There are two ways to face winter’s freezing winds and snow squalls: pile the layers on and go skating, skiing or tobogganing, or pile the logs on the fire and start hibernating. Whichever you choose, we’ve assembled the perfect winter two-four—from a barrel-aged Scots ale to a crisp bock for après-ski glugging, to a chocolate-flavoured stout to crack on Valentine’s Day. These beers will keep you warm and get you toasted.
Welcome to The Grid’s ultimate winter two-four. As the annual chill blankets the city, it’s a great time to curl up with the deepest, darkest brews. This is the time of year when Toronto bar taps and LCBO shelves are full of seasonal delights—“imperial” (or high alcohol) stouts, porters and ales available only for a short time. Winter beers are generally darker and have greater alcohol content than their summer counterparts. Baby, it’s cold outside, but trust us—this sublime collection of brews we’ve assembled will keep you warm no matter how low the thermometer dips.
For starters, we’ve highlighted Black Oak’s Double Chocolate Cherry—a stout with just the right amount of tart, thanks to cherry juice from a Niagara orchard—and a smoked “Lava” stout from a craft brewer in Iceland (trust us, it’s strange in all the right ways).
Some of these imperials and wine-like brews are so potent in both flavour and booze that they require cellaring to smooth things out before they’re consumed. Our guide shows you which ones you can tuck away until next winter.
The cold also brings out lots of Belgian-style brews. Belgium has never followed the German Reinheitsgebot, a purity act that stipulates beer should be brewed only with yeast, hops, barley malt and water. Instead, Belgian brewers use candy sugar, orange peel, coriander and just about any other spice you can think of, along with fruity yeasts, to create delectable, plummy ales. Categories come in handy when navigating this family of beer. Designations like “strong ales,” “dubbels,” “triples” and “quadrupels” signal how much more alcohol (and often flavour) drinkers can expect as they move up the ladder. We’ve picked a mix of traditional “Trappist” or “Abbey” ales—still brewed using the same traditional recipes by Belgian monks—along with some Canadian takes on the style.
And we’ve listed beers for après–vigorous winter exercise, when you need thirst-quenching dark lagers and crispy ales.
So go on, sit down by the fire, chalice in hand. It’s time to get winterized.
Black Oak’s former brewmaster, Adrian Popowycz, had a eureka moment when he stumbled onto Cherry Lane Farms while hiking the Bruce Trail. He knew the tart cherries would be a perfect addition to the dark chocolate stout he was devising. This velvety, balanced brew is divine.
$13.25/six bottles. Only at the brewery, 75 Horner Ave., Unit 1, Etobicoke, 416-252-2739.
Real dark chocolate plus chocolate-barley malt put the “double” in this British stout and yet, true to English ales, it’s understated—creamy, not too sweet and just five per cent alcohol. Wrap a bottle of this stout up with a box of chocolates and your Valentine’s Day shopping is done.
$3.50/500-ml bottle. LCBO.
The Super Bowl calls for a chuggable, all-day, all-night beer that washes down the classics: pizza, wings and nachos. “Fiddy” is your guy—this crisp, pale ale combines a sweet applesauce flavour with a hoppy bite, bringing more heft to the table than a lager would.
$13.50/six 355-ml cans, Beer Store; $2.25/473-ml tall boy, LCBO.
If you try only one brew from this list, make it the Lava. Its campfire-like smokiness is subtler than most smoked beers, fading in and out alongside a soft, caramel sweetness thanks to the addition of brown sugar. If that doesn’t inspire you, the fact that the recipe idea was sparked by Hekla—an active volcano visible from the brewery—should seal the deal.
$5.80/500-ml bottle. LCBO.
On the day this beer was released last December, thirsty Haligonians stormed the Garrison brewery and bought up 3,600 bottles in 35 hours. Partly, it’s the novelty factor—the beer smells like a Canadian forest, was inspired by a recipe made for British troops settling out east and is flavoured with the tips of spruce and fir boughs. But it’s also a taste sensation, with a generous hit of molasses helping to balance the heady spruce notes. It’s best to age this for at least six months to calm down the evergreen forest factor.
$5.25/500-ml bottle. LCBO.
The dubbel is a Belgian beer style invented in 1926 by a brewer who worked with the monks at Westmalle Abbey to improve their brown ale. He did it by punching up the alcoholic strength—hence the name “dubbel” (“double” in Dutch). Leffe Brune tastes a bit like banana walnut bread drizzled with caramel. Sip it with hot cinnamon buns after tobogganing.
$14.60/six bottles. LCBO.
Judging a beer by its colour is misguided, because the liquid’s shade isn’t a big indicator of flavour. Force the light-beer diehards you know into trying this award-winning, motor-oil-hued ale. If its big carbonation, easy-drinking charm and date-square aroma won’t bring them over to the dark side, nothing will.
$2.25/473-ml tall boy. LCBO.
The neck of this bottle is wrapped in a polka-dot bowtie label—hinting at the playfulness of the two brothers who restored an ancient brewery in 1980 and have been winning accolades for their brews ever since. Their flagship beer, which seems to get a tad more alcoholic every year, is an 11 per cent zinger. Cotton candy, plum, toffee and a hit of tart raspberry make this Belgian ale one of a kind.
$8.46/330-ml bottle at Beer Bistro, 18 King St. E., 416-861-9872; $14.95 per bottle at Bar Volo.
Next page: beers #9-16