Tag Archives: porter

Halifax Blacks: Garrison Baltic Porter & Propeller Revolution

The world of beer from Halifax may begin and end with Keith’s for less astute beer drinkers, but those of us In The Know are well aware that some of the best beer in the country is being brewed in Nova Scotia’s capital (which I call “Nova Scotia’s capital” rather than by a cool or historic nickname because apparently Halifax doesn’t have one yet…).

Aside from being the original hometown of the Granite Brewery, one of Canada’s first brewpubs, it also has a couple of great brewpubs, and two full-scale craft breweries – Propeller and Garrison – that have been increasing their profile outside of the province considerably in the last few years. They’re also two of the few breweries that occasionally send me samples  – in fact, I’ve received both of their respective winter seasonals recently, so it’s only fair that I give a few thoughts on them:

Garrison Grand Baltic Porter is back for a second year, and it remains a really interesting take on the style. The ones I’ve tried from actual Baltic states have tended to be fairly sweet and malty, but this dark mahogany-brown beer has a really unique, complex and mildly tart fruitiness going on in the aroma and flavour, with notes of prunes, raisins and dark cherry. There’s a subdued roasty malt character, with suggestions of cocoa and hazelnut, even a bit of licorice, but it’s those dark fruit notes that are in the forefront. And except for a short hint of heat in the finish, the 9% alcohol is really well-hidden.

The same can’t be said for this year’s batch of Propeller Revolution Russian Imperial Stout, which comes across a bit boozier than the Garrison despite being 1% lower in abv. It’s also somewhat hoppier, which probably adds to the pleasantly tingly burn in the finish. And here’s lots of other stuff going on in there as well – stuff like molasses, charred wood, coffee, dark chocolate, and other lovely things that you’d expect to whiff and taste in an almost pitch-black Imperial Stout.

Both great sippers for a cool winter night. Nice job, Halifax! (Oh, and thanks for giving me my wife as well…)

A Primer on Porter

While I haven’t actually seen a copy yet, the Winter issue of TAPS Magazine is apparently available (or soon to be), with my regular “Beer Styles 101″ column covering Barley Wine. Those in Canada can look for it on the shelves at Chapters/Indigo and other newsstands.

In the meantime, for those who missed the Fall issue, my column from that edition appears below. It’s on Porter, one of my favourite styles of the beer, and also one of the most misunderstood, at least in terms of it’s history.

[And while I mention it within the column, I’d like to note right off the top that Martyn Cornell‘s excellent e-book Amber Gold & Black was an indespensible source of information for this article, as well as my Barley Wine feature in the newest issue. Many other beer bloggers have already raved about it, and I’ll join the chorus in recommending that you purchase it as soon as possible.]

BEER STYLES 101: PORTER

porterWhen it comes to wars, monarchies, empires, and other major events and institutions that created and changed our world, history texts can generally be considered to be reliable and complete. Even events that happened centuries ago were well-documented at the time, and while we may not always have the full story, historians and researchers usually manage to put enough pieces together to give us a pretty solid idea of what happened at the most important times in our planet’s past.

The history of beer, however, isn’t always so clear. Sure, there are some milestones in brewing that are well-documented and therefore well-known, such as the creation of Pilsner by Josef Groll in 1842, or the isolation of the lager yeast strain Saccharomyces carlsbergensis by Dr. Emil Christian Hansen in 1883. But the vast majority of brewers over the years were simply too busy making and selling their beer to bother writing down every detail about what they were doing, and because of this, the origins of some of the world’s classic beer styles are often shrouded in mystery. A good example of this lack of clarity can be found in what we know (or think we know) about the dark and roasty brown ale known as Porter.

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Nøgne Ø Porter & Imperial Stout

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Back when I was heavily into electronic music, I had a fondness for a lot of the stuff that came out of the Scandinavian countries. Maybe it’s the climate, but much of the music had a cold and minimal but still oddly soulful sound that I really enjoyed. And in many cases, the cover artwork would also have a very sparse and minimal design that would fit the music well.

