Today is last day of holidays before we rise in the dark tomorrow morning, and head into the office. Gone will be the days of eating and eating and eating, and drinking beer at 2pm just ’cause we can. These holidays have been filled with many a brew. And today isn’t any different.
Granville Island Brewing Lions Winter Ale was today’s mid-afternoon selection. Their site says it’s “…the ultimate winter comfort brew perfect with…other winter comfort foods”. We paired it with homemade bread, beer cheese, ham, and grainy mustard.
Angi says: On the nose, this is too vanilla-y, it smells too much like candy. But on the tongue, it’s a different story. I really like this robust flavoured ale. Paired with our savoury snack, it was a great way to spend our last afternoon of winter vacation.
Owen says: This beer reminds me of the need to read labels, so you’re not bowled over by any brew’s uniqueness. For example, the chocolate-vanilla one-two punch of the winter ale is like a hi-test version of Tim’s Ice Cap. It’s almost like dessert. That said, for me it worked well with everything but the grainy mustard.
A note from the Guelph Beer Blog: Yes, yes, Granville Island Brewery isn’t in Guelph. We know that. A reminder that the beer we drink and review doesn’t necessarily have to be brewed in the Guelph area, just consumed in the Guelph area. Cheers!
Interested in getting some of that beer cheese we ate? Once again, our favourite market came through. Market Fresh has a wide selection of cheeses, and this one, with its hint of beer, was delish.
What the brewery says:
“Winter is coming—and you’re going to like it. With complex layers of vanilla, cocoa, and caramel, our Lions Winter Ale gives you plenty to get warm and cozy with. This brew is nicely balanced so the sweeter flavours don’t overwhelm. You could call it the ultimate winter comfort brew, perfect with cream-based soups and other winter comfort foods.”
HOLIDAY TASTER PACK – HOCKLEY VALLEY BREWING CO.
Greg’s Uncle Billy is an awesome guy. He’s a retired truck driver — a straight shooting guy’s guy and rides motorcycles. He’s a one-type-of-beer kind of guy. I think everyone has an Uncle Billy that’s pretty comfortable with their beer choices and not really interested in the craft beer scene. But as you and I know, dear reader, the world of craft beer is exciting, delicious and always changing. And a great way to introduce your Uncle Billy to this magical wonderland is to gift him Hockley Valley Brewing Co.’s holiday Taster Pack.
The trio are all smooth, drinkable and tasty, leaving no hint of scary bitter hops, syrupy alcohol content or cloudiness of some craft beer that can take some getting used to. Pick it up at the LCBO, and at a very competitive price of less than $8 for three tall boys, your Uncle Billy can savour Hockley’s Classic Lager, Dark and Amber beers. Grab a few extra packs for you to sip, or drop some off to your neighbour or colleague who may be looking to earn their craft beer stripes.
The Classic Lager is my favourite of the pack. Smooth, refreshing and balanced in every way you’d want a lager to be. This beer would appeal to seasoned craft beer drinkers looking to enjoy all the taste of a classic lager, as well as newbies. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this lager!
The dark could look ominous to some when poured, but I promise it’s light and delicious, while still maintaining the dark beer roasty flavours of coffee and chocolate. Slightly sweet, but very drinkable, it’s perfect for winter time and pairing with hearty meals.
The amber is milder tasting, which means it landed third on my list. But again, the lighter taste could be helpful to get Uncle Billy to dip his toe in the frothy craft pool.
Here’s how Hockley describes their beer:
Classic Lager: A rare find – this rich, crisp, traditional golden lager is the perfect balance between hops and malt, crafting a beer that is as refreshing as it is flavourful. A true connoisseur’s lager, it’s the ideal choice for those looking for an easy-drinking beer that won’t soon be forgotten.
Dark: A hybrid of a Northern Brown Ale and a Midlands Mild, with a body tweaked to give it a lighter, more North American appeal. Hints of roasted nuts, caramel, chocolate, and coffee combine to make this award winner one of Ontario’s best-selling craft beers.
Amber: Inspired by the rich warmth and colour of a Canadian autumn, you’ll experience aromas of toasted malts, warm biscuits, and fresh bread with a delicate caramel finish that ends with the crispness of a spring morning.
ANDREWS 2ND WISH, STONEHAMMER BREWING
Tucked out of sight in a commercial plaza on Guelph’s west side, it’s sometimes easy to forget Stonehammer has been brewing away in our own backyard for many years.
