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Beer Up North: Beer alert! Regional seasonals

How to choose a nice seasonal brew that doesn’t taste like artificially scented paraffin wax
Beer Up North by Jason McLellan

Two years ago, a buddy and I became motivated to brew a beer for the holiday season. 

We dusted off the homebrewing equipment and proceeded like alchemists – fastidiously measuring out a grain bill, scrutinizing the development of the mash, carefully cooling the wort in a snowbank because we had yet to discover the wort chiller, and lastly, pitching the yeast before setting the concoction aside to ferment for three weeks. 

The result was a noble brew indeed! My father-in-law proudly acclaimed that it tasted like a Christmas candle – I couldn’t have felt more honoured.

This winter, as you’re out and about looking for a nice seasonal beer that doesn’t taste like artificially scented paraffin wax, consider the offerings from some of Northern Ontario’s breweries. 

Sadly, you will likely only find them in the towns where they’re brewed, but if you’re hitting the road this holiday season to visit family and friends, you may be able to sample a few while they last.  Here are some that I am aware of:

Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. (Thunder Bay) – Snow Goose Coffee Vanilla Porter. For my particular tastes, this beer sounds like it would hit the spot. I would expect a pitch-black beer with a flavour in line with the name, although I imagine that the coffee and dark malt flavours will shine through the most.

Stack Brewing Co. (Sudbury) – Après Ski Winter Warmer. At 7% ABV and a taste that Stack describes as holiday baking in a can, here’s a beer that will surely help you shake off the winter chill.  I would expect a beer with a dark caramel colour, a boozy sweetness, and possibly some spice flavourings. See my advice on enjoying winter warmers in my last column piece when approaching beers like this.

Northern Superior Brewing Co. (Sault Ste. Marie) – 11 P.M. Continuing with their tradition of bringing us carefully crafted lagers, Northern Superior has recently added a black beer called 11 P.M. to their regular offerings.  A very approachable brew with well-balanced flavours of coffee and bitter chocolate, it pairs well with a 5 P.M. sunset.

Outspoken Brewing Co. (Sault Ste. Marie) – Donner and Blitzen Yuletide Ale. This is a great example of a spiced Christmas ale. Outspoken’s outspokesperson (their words, sadly not mine) describes the beer as a darker, stronger, and slightly heavier ale, spiced with orange peel, cloves, star anise, allspice, cassia bark, black pepper, and hops. It’s a flavour experience worth trying, and definitely outshines the 2014 Christmas Candle Special Reserve.

New Ontario Brewing Co. (North Bay) – a winter wheat beer and an extra stout. The good people at New Ontario have been so busy carefully crafting a couple of seasonal delicacies that they’ve yet to land on names for them; I’m glad to see they’ve got their priorities in order.  For the winter wheat, I might expect the characteristic banana/clove taste typical of wheat beers, but combined with a roasted wheat malt for some bitterness and black colour, but honestly not too sure.  From the extra stout, one can expect a big, black beer with roasted malt bitterness and a boozy backdrop, depending on how strong they’ve brewed it; if you’re a Guinness drinker, you’d almost certainly enjoy this one.

I hope you have fun trying new beers this holiday season!  As always, please enjoy responsibly.


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