I have to admit – winter is tough on my soul.
It starts out alright, the first snowfall is always a novelty. Mid-December you’ll find me outside keeping the snowbanks along my driveway well-edged, paving stones swept bare, altogether running a tight ship.
Early January it’s a different story, one replete with expletives and colourful oaths to move south because it hasn’t stopped snowing for three days and a plow just rolled by. Knowing what’s coming, it’s time to take a cue from Tamius striatus, the eastern chipmunk, and start stockpiling some winter warmers to help make it through the season. Here are some things to think about:
1) While it’s always great to have a case of the old stand-by Moosehead on hand, a few bottles of strong, dark, malty ales are great to have in reserve during the winter months in the same way that it’s nice to have a bottle of peaty Scotch or Irish whiskey tucked away for a special treat.
2) Which leads me to my next point – many seasonal winter beers are not session beers, meaning you do not want to show up at your buddy’s bachelor party with twelve bottles of spiced Christmas ale. Think of winter beers as something to enjoy with your feet up in front of the fireplace after two hours of snowblowing, preferably while contemplating the prose of Robert Service.
3) There is nothing particularly definitive when it comes to winter beers; many different styles of beer are appropriate for the season. But just like how we don’t associate hot chocolate with the month of July, during the winter we should consider stepping away from the Hop Laser 3000 IPA, just for a while, and instead explore styles such as Baltic porters, dopplebocks, and barleywines.
4) Brace yourself. I once bought a large bottle of Bush Pilot Brewing’s Stormy Monday – a heavily spiced barley wine at 11 per cent ABV, aged in Calvados barrels (Calvados is a French apple-brandy). Sadly, I could not finish it on my own. For larger bottles, consider pulling together a few friends to share your winter beers with.
5) Lastly, appreciate winter beers! Pour them in a glass, smell them, talk about what they taste like, enjoy them with food. Many of the styles that will soon be commonly available are relatively complex and markedly different than our favourite brands of domestic lager and the common run of craft beer.
Over the upcoming months, I plan on keeping you posted on key beers that I think you should tap in to. Be sure to stay tuned in!
Note: Hop Laser 3000 IPA is a fictitious brand name that I made up. As far as I can tell, it is completely original and if a Northern Ontario brewer felt inspired to create an IPA and call it the Hop Laser 3000, I would be perfectly okay with that.
Stay tuned for a further discussion of the Beer Up North, next week.
Jason McLellan is a self-professed beer geek. He wants the world to know he's damn proud of his Northern Ontario roots, even though he couldn't catch a fish if one jumped in the boat. His columns run Wednesday at 12:00 P.M.