel like getting ahead, you can do some holiday shopping while snacking on mac and cheese and sipping beers by Junction Craft Brewing, Mill Street Brewery, Railway City Brewing Company, and more at Tallboys Christmas Craft Beer Carnival on December 20. The sampling glass included with admission could also make a great stocking stuffer if you’re desperate.

Or, if you prefer to spend that pitch-black late December Saturday night drinking exclusively pitch-black beers, head to the Indie Alehouse for the brewpub’s Stout Night. You can sample stouts from Muskoka Brewery, Oast House Brewers, and the brewpub itself, among others.

Apparently this winter will be milder than last year’s frozen-over Hell. That’s good news for beer fans looking to check out the annual Winter Craft Beer Festival in Roundhouse Park on January 31. You can sample beers from Flying Monkeys Brewery, Peterborough’s Publican House Brewery, Oshawa’s Underdogs Brewhouse, and more.

When the dark and cold winter starts to get to you, why not head out of the city and find respite in the nearby municipality of Hamilton? Sure it’s just as dark and cold as Toronto, but at least there’s different beer. The Hamilton Brewery recently launched, and its Blue Collar pale ale is on tap in pubs around the city. And in early January, look out for Clifford Brewing Co., the new brewery from Brad Clifford, who was until recently running the nanobrewery at Get Well Bar. Apart from the recent Grey Cup loss, everything is turning up Hamilton these days, so get in while the getting’s good.

Photos by Brendan Ross.