Expand Your Beer Palate: Recommendations Outside the Average Comfort Zone

Written by George Macke

Sipping a fine beverage isn’t just for fans of wine and whiskey. Many beer drinkers are moving on from quaffing the mild tastes of cream ales, ambers, and lagers in favour of savouring the tastes of patiently-brewed craft beers.

From wax seals covering bottle caps, to walls of bourbon or wine barrels, to the sourcing of intriguing hops, there are many tip-offs as to what constitutes a beer meant to be enjoyed with contemplation. 

Generally, these beers have a higher alcohol content and are dark. In other cases, sourcing of new or rare-to-Canada varieties of hops makes them intriguing. Frequently, these are seasonals, meaning once the batch is sold out it will be unavailable for a year or more.

Flanders Red by Forked River, London — Available in vintages from 2016, 2017 and 2018, Flanders Red is a Flemish-style beer aged in wine barrels. It has flavours of black cherries, plums and red currants. It’s strong in alcohol at 7.3 per cent, but not quite the beastly Reforest Kelly, another Forked River sipper which measured 11.5 per cent alcohol. Flanders Red — the style has been dubbed “the Burgundy of Belgium” — is quite sour and, while its appeal among beer drinkers is limited, those who like it like it a lot.

Burton Ale by Anderson Craft Ales, London — Do you enjoy checking out lesser-known beer styles? Anderson has been known to unearth several for its annual beer festival (Kentucky Common, anyone?). Burton ale is a style named for Burton-on-Trent, England, which was once a leading brewing centre in the U.K. Think balanced and bready. Anderson’s version is 5.2 per cent alcohol.

Reunion 1st Solera Vintage by Cowbell Brewing, Blyth — This is Cowbell’s risk-taking blended beer. Cowbell is blending beers and releasing the aged results each year at the end of November. This first release from the distinctive matte black tank sitting next to the Cowbell bar is a blend of barley wine and imperial stout. Available in conditioned bottles at the Cowbell store, Reunion can be cellared for years. The taste is not for the meek.

Steampunk Sour by Railway City Brewing, St. Thomas — While Railway City seems to be tilting towards approachable, broad appeal beers, Steampunk Sour is different. There are flavours of blackberries and dark cherries, and it’s the tartness, not the meagre 4 per cent alcohol, which makes this more of a sipper and less of a beer to quaff.

Dark Side Chocolate Stout by Upper Thames Brewing, Woodstock — Rich and delicious, Dark Side is aged on roasted chocolate nibs from the Ivory Coast via Woodstock’s Habitual Chocolate. It’s not just a post-dinner beer or a pair-me-with-ice-cream choice. Dark Side also pairs wonderfully with the creamy Dark Side of the Moo cheese from Gunn’s Hill. Not coincidentally, that cheese has been soaked for four days in Dark Side.

40210 Coffee Blonde by Refined Fool, Sarnia — This may be a first. Coffee-infused beers are everywhere, but with dark stouts, not crushable blondes. Refined Fool used beans from Ground Up Roastery in Sarnia for what sounds on paper to be the craft beer version of a Tim Horton’s coffee. The name is a nod to Sarnia’s two main highways.

B’Urban Legend Oatmeal Stout by London Brewing — Aged in bourbon barrels, a fresh batch of this returning beer was released in December. Oatmeal stouts are a popular style at craft breweries. The use of oatmeal provides a smooth, rich body to the stout.

Rolling in the DIPA by Storm Stayed, London — What’s a list of quality beers to sip without a double IPA? Rolling in the DIPA comes in at a staggering 68 IBU and is a strong 8.2 per cent alcohol. Double IPAs crank up the hop content to twice or more the usual amount, creating a glorious taste experience for hop-heads who’ve become bored with regular IPAs. For others, double IPAs like this are best paired with a glass of water.

Soos’ Juices by Natterjack Brewing, West Lorne — Unusual in that this strong, 9 per cent alcohol, uses so-called chocolate malt (named for its colour, not its flavour) to bring a nutty flavour to the beer. 

Tail Feather by Black Swan, Stratford — Tail Feather is an India brown ale. Think of it as a marriage between a familiar IPA and a brown ale, both hoppy and malty. The Black Swan version is 6 per cent alcohol and in IPA territory with a bitterness measurement of 43 IBU. Tasting notes refer to chestnut and burnt sugar.

Dingman Dark Lager by Hamlet Hall, Stratford — Featuring local Midnight Wheat Malt, Dingman Dark Lager, aka Schwartzbier, is earthy, smooth and crisp. It’s 5.6 per cent alcohol and the anti-IPA, with only token hop bitterness. German-inspired, the name is a nod to the former publisher of the local daily newspaper in whose old building Hamlet Hall now operates.

Galactic Golden Imperial Wheat by Toboggan Brewing and Powerhouse Brewing, London — Gone? Coming back? We’re not certain Galactic will be available by the time beer fans read this list. This intriguing collaboration between two of London’s craft brewers was first poured mid-fall. This style-bender is 9 per cent alcohol with a tropical fruit taste thanks to Galaxy and Mosaic hops. There’s a hint of bitterness, but mostly this one’s about the malt.  


About the author

George Macke

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