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Tis the Winter Ale of our Discontent

November 27, 2010

As Gastown plunges into  an icy darkness, the smell of wet bricks and frankincense sends my senses into a tizzy. The frozen power lines of my back alley will attest, only something hardy will do. I find myself reaching for a heavy, black bottle from the shelves of The Wine Thief. It’s called KK by Pretty Things renegade brewery out of Massachusetts and was first brewed by some mysterious stranger in London on November 15th 1901.

Not only does the story of this Edwardian semi-miracle warm my heart, but it seems oh so apropos of my surroundings. The words on the bottle reinforce this feeling, “from a London of great style and influence, where horse-drawn omnibuses crammed the bustling streets”. Hints of cloves and stewed fruits as I poured the hoppy black porter into some unsuitable glass. Flavours of spruce and caramel hinted at Christmas, but it isn’t as thick as I thought it might be. Still, the chocolate lingering on my tongue is the proof in the pudding that this beer is something special.

Another fine British glass comes from sexy Wye Valley lass Dorothy Goodbody. As the story goes she found the recipe while thumbing through her Grandfather’s old books. Good Ole Mr. Jackson notes “The brew pours with a rocky head and has a fragrant, lemon-zest, aroma; a cleansing, resiny, palate, and a very late, lingering, peaty dryness”. The part about peat kindles images of my dad digging for it in Donegal.


Thirdly, Green Flash Stout, is a beer I may have passed up once or twice based on it’s label. It just seemed a bit Californian, belying the sophisticated malty brew behind it. Fortunately I gave it a go and it’s fantastic. This sort of tastes like what you wished Philips’ Longboat double chocolate porter would taste like.

Of course there is always the Back Hand of God by Crannog available at Pourhouse, which just lends to the whole Prohibition-era sentiment that wafts down Water. Even better with an andouille sausage Po-boy for only $12, Crannog conjures up Hobbit like hovels nestled into the Kootenay Mountains with only kerosene for light and warmth. Be wary of Strider.

Over at Six Acres, perhaps the first local pub to effectively fuse the aesthetic history of Gastown into their room, you’ll find another favourite of mine, the Traquair Winter Ale. Plums, sherry, and oak make it a new tradition when the mercury drops.

Also rans: Spirit Chaser Coffee Porter from R&B, Aventine Eisbock, Hermannator, Howe Sound Father John’s Winter Ale, Black Plague, North Coast Old Rasputin, and Anchor Christmas Ale.

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