With an estimated 150 craft brewers across Canada, creating all sort of exciting new suds every day, it's reasonable to declare this the golden age of beer. And with one- or two-man operations finding clever ways to brew without investing in huge overhead costs – namely by renting time from existing breweries – this means small, agile, turn-on-a-whim producers can get creative, and take some wild chances with flavours and ingredients. Here are three brews worth trying right now.
Scrimshaw Oyster Stout
Perhaps like many non-beer aficionados, you believed oyster stout was merely a black beer to be enjoyed with oysters; just a name, really. Well, you'd be wrong, sort of. Yes, many so-called oyster stouts are just that, named after a style. And yes, a pint of stout does go swimmingly with a plate of oysters, but a real oyster stout is brewed with the bivalves right in; some say the recipe hails from New Zealand circa 1929. Champion Toronto oyster shucker Patrick McMurray has teamed up with Prince Edward County's Barley Days Brewery to create an authentic dry Irish oyster stout – there are 1,500 PEI Green Gables Malpeques in every 2,000-litre batch – with notes of chocolate, coffee and just enough salty brine to set off the sweetness. $14.25/six-pack at the LCBO.
A Winter's Ale
Bread pudding and gingersnap cookies, maybe even a splash of eggnog. That's what the aroma of this deep amber ale from Mill Street's Ottawa brewpub calls to mind. A Winter's Ale is flavoured with cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves and Mexican vanilla, and sweetened – just a touch – with local clover honey; its balancing bitterness comes courtesy of German Hersbrucker hops. And it's exactly right for this time of year. After a big meal, skip dessert and sip this with a bit of heady cheese. Available now until the end of January; included in the Mill Street Winter Sampler – $13.85/six-pack at the LCBO.
Piperales Unfiltered Smoked Amber Ale
Husband-and-wife team Victor and Sonja North of Hamilton are either brave or crazy, or perhaps a bit of both. They just launched their craft brewery – Garden Brewers – not with some easy-drinking, crowd-pleasing lager, but rather with a strong, slightly bitter, smoky and spicy ale brewed with crushed black peppercorns and German, beechwood-smoked malt. It's beautifully balanced and not so smoky that one couldn't enjoy a pint or two … with grilled bratwurst, of course! It's available for $6 to $8 a pint at pubs around Southern Ontario; find it on tap here: gardenbrewers.ca.