Toronto craft brewer Mill Street’s Spring Thaw is an ode to this most temperate and fleeting of seasons. Brewmaster Joel Manning slow smokes the pale barley malt over Ontario beechwood to subtle effect – don’t think Islay single malt, there’s just a wisp.
As Manning puts it, “The hardwood smoke notes always remind me of the way your sweater smells after you’ve spent the night before sitting around an open fire with your friends; some of my favourite memories are wrapped in that scent.”
The delicate, barely-there sweetness comes from 120 litres of wood-fired, amber, maple syrup – added after fermentation to the 18,000 litres of beer that were made. Manning sources the syrup from Higgins Maple Products in Combermere, Ont., in the Madawaska Valley near his cottage.
“There is something about the syrup that they make up there – the land is so rugged and rocky and the trees don’t produce a lot of sap,” he says.
“But the syrup they make is otherworldly, intensely flavoured; a beautifully rich syrup with really focused flavours.”
This decidedly Canadian brew was inspired by his research trips to Germany, where smoked beers are huge. “I had been there many times to drink smoked beers, and I’ve always thought the flavour of beechwood-smoked malt is such a universally evocative one, that there was a place for it in Canadian beer.”
His first batch was made in the spring of 2013; this is only their second run, though, as Manning explains, “I’ve noticed a slight variation year to year since the maple syrup and the wood-smoked malt are both made by hand.”
At 5 per cent alcohol, it’s sparkling, with a round – almost buttery – flavour, full of caramel notes, and a long, slightly bitter finish. It’s delicious with sweet and smoky pork ribs, and killer with grilled smoked-cheddar sandwiches.
A limited-edition beer, Mill Street Spring Thaw – as part of the Spring Sampler, along with their Portage Ale – is available now at the LCBO in Ontario, in Nova Scotia, Alberta, and B.C., and on tap at Mill Street Pubs in Toronto and Ottawa. Six-pack, $13.45