winter beer toronto

10 local beers to drink this winter in Toronto

Winter is coming.

It's the time of year when the Canada Goose jackets come out and we snuggle that portly stranger on the streetcar just a little closer to stay warm. It's also a time when, out of necessity, our taste in beer migrates from that which might refresh us to the heavier, boozier brews that might help us hibernate until the patio furniture comes out again.

Here's a list of some serious local offerings that will help you get through the colder months. As an added service, I've chosen 10 beers that are available to buy in the bottle so that you might drink them from the comfort of your warm bed, a cozy fireside, or in line at the mall to sit on Santa's lap.

Muskoka Brewery's Winter Beard
As I am wont to do when it comes to Muskoka Brewery, I've again extended the concept of local for the purposes of including one of their great seasonal beers on this list. That's because our neighbours in Gravenhurst have brought Winter Beard back this season in an interesting way. This year the 8% stout made with dark chocolate and local cranberries that's being released to the LCBO is actually a Vintage Brew, i.e. it's last year's Winter Beard that's been cellar-aged one year. You can pick up your gift-boxed 750 mL bottle for $13.95 and, if you really want to try the 2013 vintage, you can head to Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Alberta or British Columbia--or visit the brewery's retail store in Gravenhurst.

Bellwoods Brewery's Lost River Baltic Porter
For some reason the sturdy porter is oft overlooked in favour of its less potent offspring, stout, and it's a shame, because a good porter in the dead of winter is a thing of beauty. Case in point, Bellwoods Brewery's Lost River Baltic Porter. Named in honour of the now-buried Garrison Creek, this creamy porter offers enticing roasted coffee and malt, dark chocolate notes and hints of dark fruit. Most importantly, it packs a healthy 8.5% ABV capable of keeping you warm outside--like perhaps on an evening when you're waiting in line to get into at trendy Ossington hotspot. $6.50 per 500mL bottle (taxes included).

Great Lakes Brewery's Winter Ale
A simple winter warmer from Toronto's oldest craft brewery, Great Lakes' Winter Ale might conjure up memories of a time when the beer was a bit too "cinnamony"--a memory that kept me a way from this beer for a while. As of late however, they seem to have toned down the spice and now the beer is a reasonable, 6.2% ABV ale with honey, ginger, orange peel, and yes cinnamon, but all included pretty subtly so that the 759mL, $6.95 beer acts as a nice break from the other darker boozier offerings on this list.

Nickelbrook's Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout
The Bolshevik Bastard is something like a beer nerd's best kept secret. It's popular with those in the know for it's exceptional, dark, boozy, fruit, and molasses profile and excellent balance, but it's a bit of a secret since it's kind of hard to get your hands on some outside of Burlington. You can pick it up for $13.50 per six pack at the Nickel Brook retail store, but if you can't make it out to Burlington, you'll have to pick up the Ontario Craft Brewers OCB Discovery Pack (this year re-christened the "Brewmaster's Choice Discovery Pack") at the LCBO. You'll pay $13.50 for that six pack too and along with your Bolshevik Bastard you'll get one each of Cameron's Auburn Ale, Amsterdam Natural Blonde Lager, Lake of Bays 10 Point India Pale Ale, Muskoka Twice as Mad Tom IPA, and Wellington County Dark Ale. Not a bad selection of brews for a winter's eve.

Bellwood's Brewery's Hellwoods Russian Imperial Stout
Seemingly brewed for days when it's just too effing cold for subtlety, Bellwoods' Hellwoods is a black-as-7pm-in-November Imperial Stout with big roasted flavours of malt and chocolate, with some dark fruit and a dry finish. With its boozy 10% ABV it's well suited to fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder, another Leafs loss, or even a visit from your family. $8 for a 500mL bottle (taxes included). Available at the brewery.

Amsterdam Double Tempest Imperial Stout
Available as of November 30th, Amsterdam Brewery is this year releasing a special version of their Tempest Imperial Stout that features double the malt bill and double the hops. The Double Tempest is also aged for nine months in Four Roses Bourbon barrels and the result is a candied bourbon, oak, and chocolate beast of a beer that weighs in at a cockle-warming 15% ABV. It will be retailing for $15 per 650mL bottle and, to kick off the release, Amsterdam will be hosting a tasting at their brewhouse where you can sampel the last three vintages of their Tempest Stout.

Black Oak Brewery's Nutcracker Porter
For those who don't want to get punch-Santa-and-wake-up-in-a-snow-bank drunk this holiday season, the reasonable folks at Black Oak Brewery are again offering their highly-acclaimed and responsibly-weighted 5.8% ABV Nutcracker Porter. With coffee, cinnamon, figs, and spice rounding out the flavour of this dark porter, you might not even feel weird cracking one on Christmas morning. Available this year in 650mL bottles for $7.95 at the brewery in Etobicoke, details of an LCBO release are still pending.

Indie Alehouse's Wit'ner Toque
Because no one said wit beers are only for summer, why not pick up a bottle of Indie Alehouse's Wit'ner Toque from their retail space when it becomes available in December? Brewed for just two months a year, Indie's wintry take on a Belgian Wit beer is made with dark winter wheat and spice and the result is something like Belgian Wit beer with an uncharacteristic warm finish. This beer won't be available until mid December.

Beer Academy's Belgian Maple
I feel vaguely obligated to include this beer, brewed with Quebec Maple Syrup, among my list of winter beers because Canada. However, the heart of this beer is a Belgian dubbel--but that ain't a bad thing. It's got a rich mohagony colour and big clove, spice, and fruit notes balancing out the malty sweetness and, yes, maple syrup flavours. Available for a limited time starting Friday November 29th, you can pick up a growler ($18) or a quart ($6.75) of this 7.5% ABV beer directly from the Beer Academy's retail space.

Mill Street Brewery's Vanilla Porter
Long a seasonal, draught-only favourite, in October Mill Street Announced that their vanilla porter was coming to the LCBO in 440mL cans for $2.90. An English-style porter made with caramel malt and featuring natural vanilla extract, this is a remarkably rich and sweet beer. Importantly, the cans are Nitrogen-charged, meaning you'll get a thick, creamy pour whether you're perched on the seat of a snowmobile or a cold December toilet.

Two bonus draught-only offerings that are totally worth leaving the house for

Indie Alehouse's Christmas Spiced Porter
Arguably the closest you'll ever get to cramming actual gingerbreadd into a pint glass--unless for some reason you like to cram gingerbread into pint glasses--Indie Alehouse's stellar Christmas Spiced Porter will be back on tap this holiday season. It's got dark spices and coffee notes but this one is so predominantly gingerbread-y it's like Christmas in a glass. It won't be on tap until mid-December but since rumour has it that Indie might be doing a stout night on December 22, you now have two reasons to get out of the house.

Great Lakes Brewery's Grandpa's White Eggnog Stout
The first example of this style in Ontario, GLB released this eggnog based beer to just two bars last Christmas and are bringing back for a limited release. It's a 5% ABV stout aged three months in Four Roses Bourbon barrels. It's got nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla and, here's the important/weird part: it's white. On draught in nitrogen form, GLB says it's creamy, oily, slick, and tastes just like eggnog so, depending on how much you like eggnog that last sentence either had you drooling or dry-heaving. It'll be released the week of December 16 and sources say Sauce on the Danforth and Bryden's will be among a select few to tap a keg of it.

Ben Johnson also writes about beer over on Ben's Beer Blog. You can follow him on twitter @Ben_T_Johnson. He's aware that there are 12 beers listed in this post even though the title says 10 and the image shows only six, so you can save that comment.


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