I mention this because the labels on the beers from Norway’s Nøgne Ø Brewery remind me a lot of those CD covers. Every beer in their line-up features the same basic label design – a large stylised ‘Ø’ logo with the beer name underneath – with only the colours changing from brand to brand. Very clean and minimal, and also very eye-catching.

I’ve only been able to try a small handful of their beers since they first started making their way across the ocean a couple of years ago, but I’ve enjoyed them all. Recently, local beer importers Roland + Russell added Nøgne Ø to their portfolio, and they dropped off bottles of their Porter and Imperial Stout for me to sample. I’d had both beers before, but certainly had no complaints about drinking them again.

Here are a few notes on both:

Nøgne Ø Porter
Deep ruby-brown with a moderate tan head. Big, roasty aroma with notes of coffee, bitter cocoa, burnt sugar and oak. Slightly thin mouthfeel, but appropriate for the style. Fantastic flavour of dark chocolate, malted milk and slightly over-roasted coffee, with a lactic twinge and some alcohol warmth in the moderately dry finish. A bit strong perhaps, but pretty fine otherwise.

Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout
Deep black with a small dark tan head. Aroma is big and roasty with notes of dark sugar, chocolate, and hops. Full bodied. Flavour – wow, that’s good! Very full and lush, with notes of coffee, chocolate, dark malt, licorice, and a lot of hops. Excellent!

Mixed Pack From Pennsylvania

A few weeks ago, through an odd series of events, I found myself in possession of a mixed case of beer from Pennsylvania. I’d tried a fair number of PA beers before, from breweries like Victory, Sly Fox and Weyerbacher, but this specially assembled collection contained an assortment from three breweries that I wasn’t very familiar with: Church Brew Works, Erie Brewing and Yard’s Brewing.

As is usually the case with these things, the beers ranged from quite good to not-so-much, and I thought I’d share quick round-up of my thoughts on the 11 new beers I tried.

Church Brew Works

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I’ve long wanted to visit the Church Brew Works brewpub, which is fittingly located in a former church in Pittsburgh, mainly because the photos I’ve seen of the place look absolutely stunning, but also because I’ve been curious about their beer line-up since I had a chance to try their Oatmeal Stout on tap at Cole’s in Buffalo a couple of years ago. So I was happy to find these four bottles in the package, although unfortunately, most of them ended up letting me down.

Pious Monk Dunkel is the best of the four, having a perfectly on-style clear brown-amber colour with a small head, and mild but inviting aroma of toasted malt, bread and tobacco leaf. The flavour is mild as well, but also good, with hints of coffee, smoke, toasted malt, and a short but pleasant bitter finish. Simple, but well made and satisfying.

A bit less impressive is the Pipe Organ Pale Ale. It looks nice, with a sunset copper-gold colour and a small white head. But the aroma is odd, holding a faint caramel note that was overwhelmed by overripe (i.e. slightly rotten) fruit and something sharp that I can’t quite place. The body is moderately carbonated with a medium mouthfeel that gets a bit sticky as it warms, and the flavour is as suggested by the aroma – caramel malt, pungent fruit, and that sharp edge – followed by a moderately bittered finish. This is puzzling beer that I suspect might’ve been mildly infected, but not in a familiar sort of way.

Thunderhop Double IPA seemed promising – for this hophead, it’s hard to go wrong with an 8% double IPA – but it’s ultimately a disappointment. As with the Pipe Organ, it looks nice in the glass – golden-amber with a moderate white head – but the overwhelming aroma of citric hops with a pineapple juice background is too much even for me. The flavour is equally unbalanced, with strong, acidic hops that have very little malt to back them up. I’m totally cool with hop-bombs as long as beer has a strong backbone for the hops to play against. In this case, the beer is just too thin and flabby, leaving the sharp hops with nothing to hang on.

