First off, what exactly makes a “winter beer”? Traditionally, winter beers were English ails or wassails. (The latter isn’t a type of singing, as you might assume from the carol. It’s actually a hot alcoholic drink incorporating spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.)
Today though, anything darker and maltier can generally speaking be classified as a seasonally appropriate brew. Meant for sipping fireside, winter beers are typically higher in alcoholic content than their summertime counterparts, and may incorporate mulling spices or sweet flavours such as vanilla or chocolate. Bottom line? They’re designed to keep you nice and warm in the coolest of months.
Here’s your guide to winter warmers from some of Canada’s best craft breweries.
Name aside, the sleigh on the label gives away this beer’s true purpose. An English-style barley wine with a dark brown colour, this beer has a strong aroma of toffee, chocolate, and spices. It’s available from November to March in Eastern Canada from the Fredericton craft brewery Picaroons.
Developed over a warm cabin fire, Winterweiss (pronounced “winter vice”) is a dark wheat beer with notes of clove and banana. Seasonally brewed, Muskoka Winterweiss partners the yeast and wheat character of a Hefeweizen with the malty richness of a Munich Dunkel. It’s perfect for cozy, winter nights with friends.
Whistler Brewing’s Chestnut Ale
Whistler Brewing took the gold medal at the 2017 Canadian Beer Awards for its Chestnut Ale. Inspired by fall’s autumn colours, roasted chestnuts impart a unique nutty character, which is rounded off by robust caramel and crystal malts.
Dieu du Ciel’s Solstice D’Hiver
First crafted in 1998, this beer was no doubt inspired by Montréal’s frigid wintertime temperatures. A deep brown winter ale, it’s sure to warm you up with its aroma of fruit, hints of burnt caramel and a hoppy finish. Get it quick though—as one of Dieu du Ciel’s “Momentum” beers, it’s only available for limited-time during the month of December.
Hearthstone Brewery’s Chocolate Milk Stout
Nabbing first place at the 2017 BC Beer Awards in the “British Stout” category, this chocolate milk stout is craft brewed in North Vancouver. Heathstone says it’s “perfect to cuddle up next to a fire with” and we can’t disagree.
Brewed by those who know firsthand the need for a winter pick-me-up—particularly when the sun rarely barely above the horizon—Yukon Beer’s Lead Dog continually tops lists of “best winter warmers.” The very definition of a “winter warmer,” this Olde English Ale has malt flavours and a dark chocolate appearance.
Gruit technically isn’t a beer, since it traditionally doesn’t include the use of hops. Originally brewed by monks as early as the 10th century, this alcoholic beverage instead relies on herbs for flavour. In the last couple of years, craft breweries, including Ottawa-based Beau’s, have started to make their own versions. The Lamb’s Wool does use hops, but it’s spiced with the most festival of flavours, including apples. It’s meant to be “paired with singing, visiting friends and mid-winter celebrations meant to bring good fortune to homes and harvests in the year to come.” Cheers to that.