Can We Toast Spring Yet? A Shoulder Season Six-Pack

Written by George Macke

With the weather finally becoming spring-like, it’s time to bask in some free vitamin D, and some tasty vitamin B from the talented craft brewmasters of Southwestern Ontario.

It’s too early for sessionable lawnmower beers and we are very keen to move on from post-snow shovelling stouts; we find ourselves in a beer shoulder season. What to do and how to please your friends? May I suggest a six-pack blend of memories and summer optimism?

A caveat: Even on the deck, friends don’t let friends drink premium craft beer from a can or bottle. A big part of the flavour experience comes from the nose and allows appreciation of colour when held up against the shining sun. Nonic pints or shaker glasses are great all-round glasses for most beer styles.

Walkerville Road Block Doppelbock — Sure, it’s been on the shelves since February and LCBO stores are down to the last few cans. But this big, strong, German-influenced doppelbock makes a fitting farewell to a winter that lasted too long. The beer was previously marketed as Dark Winter Lager, but how boring is that? Walkerville’s marketing minds rebooted it as Road Block, in honour of the famous six-cylinder, big-wheeled, big-bodied Studebakers that were once built in Windsor and were popularly used by Prohibition-busters. Despite its bock nature and what for many will be a one-and-done 7.5 per cent alcohol content, Road Block is a surprisingly smooth and fast ride past the palate. At 35 IBU, it’s not for hop-heads, meaning it’s a great introductory beer for those mistakenly stuck in the notion that fine craft beer equals bitter IPAs. $3.15 in 473 mL cans at the LCBO.

Sons of Kent 8 Track XPA — Vinyl albums have come back, ditto cassette tapes. But the clunky, unloved 8-track, best remembered for playing in a non-stop loop in circa 1970s cars and seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time quadraphonic home stereos, lie forgotten in junk drawers or crushed in landfills. Its memory is rekindled with this delicious Sons of Kent conversation-starter, brewed in an American pale ale style and, as the brewery itself brags, it features taste that hits you from multiple angles. In 8 Track XPA the “x” is for “extra” 5.7 per cent alcohol and 57 IBU, and it should have broad appeal among all beer-drinking guests. $3.25 for a 473 mL can at the LCBO.

Forked River Capital Blonde — London’s five-year-old Forked River nailed it early with this beautifully versatile blonde ale. A Canadian Brewing Award winner in its style class a year after Forked River started brewing it, Capital Blonde is a light 4.7 per cent alcohol so it can be consumed in multiples. As a brand, it benefited greatly last year from a reboot that introduced fans to a blonde-bearded hipster on the label, providing the cool vibe it deserves. Capital Blonde’s strength is not as a sessionable beer but as a food partner, paired with dishes ranging from standard barbecued hamburgers to tomato-based Italian food and spicy Mexican. This is a craft beer to have in the fridge at all times, May through September. $2.95 for a 473 mL can at the LCBO, the brewery’s online store, Beer Store and select grocery stores.

Grand River Brewing Tailgate Lager — Nothing says Waterloo Region like its most famous watercourse, the Grand River, and by extension, Grand River Brewing. The Cambridge craft brewer has this lager in significant distribution and, since every springtime deck gathering needs a lager within reach, why not choose this one? Tailgate Lager — it’s at the Beer Store in Waterloo Region and Guelph and LCBO — is 4.5 per cent alcohol and a not-bitter 15 IBU. Its tagline is the “beer less travelled.” Think of it as the lager equivalent of buying bread from a bakery instead of the supermarket. As with blondes, lagers like this are crowd-pleasing, and kings of the burger-pairing domain. $3.10 for a 473 mL can.

Elora Wandering Monk Belgian IPA — A gold medal winner at the 2017 Canadian Brewing Awards, the Elora brewer channelled his or her inner bitter monk to give us a beer to ponder and discuss. Careful sipping should reveal flavours of white grapes, blueberries, and tropical fruit. It’s a seasonal, in shareable 500 mL bottles, and at the tail end of its availability, so grab it when you see it. Wandering Monk is 8 per cent alcohol and balanced. Its IBU is unavailable. It goes without saying this beer is best enjoyed in scenic Elora, but your deck is a fine second choice. $6 for a 500 mL bottle at the LCBO.

Innocente Fling Golden Ale — This ale from Waterloo’s gem of a craft brewer, Innocente Brewing Co., is an easy-drinking craft beer featuring notes of orange sorbet on the nose. Do not allow your friends to draw a line between this and the Molson Golden they might’ve thought was hip when you all were in college. As a golden, Fling is an alternative to lagers, but delivers more interest than those straightforward thirst quenchers and holds potential as a conversion beer, handy for bringing your macro-beer friends who disdain the bitterness of hops into the world of craft beer enjoyment. $3.10 for a 473 mL can at the LCBO.

About the author

George Macke

George Macke is a Southwestern Ontario craft beer explorer who spends too much time at the LCBO.