Finally, the real stinker of the bunch is Celestial Gold. I got nervous when I saw the very pale gold colour with a small white head that disappeared quickly. And my fears were proven to be well-founded by the grainy malt aroma with a slight vegetal note, the thin body with heavy carbonation, and the flavour that starts sweet before being overtaken by an unpleasant overcooked vegetable undertone, and an unbalanced bitterness in the finish. Supposedly a German-style Pilsner, but it seemed to me to be a simple mainstream lager, and a poorly made one at that.

Erie Brewing

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Like the Celestial Gold, Erie’s Presque Isle Pilsner is a pretty lacklustre take on the style, with a very light golden golden colour, a small white head, and an aroma of light malt, subtle hops, and an unpleasant note of cooked corn that builds as it warms up. Thankfully, the corn doesn’t come though in the flavour, but there not much else there either. The best I can say is that it finishes clean, with some mild Saaz notes, but it’s not much of a pilsner.

Mad Anthony’s APA is a good step up from the lager. It pours a clear golden-orange with a small but persistent snow white head, and the aroma is pleasant and balanced, with fresh-smelling malt and some slightly citric hops. The flavour is nice, following on the aroma with a good balance of sweet malt and tangy hops, and a good finish. The body is a bit thin, but the crispness makes it an enjoyable quaffer.

From there, things take a bit of a dip with the Railbender Ale. The appearance is OK, with a clear light copper colour and a small white head. The aroma is a fairly bland combination of malt and tobacco leaves, with a slight sharpness building as it warms. The flavour starts with sweet malt, slightly sugary off the top, developing some caramel notes in the middle, and a moderately hopped finish with some alcohol warmth. Not bad, not great, just – meh.

Yard’s Brewing

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These looked to be the most interesting beers in the collection, and given the generally average to poor showing made by the other two breweries, I was hoping they’d prove to be the best ones as well. I was especially glad to see the Saison, a style that I’m a big fan of, and thankfully, it ended up being a pretty solid example. I was a bit worried by the very light, clear gold appearance, but the aroma has enough orange, coriander, and herb notes to keep me interested. The body is light and crisp, and the flavour is decent – a bit light off the top, but some pleasant candi sugar and spice notes come through in the middle, and the herbal hops wrap it up nicely.

The Presidential ales intrigued me as well, with the promise of old-tyme recipes bringing to mind the Samuel Adams Brewer Patriot Collection that came out a couple of years ago. In fact, looking back at my tasting notes for the George Washington Porter in that Sam Adams collection, there seems to be a fair bit of similarity between it and Yard’s General Washington Tavern Porter. The Yard’s brew is ruby-brown with a small off-white head, and has a very roasty and malty aroma with some hints of chocolate, burnt toffee and molasses. The flavour is excellent, very full and toasty off the top, with molasses and toffee sweetness coming in quick, followed by an interesting plum-like tartness. Very nice.

As for the Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, it couldn’t be more different from the Traditional Honey Ginger Ale that represented the third president in the Sam Adams pack. In fact, it comes across as a fairly modern US strong ale. Not that I’d complaining, of course. The appearance is a slightly hazy golden-amber with a small head, and the aroma of pine and grapefruit with hints of caramel and toast is solid. So is the flavour, with vibrant and fresh hops taking the lead in the flavour, but allowing enough caramel malt to come though for balance.

Finally, the Yard’s IPA was another winner for me. Not the most unique or exciting IPA around, but still a good one, with the aroma having a good balance of sweet caramel and citrus, and the flavour being well-balanced and enjoyable, with a sweet beginning, and a pleasing hop bite in the finish.

So, while I can’t make a complete assessment based on three or four beers from each brewery, the edge definitely goes to Yard’s based on my limited sampling, followed by Erie in second place, and Church Brew Works well in the rear. And putting them all up against the other PA breweries, none of them come close to most of what I’ve tried from Victory and Weyerbacher. But still, it’s nice to get a taste of the local brews from other places. Hopefully, I’ll get to try more of what the state has to offer, maybe as part of a future Philly Beer Week.

