Despite nearly five years writing fairly regular “top [number] beers for [occasion]” posts for blogTO, I’m actually not a huge believer in the idea that you need to change your drinking habits based on the seasons.
Drink juicy IPAs in the winter if you want. Enjoy boozy, barrel-aged beasts in the throes of August. Drink Pumpkin beer never. Whatever.
That being said, I do find that I tend to crave darker beer around the time the leaves start to change and so this seems like as as good a time as any to take a look at what I feel is an oddly-overlooked category here in Ontario, namely stouts. Now I know there are plenty of brewers who make great imperial stouts, and I know that there are brewers who make seasonal, occasional, or one-off stouts, but frankly I’m not sure when we decided that that dark beer was something we only needed from time to time and when we decided stouts needed to have double digit ABV, be bourbon-barrel aged, or include chili-peppers, or vanilla.
And so with that in mind here are five well-made, widely-available, year-round stouts (and one probably-soon-to-be-year-round) that are worth checking out this fall. Or winter. Or whenever.
I’ve also tried to include a little extra incentive to drink them beyond the fact that they taste good.
The beer: Woodhouse Brewing Co. Stout
Why you should drink it: If you don’t know Woodhouse Brewing Co yet, you probably will soon (and we should probably talk about why you’re not going to too many cool bars and restaurants). For most beer nerds, Woodhouse might seem like one to avoid: Contract brewed at Cool Brewing and present in a smattering of Toronto’s best night spots, Woodhouse’s first beer, a lager, might set off alarms in the heads of the same folks who have been burned by “marketing-first” contract beers like Ace Hill Pilsner. But there are some key differences between Woodhouse’s beer and those others, chief among them is that Woodhouse’s Lager and Stout are both really nice beers. As a bonus, the founder, Graham Woodhouse, is a nice guy whose beer is in cool restaurants largely because of his own personal hustle and not because he’s friends with bar owners or threw swag at managers (Graham was, for a long time, Woodhouse Brewing Co’s sole employee). The stout is well-made and smooth with a dry finish. It’s also about to hit your local LCBO. It’s worth picking up, at least until Graham does a Holt Renfrew fashion shoot.
Soon to be at the LCBO for $3.00 per 473mL can
*full disclosure: I have been paid to write content for Woodhouse Brewing before. It did not influence my opinion of this beer, but FYI!
The beer: Muskoka Brewery Shinnicked Stout
Why you should drink it: I was a big fan of Mill Street’s Cobblestone Stout. Amazingly, I recently realized that I actually had at least one pint of Cobblestone Stout every week for roughly three years. The beer is still good and is in LCBOs for $3.15 for a nitrogen-charged 440mL can, but, as of late, I have difficulty giving my money to Mill Street knowing that they are now owned by the biggest beer company in the world. What’s this got to do with Muskoka Brewery? Well, because there are times I need a stout and because sometimes those occasions arise in places that don’t have a deep lineup of craft offerings. So Ontario needs a biggish craft brewery that makes a year-round and reliable stout, please. This new offering from Muskoka, currently only available in Muskoka Brewery’s Winter Survivor Pack ($17.95), and due for a solo debut in December (price TBD), seems like an ideal candidate to be that biggish stout I need. It’s a well-made stout with big coffee and roasted malt flavour and subtle sweetness. It would make an excellent addition to Muksoka’s year-round lineup.
The beer: Walkerville Easy Stout
Why you should drink it: Because Greg Clow told you to. “I like a big, ballsy, barrel-aged Impy as much as anyone,” says the wily founder of Canadian Beer News, “but it’s hard to beat the simple pleasure of well-made, unadulterated, sessionable stout. I wish there were more of them around.” Amen, Gregory. “I like Walkerville Easy Stout. As a milk stout, it’s on the sweeter side of the stylistic flavour spectrum, but I tend to prefer that in the colder weather. It has very pleasant flavour notes of coffee, chocolate, and raisin, and finishes with a nice smokiness that lingers for a bit. It’s sure to be my go-to stout for at-home drinking this winter.”
Available at the LCBO for $2.95 per 473mL can
The beer: Stonehammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout
Why you should drink it: Because everyone loves a comeback. Originally opened in 1995, then closed, then reopened in 1997, and now renamed by new owners in 2015, Stonehammer (nee F&M Brewery) has gone through some ups and downs and, while there’s been some different dudes at the helm of the mash tun, they have fairly consistently made some good beer. Case in point, this stout. It’s an unquestionably excellent example of an oatmeal stout that happens to have won three gold medals over the years at the Ontario Brewing Awards.
Available at The Beer Store (sorry) for $3.10 per 473mL can.
The beer: St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout
Why you should drink it: Because Stephen Beamount told you to. The co-author of The World Atlas of Beer and author of of The Beer & Food Companion calls this the beer “that made it okay to brew and drink stouts other than Guinness in eastern Canada” and argues we ought to give it the respect it deserves. “St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout is, in some ways, the ‘Sierra Nevada Pale Ale’ of Canadian stouts, in that it was one of the first, if not THE first, to stick around long term. I gave it the highest score of any Canadian beer in the first Canadian Beer Guide, too, so you know that I like it. It lost a step in the late 1990s, I think, when they dialed it back from 5.5% to 5% alcohol, but it was very much a baby step. As of the last time I drank it, it was still an excellent stout.”
Available at the LCBO for $2.90 per 473 mL can.
What’s your go-to stout?