Whether you’re a fan of the holiday high season or not, there are few things that make this time of year better than a rich stout or a crisp, dry cider. The only question is which brew to choose.
To help make the search a little easier this year, I tracked down brewmasters from across the region to find out what holiday-inspired beers and ciders are on offer right now, what they taste like and what to pair them with at your festive dinner. Be warned, though: some sound so delicious that just reading about them may give you a healthy glow.
This is a popular concoction every year, says Brett French, one of the brewers at Barley Days, which is located just outside of Picton. “We brew the porter and then borrow a press from Hillier Creek Winery to press Ontario cherries right here on site,” he says. “And then we blend the juice with the porter just prior to carbonation.” The result is an English-style porter that has a nice sweetness up front that’s complemented with bitter flavours on the back.
Food pairings: “It’s a nice dessert beer,” says French, “especially with something like black forest cake. It’s good with any hard cheese and many soft cheeses, too, but a nice pairing I like is smoked Gouda.”
The newest member of the craft beer scene is holding its own once again with this beer that uses wild peppermint hand-picked the day of brewing at Roots Down Organic Farm near Gananoque. “It’s a dry stout brewed in the Irish tradition, but it’s infused with this small, potent plant found in Ontario’s rural landscape,” says Ivan MacKinnon, one of the two brothers behind this place. “The hint of mint brings a noticeably refreshing twist to this classic style.”
Food pairings: This is a complex beer, so it’s a good companion to a wide variety of foods from main courses to desserts.
David Bergeron and crew have this cider on offer all year, but you might enjoy it the most this time of year. “It’s 100 per cent made with apples from the Adolphus Reach area,” says Bergeron, who started making cider from his Adolphustown winery in 2009. “The cider itself is a dry, English-style cider, which is hard to find. It has a nice light tartness and a light apple flavour with a little bit of bitterness to it.”
Food pairings: “A little cheese board with strong, heavy cheeses like blue along with Italian sausage and some prosciutto is really nice,” says Bergeron. It also works with turkey and antipasto, he says, and for a bit of a holiday twist, try adding frozen cranberries to your drink.
Brewed using lactose and chocolate nibs in the kettle, this is a medium-hopped beer that has great roast coffee and chocolate notes. “The lactose gives it some mouth feel and a bit of sweetness to counter all of the roast character,” says Agnes King, general manager of Church-Key, which you’ll find just north of Campbellford.
Food pairings: King didn’t have any specific food suggestions, but chocolate stouts always go well with desserts like chocolate cake, cheesecake and icecream.
Food pairings: “It adds exceptional colour and texture when used in making bread, and pairs well with chocolate truffles and a crackling fire. Why not leave one out for Santa this Christmas Eve?!”
This award-winning cider is one of The County Cider Company’s six blends, and like Bergeron Estate, you can usually find this one all year long. Made with russet, ida red and northern spy apples, which, unlike many varieties, remain on the tree during freezing temperatures, this amber-hued cider has caramel apple and crème brûlée flavours.
Food pairings: Works well as an aperitif or when served with foie gras, aged cheese or desserts, such as tarte tatin.