OCB Winter Beers – A Review Round-Up

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Back in mid-December, I received a media pack from the Ontario Craft Brewers containing eight holiday/seasonal/dark beers. For a number of reasons, I was pretty slow to drink them all, with the final bottle finally being cracked a couple of nights ago (although I wish I had opened it sooner, for reasons noted below…), so the review round-up I promised would “follow soon” at the time has taken a bit longer than expected. Better late than never, right?

So, in the order of appearance in the photo above…

Wellington County Dark Ale
Chestnut-brown with a small off-white head. Toasty malts on the nose, with some toffee and chocolate. Medium bodied, and a well rounded malt flavour with notes of caramel/brown sugar, chocolate, and an odd hint of red wine. (Just see if I was imagining it, I checked my notes from a few years ago, and I noticed it then as well.) Mild hops in the finish are a bit earthy. A pleasant beer that straddles the line between a traditional UK pale ale and a nut brown.

Great Lakes Winter Ale
To quote myself: “A strong (6.2%) and malty ale spiced with cinnamon, ginger and orange peel. It has a rich ruby-orange colour and a sweet aroma with hints of fruit cake and caramel. The flavour starts quite sweet as well, but turns pleasantly spicy in the finish, with the orange peel and ginger being especially prominent as it warms up. This spiciness seems more up-front than I recall in last year’s version, but that’s quite alright, as it gives the beer a distinctive and enjoyable edge.”

Camerons Dark 266
A dark lager with a slightly murky ruby-brown colour. Nice aroma, with a good chocolate malt character with a bit of brown sugar. Similar malty sweetness in the flavour, followed by a bit of smoke, and a fresh hop finish. Medium bodied, quite suitable for the style. Like Waterloo Dark, it’s a fairly simple but enjoyable beer that is a good introduction for people who don’t think they like dark beers.

Trafalgar Abbey Belgian Spiced Ale
This is the last of the batch I tried, but I should’ve known better and opened it back in December in hopes of it being drinkable. Alas, like many Trafalgar beers I’ve tried in the last couple of years, it was infected despite being three months ahead of the supposed “best before date”, and had an aroma and flavour that sat somewhere between old sweat socks and pickle brine. It’s such a shame that a brewery with such an eclectic line-up has such poor quality control, as they’re really doing a disservice to themselves and Ontario’s craft brewers in general. Perhaps they should spend less time on their rebranding gimmicks and more time getting their core beers into a more stable condition before shipping them out.

Mill Street Barley Wine
Quoting myself again: “It has a clear, deep golden-orange colour with a good sized white head. The aroma has the sweet maltiness expected from the style, with a strong caramel character, but also a lot of orange/citrus notes that I don’t remember from the older versions. The flavour is very sweet off the top, with some spice and pepper in the middle, and strong orange peel in the finish along with a whisky-like heat that builds in intensity as the beer warms up.”

Old Credit Holiday Honey
Old Credit is one of those breweries that I rarely think about. Based in Port Credit, they have two year round brands: a “pilsner” which is more of a pale lager, and an “amber ale” which is essentially a Rickard’s Red clone. Microbrewed beer for mainstream tastes, I suppose. So I didn’t expect much from their holiday beer which is apparently available only from the brewery, and those moderate expectations were well met. It has an amber colour with a wispy head, and a simple, one-dimensional sweet malt aroma and flavour, with a faint hint of honey. It’s not offensive in any way – in fact, it’s inoffensive almost to a fault. And it has absolutely nothing in it that says “holiday” to me.

