One of the most satisfyingly flavourful and trendiest ways to end a holiday meal is with an Ontario craft dark beer. Fortunately for those living in southwestern Ontario there are at least five stellar choices that will satisfy the palate and stimulate conversation about the exceptional local breweries that created them.
To find some samples, it’s as simple as a trip to your local LCBO, Beer Store, or beer-selling grocery store. Or it can mean a journey to the brewery itself, where you typically will be able to sample before buying. Your quest is for stouts — the name is derived from being the stoutest or strongest of the porters. The glassware you need are snifters, often available at craft brewery retail stores.
While alcohol content is well understood by beer drinkers, IBU (International Bittering Units) may be less so. It’s an important number to note, if brewers make it available, to match your taste to the right beer. The higher the IBU, the more bitter, or hoppy, the beer is likely to be.
Here are five local, guest-pleasing dark beers:
Railway City Black Coal Stout: One of several beers named with a railway theme and brewed by St. Thomas’s Railway City Brewing Company, Black Coal Stout lives up to its name in terms of colour. A 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards winner, the taste is of bittersweet chocolate, roasted coffee beans, and rye bread. The alcohol content is 6 per cent, with a 46 IBU. Available at the brewery, 130 Edward Street, St. Thomas, and at the LCBO.
Forked River Blackbeerd and Wicked Wench: Blackbeerd is the London brewery’s tasty stout. Wicked Wench is the value-added version, aged in bourbon barrels for about a year. Wicked Wench is 5.7 per cent alcohol, 30 IBU, Blackbeerd a little less (5.5 abv, 30 IBU. They’re not on the shelf at the same time of year. Available at the brewery store, 45 Pacific Court, in Forked River’s signature 500 mL bottles. That means you can do small pours for skeptical newbies who need to be convinced, sip by sip, that they will like good stouts.
Blackfriars Vanilla Stout: This gem from Tobaggan, the jewel of Richmond Row, has been available on tap at the London brewpub and is set to debut in tallboy cans at the brewery store, in time to impress Christmas guests. Brewmaster Tom Schmidt has taken Toboggan’s regular (if I may use that word) slightly sweet stout, and infused it with Madagascar vanilla beans. The result is wonderful and a perfect starting point for people who think they don’t like stouts. It is 6 per cent alcohol and 35 IBU. Toboggan is at 585 Richmond Street, London.
Black Swan Porter: This requires a little expedition and a willingness to serve guests from a 64-oz growler. Black Swan brewpub of Stratford is gaining traction and its porter is worthy of bringing home. The porter uses Chinook hops and eight types of malt. The alcohol is 5.3 per cent and IBU 45. Black Swan is at 144 Downie Street, Stratford.
Half Hours on Earth: No one said getting a fine stout on your table was going to be easy. Brand new and already highly regarded, Half Hours on Earth keeps you looking at its website to check availability and urges you to order online to ensure you get the beer you want before making the drive to Seaforth. Half Hours has offered porters in the past with such names as Moonless, a farmhouse porter, and Space Oddity, a berry brett porter. Both were out of stock as of this writing. You can take it on faith that when Half Hours has a dark beer on its available list, it will be good. Order through the Half Hours website, halfhoursonearth.com, or visit the store, Saturday afternoons only, at 151 Main Street South, Seaforth.
This holiday season, impress your guests with the refinement holding a glass of craft stout brings and feel blessed such a bevy of flavourful beer options are waiting in your backyard. Cheers!
Wayne Newton is a freelance journalist in London who enjoys writing about beer and travel.