Beer 101


Winter beers offer all the warm, fuzzy feelings of the season in a hearty brew

By Adam Dewji
Photos By Adam Dewji

I was originally going to title this article “Winter Ales”, but I soon came to realize that winter brews are much more than just ales. They are a marking of a season, a time of year that beer geeks like myself look forward to. Some of the best beers of the year come out around this time, each more diverse than the next.

What are winter beers, then? Well, when the season approaches, breweries tradi- tionally release brews that are more full-bodied, and gen- erally richer. They like to add their own touches, and brews often have unique and some- times experimental flavours. There isn’t just one type of winter beer though. They can range from “warmers,” to ales, stouts, and Rickard’s has even released an Oakhouse Winter Lager. There is a significant dif- ference between a UK styled “winter warmer” and a tradi- tional North American-styled winter beer (usually a flavoured pale ale). Likewise, other parts of the world also have their own twists on their beers; in Bel- gium, their winter brews are generally stronger in alcohol- by-volume, and flavoured with honey and orange peels.

English winter warmers are generally much more malty, and have a little bit of sweetness to them. Have you ever had a Christmas pudding? You know, figs, caramel, toffee, some dried fruits and such? Imagine all of those things thrown into a brew. They are strong, I must warn you. It’s not the best be- ginner brew, but it’s a plunge for sure. If you want to try a decent winter warmer this sea- son, something relatively local is the Snow Cap Winter Warmer from Pyramid Breweries in Se- attle. It’s available at the Surrey Central BC Liquor Store, as well as others.

North American winter beers are the ones that I’m much more familiar with. Un- like the UK warmers, they are generally loaded with Christ- mas spices — cinnamon, gin- ger, allspice, nutmeg, and some citrus peels. In addition, they have sweet flavours from sources like honey, cocoa malts, caramel, chocolate, and syrups. I prefer the North American- style brews, mainly because of the huge variety of beers. I’ve tried winter ales, winter lagers, and winter stouts. There are ups and downs to all of them.

If you’re looking for some good local North American winter brews, try the Dough Head Gingerbread Ale from Vancouver Island Brewery, or Valley Trail Chestnut Ale from Whistler Brewing Company. The Dough Head tastes like bit- ing into a gingerbread house, minus the icing. It’s delicious. If you are new to winter beers, simply try the local favourite Granville Island Lion’s Winter Ale (available at our very own Highland Pub!).

Then again, if you love strong, unique-tasting, hard- to-stomach brews, then I’d go for the Innis and Gunn Winter Porter. It’s not much of a por- ter at all, but it packs a wallop of taste, hitting you like a five- game suspension hockey hit to the head. I had to sip the 330mL for about half an hour, and at 7.4 per cent alcohol-by-volume, it’s one of the stronger winter beers available in your local li- quor store.

Well, there you have it. That’s your beginner’s guide to winter brews, and which ones are available at your local BC Liquor Stores. There are many more available at stores that cater to beer geeks like myself, but I’m still on a mission to try them all.