King Dark Lager
The first time I tried this beer a few years ago, I wasn’t that impressed. I guess I expected a dark beer to have a full body with big flavours. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate more subtle “dark” beer styles like dunkel, and realize now that King Dark Lager is a very good crack a that style. It pours a nice caramel-amber with a small off-white head. The aroma is malty, with notes of coffee and bread, and a grassy hops. Medium mouthfeel, and a very nice nutty malt flavour with hints of coffee and toffee, and a moderately hopped finish. Great stuff, especially if you get it fresh.

Heritage Black Currant Rye
Two years ago, this beer was a lager that was first made available at Volo Cask Days, and later as a limited bottle release. Last year, it became an ale that was, frankly, pretty bad. This year, it’s an ale again, but it’s been reformulated with some help from Perry Mason of Scotch-Irish, and it’s much better for it. Pretty ruby colour with a good size pink head. Great balance of malt and sweet-tart fruit in the aroma, while the flavour has a mild malt profile with a nice infusion of red currant. It’s a good fruit beer that’s sweet without being too sweet, but it’s also an odd choice for a winter seasonal – it really seems more summery to me.

Black Oak Nutcracker
This beer wasn’t actually part of the promo package, but I added it to the picture in order to make it more symmetrical, and to add another true winter/holiday beer to a somewhat slapdash selection. Nutcracker is a rich and robust porter laced with cinnamon, and it’s annual release is a highlight of my holiday season every year. That anticipation is one of the indicators of a great seasonal beer, and it’s also the reason that Nutcracker would’ve been a great addition to this package. Ah well, there’s always next year…

Dark Duo from Down Home

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Like most people who live in Toronto, my wife and I weren’t born here. My family is from Summerside, Prince Edward Island (although I only spent a few years there before we moved to a small town in Ontario), and Sheryl is originally from Halifax. We both ended up in Toronto around the same time in the late 1980s – although our paths didn’t cross until a few years later – and while we both love our adopted home, we still feel some undefinable connection to the East Coast. Especially Sheryl, who didn’t leave until she was 18, and therefore needs to tip her toes into the Atlantic every three years or else she’ll turn into a lobster, or something like that.

Due to my honey’s Haligonian roots, and my fondness for the city based on a couple of visits, we tend to keep an eye on the brewing scene out there, especially the wares of the city’s two micro-breweries, Propeller and Garrison. We were pleased when Propeller made some inroads into the Ontario market a few years ago and got a couple of their beers into the LCBO and a few pubs – most notably the Nova Scotia-themed Duke Of Argyle, which sadly closed late last year. But their foray here was short-lived, and Garrison never attempted it at all (although given the somewhat variable quality of their brews in the past, that might’ve been a good thing).

But now, there are a couple of bits of good news for those of us who know that Keith’s isn’t the only Nova Scotian beer out there. Propeller has hooked up with super-duper import agents Roland + Russell to get their beers back into Ontario, with private orders starting soon, and a return to the LCBO hopefully to follow. And over at Garrison, they’ve brought in new head brewer Greg Nash – formerly of the acclaimed John Shippey’s Brewpub – who has improved their existing products, and has added some pretty interesting new beers to the line-up.

To mark the Propeller deal, Vlado from R+R passed along a bomber bottle of their Porter. It had been at least a couple of years since I’d last had it, and it’s just as good as I remembered. The full name is Propeller London Style Porter, which is fitting as I find some similarities to Fullers London Porter: dark brown body, long-lasting beige head, soft mouthfeel, and an aroma and flavour of well-roasted malt with notes of chocolate, coffee, licorice and smoke. It’s a favourite of Sheryl as well, so I was glad when Troy over at Great Canadian Pubs & Beer hooked me up with a second bottle.

Speaking of Troy, he was also kind enough to slip me a bottle from his exclusive stash of Garrison Black Lager, an “Imperial Schwarzbier” released late last year in a limited run of 2007 bottles. I thought that Nash’s Imperial Pale Ale was pretty damn good when I tried it in the fall, so I was expecting good things from this one, and it didn’t let me down. As you can see from the photo above, this baby poured almost-black with a huge tan head that thankfully settled down pretty quickly, leaving some nice lacing behind. The aroma and flavour both hold dark roasted coffee, charred malt, dark sugar, smoke, dark bittersweet chocolate, and just a hint of booze. The body is full without being sticky, with a nice soft edge. If Troy weren’t young and fit, or I weren’t old and and fat, I would be tempted to fight him for the rest of his holding.

