Beers Fit for Winter
Updated: Dec 2, 2019
As it gets darker earlier, your beer should get darker too. These cold, early days of winter are the perfect time to start drinking more dark beer. It’s a great option for when you get home from work and want to warm up from your commute home in the cold. Not all dark beers are created the same way. I am going to run you through a few beer styles I reach for on cold, blustery nights.
Before I get into them though I would like to go over a couple important notes before you get into drinking dark beer. First things first, is serving temperature. To keep it simple, the darker the beer the warmer you typically want to serve it. Domestic beer companies always tell you to drink their beer ice cold. That is because the cold numbs your palate and since their beer is meant to be close to flavourless the temperature only helps their cause. When you are spending your hard earned money on beers that have rich malt complexity you are going to want to drink these beers around cellar temperature, between 10-13ºC, to really be able to smell and taste everything the beer has to offer. This could mean pulling your beer out of your fridge 30-40 minutes before you would like to drink it. If the next time you drink a dark beer you just cannot wait that long, take note of how the beer’s flavour and aroma changes as it warms and you’ll understand what I am talking about.
Another thing to elevate your experience drinking a big, dark beer is glassware. The rule of thumb here is the higher ABV beer goes into the smaller glass. Smaller volume glassware that have mouths that taper in is what you are looking for. If all you have in your cupboard are Pint glasses I highly recommend you to go out and pick yourself up a Teku and/or a Belgian Tulip. Most local breweries offer both of these glasses with their branding on them. They both have inward tapers that concentrate aromas for you and keep the CO2 bubbles tightly packed making the head of your beer last longer. They also have a smaller mouth helping you take small sips. This is important for stronger beers 6.5%+ ABV.
Russian Imperial Stout
Russian Imperial Stouts (RIS) are a great option when you want a higher alcohol option. RIS clock in at an ABV between 8-12%. They are full of complex, specialty malt flavours like plum, raisins, dried fruit, burnt espresso, dark chocolate, and toffee. They pour dark brown to inky black and the roasted barley they traditionally contain creates a tan coloured head. With the high alcohol content this is one of the few beer styles out there that gets better with age.
I highly recommend stocking up on multiple cans or bottles of the same RIS and drink one fresh, while leaving the rest tucked away to open up 6 months, a year, or even two years later. Cellaring makes the hop bitterness fade, and the deep malt character undergoes slow oxidation causing it to show some vinous, port-like qualities down the road. The high alcohol content also is the reason why many breweries are barrel aging these beers. You can find lots of barrel-aged stouts around, one I loved lately was PEI Brewing Co.’s Midnight Oil which was finished in red wine barrels. This beer style is an intense one that pairs well with rich desserts, especially when they are involving chocolate. Try Propellers Russian paired with a blackforest cake!
Winter warmers, also known sometimes as Christmas ales, are beers that range from copper to black. They are malt driven and can be anywhere between 5.5 - 8% ABV. Caramel, cookie, toffee like flavours meld with the winter spices that are normally added into these beers. Typical spices seen in these beers are ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves but can have even more. Garrison gives us a local offering of this style clocking in at 7% that includes demerara sugar, raisins, cinnamon and cloves. This is a very festive beer style that could be a great addition to a Christmas party and is rich enough to be treated as a dessert itself.
Baltic Porter like Russian Imperial Stout came from English Porter. It was the evolution of exported porter that was brewed stronger to make the trip from England to the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea. This beer’s colour can range from copper to dark brown. It does not have the burnt roast quality of Stout but a smooth roast similar to porter or schwarzbier. They are typically slightly less strong than RIS at 6.5-9.5% ABV. Malt flavours tend to be lighter than Stout as they offer more toasty, toffee, and licorice flavours as well as dark fruit. Baltic Porters are traditionally Lagers not ales and finish cleaner making them better with main dishes than most of their more high alcohol dark ale counterparts. Great with any smoked foods, steak and of course you can still have it with chocolate cake. A readily available local option this winter is Boxing Rock’s Tantoaster Baltic Porter which is available in a convenient 355ml bottle.
Next storm day pick yourself up some big, bold dark beer to bundle up with and enjoy its warm embrace! If you have any local favourites that I didn’t mention for snow day beers let me know in the comments!