It’s December. How do days this short seem this long? Where did you put your boots after last winter? What are you going to get your Great Aunt Ermintrude for Christmas? Respectively, the answers are fatigue, the front hall closet, and you’re going to forget about her for the fifth year in a row and then call her in a panic on the 28th. It’s happened enough years in a row that it’s a new tradition.
That’s alright. Cut yourself some slack. You’ve had a long year of making decisions and paying attention and sometimes it’s best to sit quietly and stare out the window at a wintery landscape for a while. Picture it: the snow is deep and crisp and even. The chestnuts are hung by the mistletoe with care in the hopes that three wise men might turn up with a cheese board. The turkey ding dongs merrily on medium for 13 minutes a pound and you need something to drink while you wait for the juices to run clear.
Why not listen to our panel of enthusiastic beer drinkers? They’ll recommend things that they like so that you don’t have to make yet another decision in this fraught holiday period.
Name: Jasmine Macaulay
Occupation: I’ve just returned to the workforce after an extended parental and education leave, and have switched gears from IT project management to beer. I now work at Evergreen Craft Ales in Kanata, where I help out in the taproom and the brewery.
Beer of the Moment: Velvet Lipstick, Wood Brothers Brewing Co.
Located an hour east of Ottawa, half the pleasure of drinking Wood Brothers’ beer is being able to get your lips on the stuff! New beer is released weekly in small-batches and is highly coveted by many people. It’s not uncommon for line-ups to form before opening hours at their brewery (in the middle of a farmer’s field) where purchases are often limited to 4 cans per style. The taproom is only open Fridays (1-5) and Saturdays (12-4). Arriving at 3 pm on a Saturday, expecting to leave with a selection of fine beers is a recipe for disappointment.
On a recent Saturday road trip from Ottawa, I aimed to be at Wood Brothers for noon and was well-rewarded. The fridge was fully stocked and I was able to snag a few 4-can packs to go before sitting down to enjoy a draft sample and a pizza.
The Velvet Lipstick, a 6.5% fruited Berliner Weisse overflowing with blueberries, plums, pomegranate and cotton candy was a fave (and my first smoothie sour!). The acidity of the sour works in perfect harmony with the fruit and cotton candy, resulting in a well-balanced, refreshing beer with a silky mouthfeel. That said, it is full-bodied, so one is likely enough at a sitting.
Name: Gary Gillman
Occupation: I am a Toronto-based beer and food blogger with a focus on beer history (www.beeretseq.com), World Beer Awards judge, and contribute to scholarly journals. I have followed beer closely for decades through study, travel, and interacting with the like-minded. I’ve given historical beer tastings and re-created with Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto an 1870 AK English Bitter. In my former career as a Toronto lawyer, I represented numerous breweries and distilleries, as well.
Beer of the Moment: Expedition Bigfoot Bock, from Expedition Brewing in Newmarket. It’s made for them by Equals Brewery in London, specialists to the contract market.
While there are numerous good options for bock in Ontario, this beer ranks high by my lights. It offers rich, molasses-like flavour with an insistent, but not tart, winey undertone. There is no stinting on taste or tradition here, no attempt to cater to “easy drinking”, no reliance on coffee or another flavour to jazz up the basic taste.
Bigfoot Bock will remind some of the import Holsten Festbock but is more akin to bock I’ve had from Einbecker Brewery in Einbeck, Germany, reputed place of origin of bock “way back”.
Wintery weather suits it to a “t”, but I’ve enjoyed it in hottest summer! The brewery markets a Loch Ness Lager, as well, but the Bigfoot is the star of the show, so far. The brewery website and can graphics stress an adventure theme. This will appeal to some and not others. For those who focus on what’s in the can, the beer delivers.
Takeaway: Craft brewing was built on what came before. This kind of taste represents one of the high points in the pre-craft range of flavours.
New school brewing can be fun—and create new sensations. You read about it in every issue of this publication, as you should. But don’t pass up on old school taste; at its best, it shows how we got to where we are.
Name: Kole McRae
Occupation: Co-founder of Toronto Booze Hound, a boozy review and event site that’s been around 7 years! I probably do other stuff too… (ed. Note: He’s a fine musician as well under the moniker Lost Astronaut. Someone’s gotta toot that horn.)
Beer of the Moment: My “go-to” beer has changed many times throughout this pandemic and while I love limited runs of stuff, my go-to’s are usually a beer that’s easy to get, without all the hassle of waiting in line at a brewery.
Currently I’ve been enjoying Cat Lady by Bellwoods. So yes: it’s expensive. At $5 a can it’s quite the contrast from the usual $3 to $4 cans in the craft beer section of your local LCBO.
The LCBO site lists it as “medium and hoppy”, which isn’t exactly helpful. It’s certainly “hoppy” as its job is to show off the hops but you gotta know what those taste like! It hits with grapefruit right away but there’s more subtlety involved with tangerine coming through lightly in aroma but strong in flavour. It has notes of spice like peppercorn and the bitterness of a matcha. I get just a hint of pine as well but it could be my tongue playing tricks on me.
It’s over 7% so don’t have too many, but when you do have it, pair it with something fun that works with the spice—maybe some Indian or Thai food that would compliment it.
Name: Mark Solomon
Occupation: I work in the non-beer world. I am a pretty ok Home Brewer with big dreams, a member of the Indigenous Brew Crew and co-host of the Expanding Minds books and beer club. My bank account shows how much I love craft beer.
Beer of the Moment: My beer at the moment is Kaapittiaaq Coffee Porter from Red Tape Brewery. Red Tape is owned by Sean and Sarabeth Holden and located in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. The front of house is a bright well designed tap room that is a favourite of the neighbourhood. The back of house brewery is every home brewer’s dream. Kaapittiaaq Coffee and Red Tape Brewery are both owned and operated by members of Inuit Communities and the collab beer directs proceeds back into those communities.
Brewing with Coffee can be challenging but this beer shows the talents of the brewery. This beer is a part of Red Tape’s one year anniversary celebration beers. Pouring with a thick, creamy head, and a pronounced cold brew taste. A refreshing beer with biscuit, dark roast coffee and just the right carbonation to give the beer some lightness. This is a must drink beer going into the winter months. Kaapittaaq Coffee and Red Tape’s Coffee Porter is a great pint to have on cold afternoons when the snow is blowing and all you want to do is sit back and enjoy the work of this small brewery either from your house or their tap room.