Beers of the Last Few Weeks

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted links to my Beer of the Week column over on Taste T.O., so here are the last few:

harveysporter.jpgHarvey’s 1859 Porter – “…an extremely satisfying beer that is perfect for this time of year, with a robust but not overpowering flavour that pairs well with such hearty autumn fare as shepherd’s pie and beef stew.” (full review)

OCB Discovery Pack – “…even though this isn’t my personal dream team of brews, the OCB Discovery Pack is still a step in the right direction for the province’s burgeoning craft beer industry.” (full review)

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale – “…brewed with real pumpkin, and there’s hints of it in the aroma and flavour, although the sweet malt and spice notes are more prominent. Nutmeg and ginger are especially obvious, and the finish has a nice hit of slightly tongue-numbing cloves to compliment the mild hops.” (full review)

Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted – “…quite a hoppy beer by British standards. After pouring a clear and bright yellow-gold, it instantly reveals a fresh aroma of herbal hops with hints of lemon zest.” (full review)

Fullers 1845 – “…sweet and treacly, malty and warm, with an underpinning of yeast and citrus.” (full review)

urquell.jpgPilsner Urquell – “…may no longer be the only Pilsner in the world, and it may not even the best one. […] But it’s still the original, and still very deserving of it’s well-earned reputation.” (full review)

Deuchars IPA and Belhaven Twisted Thistle – “[Deuchars is] not a bad beer, but it’s not really an IPA […] Twisted Thistle is similar to a lot of the IPAs being brewed on the west coast of North America, albeit more subdued in both alcohol and flavour…” (full review)

Burton Porter – “…a [porter] that is quite different from the roasty, stout-like versions that are common from many North American craft brewers.” (full review)

Scotch-Irish Black Irish Plain Porter – “…roasty and slightly sweet malt notes off the top, followed by bitter cocoa, coffee and licorice, and finishing with a slightly lactic sourness.” (full review)

The Session #8: Beer and Food

session-logo-med.jpgI’m sure my tens of readers will be happy to know that I’m still alive. I’ve just been even more busy and/or disorganised than ever these past few weeks. Hence the continuing lack of posts.

I couldn’t miss a Session, though. If I did, they might take away my membership in the sooper-seekrit beer bloggers cabal or something.

The theme of this month’s edition – as chosen by the poetically-inclined Captain Hops at Beer Haiku Daily – is Beer and Food, which gives me the incentive to finally get around to posting about an interesting tasting I hosted a couple of weeks ago in a somewhat unlikely location.

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A Trio From Isle Of Skye

A recent Bar Towel posting from import agents Roland + Russell regarding a pending order from Scotland’s Isle of Skye Brewery reminded me that I never got around to cross-posting my thoughts on the sampler pack they delivered to me a while back from RateBeer to here. Sorry about that, R+R!

Here they are now, better late than never:

Isle of Skye Hebridean Gold
This ale has a vibrant golden colour with a moderate pure white head. Nice, fresh aroma of honey, heather and herbs, and a soft, pleasant body. Flavour is simple but enjoyable with notes of graham crackers and lightly toasted oats followed by a mild, herbal finish. Nice and quenching, I quite liked it.

Isle of Skye Red Cuillin
Slightly murky reddish-brown colour with a small head. The aroma holds roasted malt, Fuggles hops, a touch of caramel, and a hint of peat. The flavour follows the aroma pretty closely, with the peatiness becoming more prominent as it warms up. Not a bad little ale.