An established micro-brewer that tends toward more traditional beers (pale ale, stout, pilsner and light lagers), Stonehammer may get overlooked by craft beer fans seeking trendier brewing styles. But they’re worth some attention.
I recently picked up a bottle of their one-off IPA, Andrew’s 2nd Wish, straight from the brewery. The label, which features a busty fairy clutching a beer mug, looks like it was made by your aunt who home brews her own wine. But forget appearances – this is a decent English-style IPA that surprises with notes of sweet apricot and a very dry finish.
There’s a caramel-tinged maltiness to this ale you don’t often find in most North American-made India Pale Ales, and a smoothness that masks the 7.7 per cent ABV. Although the brewer says it’s IPA is “full to bursting with hops,” it’s on the lower side of hoppiness for most IPAs, and there’s very little of the pine or citrus aromas normally associated with the style. Stonehammer says the beer comes in at 70 IBU, but I’d argue the batch I tried was much lower than that.
Still, Andrew’s 2nd Wish is a nice step out of Stonehammer’s comfort zone, and I’m hoping to see more experimentation like this in the future.
What the brewery says:
“Andrew’s 2nd Wish is everything he could want in an IPA. It is full to bursting with hops with over five times the amount of hops we put in our standard pale ale.”
QUICK BROWN FOX – WELLINGTON BREWERY
Wellington Brewery, one of the oldest independent craft brewers in the country, has long built its reputation on brewing fine English-style ales since 1985.
But as beer drinkers’ tastes have changed, the Guelph brewery has slowly embraced the more creative side of craft brewing. It’s phased down production of old standbys like Arkell Best Bitter and Iron Duke Imperial Stout, and expanded its release of flavour-forward one-offs and experimental seasonals.
One of these new offerings in its Welly Re-Booted series is Quick Brown Fox, a New World take on an old British standard, the extra special bitter. I picked it up from the brewery as part of a four-beer mix pack of its most popular one-offs.
Dry-hopped with Fuggle, Golding and Willamette hops, it’s got a healthy bitterness and floral flavour, coming in at around 44 IBUs and 6 per cent alc./vol. That bitterness may be a new experience for some longtime Wellington drinkers, but it works nicely with the malty nut and toffee backbone of this beer.
It’s a good-looking beer, with a deep amber colour and frothy off-white head. A slight smell of apricot greets you as you sip. For now, Quick Brown Fox is only available from the brewery’s retail store, but that may soon change.
What the brewery says:
“Our take on a traditional British ESB (Extra Special Bitter), dry hopped with traditional English style hops. Quick Brown Fox has a biscuit and nut malt profile balanced with spicy and aromatic hops.”
ARKELL BEST BITTER – WELLINGTON BREWERY
In an era when every craft brewer is trying to out-do one another with bigger, bolder, more in-your-face flavours, Wellington’s Arkell Best Bitter had always remained a throw-back craft beer, an old-school, roasted, sessionable delight.
It was the unassuming, grandfatherly English professor teaching the class of skinny-jeaned hipsters. That’s why I was disappointed to learn Guelph’s Wellington Brewery says it will no longer offer Arkell Best Bitter in tall cans or bottles as it shakes up its product line.
It’s one of three Wellington beers that will have reduced availability as the local brewery shakes things up so it can offer more small-batch, seasonal and one-off brews.
Fans of the caramely, traditional British-style bitter will only be able to pick up growlers of the beer at the brewery, or hunt it down at local restaurants or pubs. Weighing in at only 20 IBU and a gentle 4 per cent alcohol/vol., it was a craft beer you could enjoy all night long. Ironically, it’s only bitter in name, not taste.
As part of the changes, the brewery’s summertime standby – Trailhead Lager – will also no longer be available in bottles at the Beer Store. This easy-going, Vienna-style brew will only be sold in tall cans and on tap, sad news for fans of the crisp lager that was a refreshing step up from mainstream options.
Iron Duke, a 6.5 per cent dessert beer that’s a little sweet for my tastes, will only be available once per year as a seasonal release, and will no longer be available at the Beer Store.
When I learned Arkell was being phased out, I grabbed a few cans directly from the brewery, and debated whether I wanted to crack them – or save them for posterity. I opted to drink them.