With 2014 barrelling down upon us, I’m seeing an unprecedented number of winter seasonal beers on the market. The coverage of this sheer range of products is also impressive. We’re living in what is essentially the golden age for beer worldwide. Craft beer has allowed for more variety and more personal preference than we’ve ever seen before, and seasonal variations are key to this phenomenon.
Simply put, the special seasonal stuff wins converts.
There was a time when I didn’t really know much about craft beer. While I was university out East we drank Moosehead Dry. We drank it because it almost unconscionably affordable and because it was slightly easier to drink than the other draught option at the campus pub.
I think everybody has a moment where they realize that there is more to beer than advertising or allegiance to a single brand. For me, the beer that did that was Black Oak’s Nutcracker Porter.
Black Oak is a stalwart of the Toronto beer scene, and while their flagship brands (Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale) are completely dependable and always welcome, the Nutcracker Porter is special. At that time, in 2001, it might have been the only Christmas-themed beer on tap around Toronto. The tap handle was a big ostentatious nutcracker doll. That’s the kind of thing that gets your attention at the bar.
It poured an opaque brown tinged reddish around the edges with a resilient tan head. It is apparently 5.5% alcohol, which is not big enough to scare off the inexperienced. It’s brewed with cinnamon, so that spice comes through on the aroma with dark chocolate, coffee, roasted nuts and toasted brown bread. At the time, I wouldn’t have been able to put it that way. I would have just said “wow.” Since it was at a holiday gathering with friends from high school, I’m pretty sure we had all switched to it by the end of the night.
Partially, I’m writing about it now because it is available for sale at the LCBO next week after slightly more than a decade and I’m a big Black Oak fan. Mostly, though, I think Christmas-themed porters are ideal for holiday gatherings and they’re fairly widespread now. If you’re in Ottawa, you might try Big Rig’s new Gingerbread Porter. If you’re in Alberta, a good choice would be Alley Kat’s Chocolate Orange Porter. No matter where you are, hopefully you’ll find something that will fit the bill.
You might not win your friends over to drinking craft beer. You will, however, have succeeded in gathering them all in one place for some holiday cheer and merriment, creating slightly blurry memories to look back on from Christmas future.
Jordan St.John writes about beer at saintjohnswort.ca. He recommends pairing your favourite Christmas porter with a really ugly sweater.