LCBO Winter Warmers 2010: The Review

By now you’ve probably heard a lot of people saying something like this: “OMG! The LCBO beer releases are totes amazing now. Yumm-o!” And this is true. So take a moment to imagine a couple of more sentences of me praising the LCBO, while the rest of us go straight to the beer.

Top Marks: Two beers rose to the top of the class – the Traquair Jacobite Ale (LCBO# 186999, $2.80, Ratebeer) and Ölvisholt Lava Smoked Imperial Stout (LCB)# 187005, $5.80, Ratebeer). While most of the beers in the release fit the profile of a winter beer (darker, thicker body, higher alcohol – basically a beer that you slowly sip or share with others), the complexity of these two stood well above the rest. Even in a small sample of the Jacobite I was able to pull out raisin, brandy, cocoa and cinnamon. The smoke of the Lava was excellently balanced by coffee, stewed fruits and leather. Clear some cellar space.

Don’t Forget the Belgians: My praise for the previous two beers may have also been because there were a lot of old favourites on the list. They are delicious, but there is a difference between trying a beer for the first time and revisiting a classic. More specifically, two Belgian quads that I adore are coming to the LCBO – the St. Bernardus Abt 12 (LCBO# 198895, $3.45, Ratebeer) and Koningshoeven Quadrupel (LCBO# 92791, $7.25, Ratebeer). Quads are loaded with flavour, from dark fruits to spices, plus that unmistakable Belgian yeast. The St. Bernardus is widely regarded as one of the best beers in the world and is priced fantastically. Don’t be surprised if it leaves stores very quickly. The Koningshoeven is a sentimental favourite of mine from my days in London, where I often had to bring bottles back from Toronto, loading up my backpack before getting on the Greyhound bus. Once again both cellar well, so stock up!

Boredom in the UK: The offerings from the United Kingdom, aside from the Jacobite, are really underwhelming in this release. Lots of people the Meantime Coffee Porter (LCBO# 194167, $3.15, Ratebeer), but I found it weak and underwhelming. My palate is also starting to trend away from one-note coffee beers, which may also be part of the reason. Similarly, the Box Steam Dark & Handsome (LCBO# 188870, $3.50, Ratebeer) featured the same thin body and couldn’t resurrect a nice flavour profile of blackberries and coffee. Presumably the Marston’s Oyster Stout (LCBO# 457663, $3.45, Ratebeer) sold well last year, but it is not to my taste.

Hmm…: It is almost a guarantee that one beer of each release will mystify, offering up something new that challenges the taste buds in some small way. This time around it is the Christoffel Winterse Bok (LCBO# 186973, $3.25, Ratebeer) that proves the theory. The muddled earthy aroma wasn’t the most pleasant sensory experience and it did not foreshadow the surprisingly fruity taste. It tasted to me me of maraschino cherries in a sea of dark malt with a sprig of mint. I can’t explain it.

Token Barley Wine: The Dieu du Ciel Solstice d’Hiver (LCBO# 188888, $3.50, Ratebeer) may not be the best offering from the brewery, but it will do nicely for barley wine-starved Ontarians. No flavours jump out (toffee, citrus, bitter finish), but it is a nice, balanced barley wine that is drinkable even at a young age (and the price is wallet-friendly when compared with the Mill Street Barley Wine).

Returning: There are repeats with every release, so I hope everyone likes the Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout (LCBO# 135194, $9.60, Ratebeer), Schneider Aventinus Eisbock (LCBO# 58875, $4.25, Ratebeer), St. Ambroise Vintage Ale (LCBO# 66027, $4.95, Ratebeer) and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (LCBO# 95034, $2.95, Ratebeer). I’ll probably buy two of the four, especially because these are all beers that will keep for a year or more. All four are worth a try if you missed them in previous years, so sample away!

Not A “Winter Warmer”: I haven’t tried the beer (yet), but the Muskoka Double Chocolate Cranberry (LCBO# 222315, $9.95) is now available. It technically isn’t on the release but sounds like it is worth the price. I did split a bottle of the Lake of Bays Mocha Porter (LCBO# 222125, $7.95, Ratebeer) last weekend and it was given a thumbs up by all my tasters.

Most of these beers are appearing on store shelves now, so get online to check availability or start obsessively phoning your local store. The two exceptions will be the Jacobite and St. Berndardus, which will most likely be available in 2011 (but beers that good are worth the wait).


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