Guys, we’re almost halfway through winter! And with the kooky weather January delivered, it’s time to figure out how to survive the seven weeks left until spring. Beer helps. Whether you’re into boozy Belgian dessert brews, crisp pilsners, or wheaty mofos with wacky fruit flavours, we’ve assembled a killer winter two-four that’ll help power you through the chilly season’s home stretch. Drink up, Toronto. We can do this.
People, don’t let the dark days drag you down. Winter is a time to rejoice! It’s the season when you have licence to indulge in the biggest and richest stouts, Belgians, Scotch Ales, and barley wines.
Brewers have laboured long and hard to craft the beers we’ve carefully sipped and selected for our second annual winter two-four: From boozy, oily imperial stouts to peat-riddled numbers that get even better as they warm up, to a soft pilsner you can knock back après-ski style, we’ve got you covered.
There are beers that you can savour, like Samichlaus—the 14 per cent Austrian dessert beer is aged 10 months before it’s even released, which smoothes the boozy malt bomb into a beer akin to a fine cognac. The Belgian Duchesse de Bourgogne gets its fine sour-cherry and balsamic tartness from the wild yeasts that are used to ferment it, and vinous notes from years of aging in cognac and bourbon barrels. Then there’s a gorgeous, strong scotch ale from Toronto’s newest microbrewery, Radical Road, whose peaty notes of Laphroaig single malt whisky balance out its rich maple syrup and toffee flavours.
We’ve also chosen beers you can drink all day—like Ramblin’ Road’s refreshing pilsner and Brasseur Sans Gluten’s grainy, gluten-free red ale.
And for the wheat lovers, we’ve hunted down a couple of winter-ready wheats, with banana and orange peel notes that might take you back to the good old days of patio drinking.
The flavours in winter beers are astounding—we’ve found brews with notes including marzipan, Kinder Egg, sour cherries, spruce lemon, maple syrup, dark chocolate, oak, Grape Nuts, espresso, black licorice, Coca-Cola, pine, and candy corn. Ditto for the alcohol content in many of our selections: They just might combat windchill, cure frostbite, and help thaw out frozen appendages!
So grab a few bottles, turn on the faux fire, and let it snow.
Feeling lonely? Snuggle up to a snifter of this dark and lovely 10 per cent stout, which has notes of coffee, black licorice, treacle and Coca-Cola. With a hint of smokiness throughout, a bottle will keep you warmer than a beefy linebacker ever could.
$5.95/500-ml bottle, LCBO.
This jet-black, 8.8 per cent Sri Lankan stout pours with a creamy, luscious brown head, and packs notes of coffee, prunes, and plum with a fruity backbone and subtle, boozy heat. One of the best stouts we tried—and at $2.10, it’s a steal.
$2.10/330-ml bottle, LCBO.
This sparkling amber ale has aromas of caramelized pear, blackcurrant, and white pepper, with a hint of Ontario maple syrup. But don’t be fooled by its rich nose—the finish is very dry, crisp, and lemony. Spicy Thai or Vietnamese will pair nicely with this refreshing ale.
$8.95/750-ml bottle, LCBO.
Ever wondered WTF the difference is between a porter and a stout anyway? Try this classic example of the porter style (which tastes like chocolate, toast, molasses and licorice, with a lightly roasted, dry finish) beside a Guinness stout and your question will be answered. Plus, you’ll get to double-fist—for research purposes, of course.
$2.55/500-ml can, LCBO.
The last release in a series of specialty ales to mark 25 years of brewing by the Great Lakes Brewery company, this one has been aged in bourbon barrels for three months. That gives it some serious boozy heat, so tuck it away for at least 90 days before cracking.
$14.95/750-ml bottle, LCBO, available by mid-February.
This easy-drinking four per cent porter starts out with roasty, dark-chocolate notes and leaves you wondering, “Where the cherry at?” Cup your glass in your hands and let it warm up—that’s when the cherry comes out to play.
$18/growler, only at Six Pints Beer Academy, 75 Victoria St., 416-366-1786.
Not only is this a merger of brewmaster talent from Montreal’s Dieu du Ciel! and Shiga Kogen, a microbrewery in Nagano, Japan, it’s also a merger of two beer styles: an imperial stout and an earthy Belgian saison. It’s got a lush, boozy body, and an odd flavour—espresso, chocolate, and citrusy hops contribute to a mouth-puckering, dry finish that lasts long after the last sip.
$8.95/330-ml bottle, at Bar Volo, Bar Hop, WVRST, Thirsty & Miserable, and The Only Café.
This classic sour ale is matured in cognac and burgundy barrels that are up to 80 years old. Sipping the heady, vinous purple ale is an orgasmic experience. With notes of plum, blackcurrants, burnt brown sugar, chocolate, marzipan, almonds, and a sour cherry finish, it’s reminiscent of a fine port or sherry—only better. Seriously.
$7.98/250-ml bottle, at Beer Bistro.
This wintry ale is a spice bomb—cinnamon, port, cardamom, vanilla, and orange peel light up the warming rum and sherry backbone. Comes in a big bottle that begs to be shared.
$9.95/750-ml bottle, LCBO.
Pour this golden beer into a mug about twice the size of the bottle and it will erupt to fill the glass with white, frothy bubbles. The originator of the Belgian golden strong ales, Duvel has beautifully complex flavours: crackling white pepper and soft lemon, pineapple and cotton candy, with a semi-sweet finish and a clip of snappy citrus hops. Serve chilled in champagne flutes on Oscar night.
$3.40/330-ml bottle, LCBO.
This Montreal brewery swept the gluten-free category at the 2012 World Beer Cup. Instead of barley, the beer is made from buckwheat, millet, quinoa, and chestnut, and has a rich, malty profile of toast, Kraft caramels, toffee, and nutty goodness, with a dry, crisp finish thanks to a healthy dose of hops.
$6.50 to $9.95/341-ml bottle. Available at Bar Volo, WVRST, and The Only Café.
Sniffing this chocolate-brown brew is a bit like walking down the baking aisle in the Bulk Barn—all vanilla and coconut. But this easy-drinking ale has more to offer, finishing on a high of caramel, oak, and bourbon notes. It also makes an excellent dinner drink with everything from roast pork to stir-fried vegetables in oyster sauce.
$2.85/473-ml can, LCBO.
Next page: 12 more essential winter beers