Thursday, December 16, 2010


(The food gets us a-talkin', but the booze gets us a-dancin' and a-lovin'. Here's the first of an ongoing series on the world of craft beer. - the Slop)

Beer is, of course, a year round drink. But I'm a big fan of seasonal beers - those sometimes quirky, fleeting beers that are on taps and shelves for limited a time. Even more, I'm a fan of beers served closer to room temperature than icy cold. So, when we blindly signed up for a beer tasting at Calgary's newest beer Mecca, Zyn, and the theme turned out to be winter beer, it kind of felt like we'd hit the jackpot.

The thing about winter beers is that there's really no one thing. A pile of breweries will do spiced ales, some put Santa on their bottles, and Michael Jackson rhapsodizes about the style but then name checks a bunch of other styles … Really, we're all over the map here.

So, faced with five beers in the tasting, we covered a lot of ground.

First up was Raasted's Schwarzbier, imported from Denmark and labelled as Vinter. I’d been wanting to try Raasted's brews for a while, so I was excited to see this as first up at a winter beer tasting session. A bit of a letdown (always start your tasting with your weakest offering?): a reasonable ale, but not overly remarkable in flavour.
Now, full disclosure: I'm a big fan of IPA's, and also of beers from the Pacific Northwest. So the next beer in sequence, Olympia, Washington's Fish Tale Winterfish, turned out to be my favourite. This was an odd choice for consideration as a winter beer, but mighty, mighty fine. Nice and hoppy, like a crisp, sunny winter day.

Beer number three covered the spicy ground that is in some ways the cliche of the season. But the Winter Ale from Saskatoon's Paddock Wood was a good choice to represent this. This is brewed in the style of a Belgian double, with medium sweetness and enough spice to keep it interesting - but not overly memorable, especially when compared with some of the regular brews coming out of Quebec. Quite honestly, folks like Dieu Du Ciel do this better year 'round.

We went back across the Atlantic for our next beer, Traquair House's Traquair House Ale (hey, not every beer can have an original name, right?). For my pals with me that day, this Scottish style ale was the standout. Superbly balanced, and quite enjoyable. A richer ale, but I'm finding my tastes leading me away from malt and towards hops, so while I enjoyed this, it wasn't the hit of the day for me.

Our final beer was the one I had tried previously. I had a bottle of Penticton's Cannery Brewing Maple Stout at about this time last year, and was unimpressed. It was overly sweet, the maple flavour didn’t come through at all. This year’s batch is slightly improved, good but not remarkable. Yes, it tastes like maple syrup. But still too sweet for my tastes.

While we had beers that were spicy, I guess I'm sad that there were none that had Santa on them (I've never met a Rogue I didn't like, so I'm eager to give their Santa-themed beer a go). But this served as a good reminder that, I guess, winter beer is more a state of mind than anything else.

Arif Web Developer


  1. Midtown Co-op in Calgary had the Rogue Santa Ale last weekend. I bought a sixer but haven't had the chance to sample it yet.

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