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?
15 thoughts on “Five local stouts you should drink, and why you should drink them”
The St. Ambroise Outmeal Stout is a terrific one! I probably shouldn’t have an issue with it, but I also find myself having a hard time buying Mill Street’s Cobblestone Stout since they were bought by their new beer overlords.
I’m in London and I’ve really enjoyed a few stouts local producers have made. Forked River’s Blackbeerd English Stout is excellent and while the London Brewing Co-op haven’t made a batch of it in awhile, the Springett Stout was very good. I’m hoping when the Brewing Co-op’s new building opens up before the end of the year it becomes a more regular beer.
Hey Greg – Barry from McAuslan here. Thanks for being a fan! You are lucky living in London as Milos has our St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout on tap quite regularly. When on draught is has the nice nitro touch to it.
If you can elaborate on your hesitation when it comes to purchasing our Stout at the LCBO – that would be a huge help to us. We have priced it at $2.90 at the LCBO as we want it to be approachable for our fans to enjoy it without feeling gouged in the wallet. Any insight you can share would be fantastic as we would appreciate your feedback immensely.
We’ll be at the London Food & Wine Show again in January and will definitely have the Stout on tap. Come visit our booth and say “hi”.
If you are planning any trips to Montreal, be sure to visit our Annexe – http://mcauslan.com/en/annexe/about/ – we have a pilot system onsite where the brewers are developing some great “one-offs” as part of our experimental “Beer of the Month”.
I had the Forked River Full City Porter while down at the Windsor Craft Beer Festival on the weekend – it’s a nice dark beer as well.
Hey Barry. I think it’s just Greg’s sentence structure that has you tripped up. He’s saying he has an issue with Mill Street, not St. Ambroise.
Yep, Ben’s right. Just bad sentence structure on my part. I should’ve started a new paragraph or mentioned Mill Street in the first part of the sentence instead of using ‘it’. I’m actually a big fan of St. Ambroise’s oatmeal stout and the apricot wheat ale, so if you ever need a spare taste tester. 😉
If you ever get a chance when you’re back in London, Forked River’s Coffee Porter is quite good as is the London Brewing Co-op’s Tolpuddle Porter.
Whew! Thanks guys for letting me know. Greg – since you are such a big fan – let me see what I can do about getting you to a few things of ours to try — with fingers crossed they will hopefully make their way to Ontario. Cheers!
I think MacLeans “Luck & Charm” Ostmeal Stout is the best stout in the province, however I don’t believe it’s year round so it can be forgiven that it didn’t make your list. Also, fun fact, Charles came up with the Woodhouse Lager recipe (although I’m unsure [but don’t believe] if he did the stout).
Nickel Brook “Half Bastard” is also good. As is Railway City “Black Coal”, but again, not year round.
Not typically a stout fan, I prefer coffee porters. Any stout recommendations for a non-stout lover 🙂
I really enjoyed Nickel Brook’s “Half Bastard” last winter and picked it up every time I was in Burlington. I noticed it was in their recent mix pack at the LCBO so hopefully that means it will be produced more regularly now.
Otherwise St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout is a regular. And Mill St. Cobblestone when I want to change it up.
This is a good list I want to check out Walkerville and Woodhouse now.
B – thanks for being a fan of our St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout. FYI – I saw Peter McAuslan at our Anniversary party a couple years ago and I asked him – “how many recipe and samples did you and Ellen create before the final version of the Oatmeal Stout?” He reflected for a brief second and replied: “The first and only one. Once we tried it we realized we had something special.” His tone ringed of pride and passion. Cheers, Barry
Where are the Ontario porters? Collective Arts and ??? CA’s is great, but I want more. Deschutes Black Butte is not local, but usually available at LCBO. As for stouts, I enjoy the above listed, but my fave is Oskar Blues Ten Fidy. Like a punch to the jaw.
Have you Clifford Porter? Just released in GTA area LCBOs. Buy a case and thank me later. Might be the best Porter in the country and according the the Canadian Brewing Awards, it is.
East of Toronto seems to have some of the best stouts in Ontario – I know they may not qualify for the local tag here, and also not widely available – though they are year round. My favourite Irish stout is Or Dubh Stout from Olde Stone Brewing Company in Peterborough. unfortunately you have to go there (or one of a couple other places in town) to get it. For Oatmeal Stout, I love Ships in the Night from Stone City Ales in Kingston – again available year round but not too widely.
For one that’s more widely available, through the LCBO, I really enjoy Broadhead’s Dark Horse Stout. I also have no problem giving Mill St. money for Cobblestone, it remains an excellent beer and I can pick it up at the local Sobeys.
For Ontario stouts I usually like the 9% and up stouts (ex Bolshevik Bastard, Amsterdam Tempest), for 5-6% though Muskoka Shinnicked, Beau’s Tom Green (and it’s spinoffs “Summer” and “Cherry”), and Sawdust City Skinny Dipping are pretty decent. for cousin porter I’d say Collective Arts Stranger Than Fiction and their Imperial Porter when it’s available.
Did you do an updated 2017/2018 list?
My easy drinking stout loves are: Walkerville Easy Stout, Sawdust City’s Skinny Dipping, Rainhard’s Sweetback (we buy it in growlers whenever it is available).
Reading this, I find my stout/porter sampling is not as deep as I thought. But, in my sample, one stands out. Innocente Charcoal Stout. Head and shoulders above anything else. Only downer is that it doesn’t hold its head well.