A couple of facts about the 2011 Winter Warmers release from the LCBO before the reviews: Only one beer is listed with an ABV of under 8%. The beer with the highest ABV has the second lowest price. The beers should start appearing on shelves the week of December 5th and there’s not one bad beer in the bunch. You could read my review of last year and get pretty much the same information.
In order to keep the post new and fresh, the beers have been divided into styles for ease of reviewing. No real reason except that it makes me feel like I’m doing this for the first time.
The Winter Warmers releases features a dubbel, tripel and a quadrupel, though none of the three share the same country of origin. The Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Double (8%. 500mL, $5.45, LCBO# 264358, Ratebeer) hails from Quebec, but don’t let that fact dissuade you from this lovely dubbel. Strong aroma of brown sugar that leads into a body full of dark fruits – dark cherry, raisins and toffee. Only a touch of alcohol is present, but no noticeable yeast. Very clean, clear flavours throughout. The Affligem Tripel (9.5%, 330mL, $2.95, LCBO# 250472, Ratebeer) is a dirty beer – the flavours get all muddled together, which is not necessarily unpleasant but makes for a more perplexing experience. Loads of candi sugar, yeast and apple. The yeast gives a strong spicy character, while the end is a little hot. A little sample wasn’t enough to dissect the beer, which means I’ll be giving it another chance in a couple of weeks.
The quad is the La Trappe (Koningshoeven) Quadrupel (10%, 750mL, $7.25, LCBO# 92791, Ratebeer), which is still one of my favourite beers in this style. It’s dark and fruity, rich and smooth, complex yet very drinkable. Drink now or cellar for a couple of years.
One of the classic beer styles for winter, imperial stouts are well represented throughout the release. One of the highlights from last year returns, the Ölvisholt Lava (9.4%, 500mL, $5.80, LCBO# 187005, Ratebeer). This year’s version has a far more pronounced smoke character that jumps out from the dense roasted malts. There is also a tartness in the finish that I don’t remember from last year. The best example of a balanced imperial stout is the Nogne Ø Imperial Stout (9%, 500mL, $6.25, LCBO# 264341, Ratebeer). Coffee, chocolate, vanilla, dark fruits, all leading to a dry, bitter finish. Incredible from start to finish, even if one flavour doesn’t pop like many of the other stouts.
I can see the St. Ambroise Russian Imperial Stout (9.1%, 341mL, $5.95, LCBO# 171413, Ratebeer) being a contentious and controversial beer. This year’s version needs some time to sit right now before drinking. It has the chance to be excellent, but the oak notes from the bourbon barrel are too strong at this point. The malts are overshadowed and it feels like drinking two separate beers. If you’re looking to drink it before the end of winter, I would recommend spending your money on a different beer. That beer may or may not be the Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout (10%, 650mL, $9.25, LCBO# 135194, Ratebeer), depending on your feelings of drinking a beer that tastes so sweetly of caramelized sugar. Definitely try it at first with a number of other people – finishing a whole bottle on your own will not only make you drunk but possibly diabetic.
This is always one of my favourite categories, especially because there are few good examples of barley wines in Ontario. There are two coming to the LCBO, the Dieu du Ciel Solstice d’Hiver (9.8%, 4x341mL, $13.15, LCBO# 270405, Ratebeer) being my favourite. It is closer to an American version rather than British, but not overtly so. Big flavours of toffee, cinnamon and dark fruit, giving way to a nice finish of oak, slight alcohol and enough bitterness to have your mouth wanting another sip. I’m sure this would age nicely, but I can never seem to keep them around long enough to try. (Note: as with the other recent Dieu du Ciel offerings, the Solstice d’Hiver is being sold in four-packs.) The Brooklyn Monster Ale (10.3%, 355mL, $2.90, LCBO# 250944, Ratebeer) is similar in many ways, but there was an odd spruce note in the finish that confused me. Perhaps it was because my taste buds were tapped out near the end of the tasting, but the price is right to try out another bottle or two. (Note: the sample was the 2010 Monster. It could not be confirmed if the 2010 or 2011 would be appearing for the release.)
The Remaining Brits
The final two beers get lumped together simply because they are beers from the UK in British styles. The first, the Traquair Jacobite Ale (8%, 330mL, $2.85, LCBO# 186999, Ratebeer), is a world class beer. Full of raisins, plums, molasses, leather and a whole lot more. There is still joy in drinking this beer, which cannot be said for a lot of other beers. The other British beer is the Box Steam Dark & Handsome (5%, 500mL, $3.60, LCBO# 188870, Ratebeer), which I apparently tried last year and forgot about. A strong aroma of rye bread, flavours of dark berries and caramel, leading to a smoky finish. Tasty, but the thin body of all Box Steam beers leaves the taste feel empty and this is no exception.
Amazingly, that is eleven beers without one drainpour. That’s not to say they will appeal to everyone – there are definitely some beers that will divide opinions. But it is a really strong release from top to bottom. (That said, there were three beers – Great Lakes Winter Ale, Lake of Bays Mocha Porter and Trafalgar Smoked Oatmeal Stout – that weren’t included in the tasting and are on shelves now. The first two I feel safe in recommending, but don’t touch the Trafalgar.) Looks like another great season of beer drinking!