Isle of Skye Black Cuillin
Deep brown porter with a good sized off-white head. Roasted malt, coffee and a hint of smoke in the aroma. Medium body. The flavour is big and roasty, with smoky and sour notes around the edges. A very good porter.

So, This Is Christmas…

It hasn’t felt much like Christmas around these parts this year. The weather has only dipped below freezing once or twice, and there isn’t a flake of snow on the ground – on the contrary, the grass is still green on most lawns in our neighbourhood. I even saw some bulbs sprouting in a neighbour’s flower bed earlier today. Since I find it hard to find the Christmas spirit at the best of times, it’s been especially tough to get into the holiday mood this year.

But that’s not to say that I haven’t been doing some celebrating. My pal Doug hosts an annual beer tasting bash at his place on a Saturday in mid-December every year, and this year’s instalment was as enjoyable as ever. Everyone brought along some bottles to share (the remnants of which can be seen in the accompanying photo), Doug put on his traditional spread of chili, cheese and other munchies, and a good time was had by all.

Last Thursday, I hosted a smaller event with my usual tasting buddies. We had a fine assortment of beers from all over the damn place, most of them acquired by those mad beer traders Paul & Harry. We started the night with Bolshoi!, a potent Imperial stout from Brooklyn’s Six Point Brewing, and ended it with Old Boardhead Barley Wine from Full Sail Brewing of Oregon, knocking off another dozen or so along the way.

And of course, no December would be complete without enjoying some local holiday & winter beers. Up until a couple of years ago, the selection of such beers in Ontario was quite limited, but a number of new and established breweries have started stepping up when it comes to solid seasonal releases, so there are a few more to choose from now. Here are my thoughts on the ones I’ve had a chance to taste so far this year:

Amsterdam Tilted Kilt Scotch Ale
I really liked the Kerstmis beer that Amsterdam used to make it each Christmas, and when I heard they were bringing back their winter seasonal, I was hoping it would be that. So I was a bit disappointed when I discovered it was a different beer, but at least this is a pretty good one as well. Pours a very nice dark copper-amber with a thin head. Nice aroma, very toasty, with notes of roasted nuts and a bit of cocoa. Body is a bit thin, but OK. Flavour is fairly sweet as promised, with more nuts and cocoa in the middle, and a fresh mellow hoppiness to finish.

Black Oak Nutcracker
One of the old-timers on the local seasonal scene, it’s always a treat when the annual batch of Nutcracker is released by our friends at Black Oak. This spiced porter has a dark ruby-brown colour with a thin tan head, and a complex aroma of coffee, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom & pepper. The body is rich, smooth and slightly creamy. Roasty, toasty, nutty flavour with notes of chocolate and cinnamon and other spices – the spiciness has been ramped up a bit this year, making it better than ever. They even did a cask version with a bunch of whole cinnamon sticks thrown in à la dry hopping (“dry cinnamoning”?).

Great Lakes Brewing Winter Ale
No, this isn’t a new beer from the renowned Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland, but rather a new seasonal from a Toronto brewery of the same name that is better known for producing mainstream lagers. They surprised everyone earlier this year with their Devil’s Pale Ale, and now they’ve done it again with this enjoyable winter warmer. Aroma of malt, banana, orange zest, brown sugar and a bit of cinnamon. The flavour is sweet but not cloying, with some nice fruitcake and licorice notes. As with the Devil’s Pale, it could be a little more aggressive, but it’s still another great step forward for these guys – onwards & upwards!

Over the rest of my holiday break, I’m hoping to get a chance to try Maclean’s Scotch Ale, C’est What Hazelnut Coffee Porter, Nickel Brook Winter Bock, and the just announced Scotch-Irish Christmas Cake Porter. Assuming my attempts to get out and try them are successful, you can expect a Part Two post in a week or so.

In the meantime, I hope that everyone is having a Merry Christmas. May you have a well-stocked beer fridge now and into the new year, and good friends to help you enjoy it. Peace & cheers!