There are summer drinks and there are winter drinks. Mojitos taste best poolside, and eggnog drinkers prefer the company of a roaring fire. Nobody is going to stop you from guzzling hot chocolate on a hot day, but be honest; wouldn’t you rather have lemonade?
Beer, however, is an anomaly – like a chameleon, it changes its colour to suit the season. In the summer, it runs gold like sunshine: Hoppy flavours dominate and alcohol content is kept low to ensure a refreshing brew. When the temperature takes a dive, so too does our collective tolerance for these lighter offerings – we want something that will kindle fires in our bellies and ward off winter’s chill.
According to Matt Mercer-Slingsby, Northern Alberta off-premise sales rep at Alley Kat Brewing Company, darker complexions and higher percentages of alcohol by volume generally distinguish winter beers from their sunny counterparts. Flavour profiles tend to skew more towards malt than hops, and often incorporate seasonal touches like chocolate, coffee, nuts and dark fruit. Others employ spices like ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom, making them prime for pairing with seasonal pies and baked goods. “You can even use them in cooking,” Mercer-Slingsby adds. When it comes to categorizing beer by season, though, there are no hard and fast rules. “It comes down to taste,” he says. “You wouldn’t want to drink an eight-per-cent stout in the summer, or any stout really.”
Alley Kat’s back catalogue of winter seasonals includes representatives from most key styles: It has done a chocolate-orange porter, two oatmeal stouts, a barley wine that clocks in at a tremendous 10.3 per cent alcohol by volume, and a Cascadian dark ale. The latter – also known by the nonsensical moniker “Black India Pale Ale” – is particularly interesting to Mercer-Slingsby. “It’s a newer style,” he says, “and it’s really the best of both worlds.” It’s dark and malty like a porter but with enough of a hop-punch to entice IPA devotees.
Luke Sisk, who opened the Beer Revolution location in Edmonton, notes that local breweries are getting more creative when it comes to their seasonal offerings. “A lot of breweries in Alberta have started really expanding the styles of beer that they’re making,” he says, mentioning Ribstone Creek Brewery’s infusion of star anise into its one-time winter cask ale.
“Beer is very complex; it’s a lot more complex than wine,” he explains.
The variety means that there is something out there to satisfy every taste. “The more approachable winter beers are your nut brown ales,” says Sisk, “and anything with coffee in it is very popular – coffee porter, coffee stouts.”
Fans of those styles are in luck: Alley Kat has resurrected its exceptional coffee porter for this winter, which incorporates java locally sourced from Transcend Coffee. As for the rest – try something new. You might find your next winter comfort drink where you least expect it.
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