Depending on where you live in British Columbia, winter is all about snow, snow and more snow or rain, rain and even more rain. Luckily for all of us, BC’s craft brewers provide plenty of seasonal options for beer lovers looking to warm up with a glass of something special. Here are some ideal options for sipping in front of a fire—whether authentic or of the digital variety on TV.
Generally speaking, winter beers are darker, maltier brews that are sometimes even a little sweet. Usually, they are stronger in terms of alcohol content, too, in the 7%-9% ABV range—they are meant for sipping, not guzzling. Sometimes, as a connection to the holiday season, brewers also employ mulling spices or baking extracts such as vanilla, licorice or butterscotch.
One of my favourite B.C. winter beers comes from Townsite Brewing in Powell River. Brewmaster Cédric Dauchot, who is Belgian-born-and-trained, applied his heritage well in making this Bière d’Hiver. First, he made his own 60kg batch of Belgian candi sugar, which he then he added to the grain mash before fermentation, following a brewing tradition from his homeland. The result is a deliciously sweet brown ale with notes of plum and caramel and a spicy character that comes from the yeast. It will keep you sipping as you try to identify all the different flavours.
Staying with the Belgian theme, Steamworks has been releasing its Blitzen seasonal beer in its brewpub for years, but it has only been available in bottled form for a couple of winters now. This Belgian-style Tripel is lighter-coloured and lighter-bodied, which sets it apart from the rest of the beers here, but it makes up for it in alcoholic warmth, coming in at a potent 9% ABV.
Staying in Vancouver, but crossing the border over to Germany stylistically, Granville Island Brewing latest winter seasonal is Burly Goat Weizenbock. The name is quite a mouthful and so is this beer, which offers some big, big flavours. If you like German Hefeweizens in the summer then you will definitely like this “winterized” version. GIB’s brewmaster Vern Lambourne loves German Weissbier, and it shows: this strong, dark wheat beer that bursts with flavours of banana (no kidding!), cloves and caramel. And if you’re wondering about the “goat” in the name, it comes from a German brewing name tradition. The original Bock beers actually came from Einbeck, but the Bavarian dialect turned that into Ein Bock, and Bock is the German word for goat. There you go, now you learned something about beer you never knew before.
Over in North Vancouver, one of B.C.’s newest breweries, Bridge Brewing, offered its first seasonal winter beer this year. The Grinch isn’t as strong as some of the other beers featured here in terms of alcohol (6.5% ABV), but it is the darkest of the bunch with a big, roasted malt character that offers hints of chocolate. Delicious and rich.
Last, but certainly not least, is a BIG beer from Central City Brewers + Distillers, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary by opening a gigantic new brewery in Surrey. This Imperial Porter celebrates that anniversary and the transition to the new brewery by merging a small batch that was put in bourbon barrels a year ago with a batch brewed at the new facility. The result is simply spectacular: molasses, dark chocolate and bourbon, with some vanilla and oakiness from the barrel, all silky smooth. It’s definitely one to sip at 9% ABV.
There are many other winter beers from B.C. breweries to try out, including: Hermannator Ice Bock (which won Beer of the Year at the BC Beer Awards in October) and Storm Watcher Winter Lager from Vancouver Island Brewery; Blackstone Porter from Driftwood Brewery; Hoyne Brewing’s Gratitude, which comes pre-wrapped in holiday paper; Father John’s Winter Ale from Howe Sound Brewing, which is named for John Mitchell, the man who built Horseshoe Bay Brewing, the first modern-day microbrewery in Canada, back in 1982; Dead Frog Brewery’s Winter Beeracle; and Black Mammoth Winter Ale from Fernie Brewing, another personal favourite of mine with added cocoa and curacao orange peel added.
Breweries, Cideries & Distilleries in BC