Though I started buying Muskoka Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout in 2009, I first reviewed in in December of 2011 after they rebranded it to Winter Beard. At that time, I thought it was a “wonderful holiday season treat and, in my opinion, is the star of the Muskoka Brewery lineup”.
Though there is a 2013 version of Winter Beard available in other provinces and at the retail store in Bracebridge, the team at Muskoka Brewery opted to give the rest of their home province a cellar aged edition of the 2012 batch. Last winter they offered a limited number of aged 2011 bottles that were packaged in a wooden sleeve and I was able to compare an aged version to a fresh 2012 bottle. Without a doubt, I preferred the aged version and though the fresh bottle was still quite pleasant, I found it tasted a little “green”.
Pouring the 2012 version of Winter Beard (Cellar Aged) yields an opaque brew with a spongy beige head that has great retention; hanging around as a collar and film while leaving thick streaks of lace on your glass. The smell of this American imperial stout is very much chocolate-centric with a strong and juicy cranberry tone that opens things up and subtle hints of lemongrass, toasted malts and ground coffee.
2012 was a pretty good year in terms of both the quality and quantity of regularly-brewed Ontario craft beers hitting the shelves at one’s local LCBO or The Beer Store. I selected 12 of them to quantify as favourites, with a few caveats. First, the beers had to be listed at at least 25 retail outlets.
The beers had to be ones that I’ve published a review for, not just tried at a show or festival. Seasonal and one-off beers were not considered, I’ll try to make a list of those next. Re-branded or re-packaged beers were also not counted, however those that were previously available at a brewery’s retail store or at a licensee were. All that said, here are my selections in alphabetical order.
Twice as Mad Tom IPA from Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge, Ontario is a slightly hazy and bright amber colour with a frothy off-white head that settles as a thin collar and leaves cascading lace at every stage of the glass. This American double IPA wallops your nose with pineapple, grapefruit and mango notes along with accents of pepper and pine set against a thick toffee-caramel backing.
The taste of Twice as Mad Tom IPA has a layered effect about it. Waves of citrus flavours like pineapple and tangerine, grapefruit rind wash over toasted grains, caramel malts and mango tones. Every sip seems to taste a bit different, though a solid bitterness permeates the whole glass. The mouthfeel is fairly thick and grainy, but it also has a warm creaminess, semi-viscose oiliness and mild carbonation. The finish is sharp while pine, rind and pepper notes mingle in the aftertaste.
The Legendary Spring Oddity from Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge, Ontario pours a clear, light golden colour with a medium sized and frothy white head that has good retention and leaves some spotty lacing. The smell of this seasonal hybrid ale is like a spiced-up Belgian tripel. An almost sour, apple-like aroma is joined by hints of the heather tips, juniper berries and orange zest used in the brewing process and backed by a sweet caramel aroma and a soft yeast tone.
The Legendary Spring Oddity has a crisp and spicy taste with a lot going on. Apples, soapy and floral hops, toasted light grains and berries are backed up by a solid yeast character. The ale is full-bodied with a medium carbonation level. There is a nice pop on the tongue, then a yeasty, biscuit-like feeling. The finish is dry and the aftertaste has a lingering sweetness that becomes more prevalent after warming, followed by the melange of spices and a subtle hint of alcohol.
Dubbed “Winter Beard”, this flavoured imperial stout from the Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge, Ontario pours an opaque black with a small light brown head that gets retained as a collar and leaves little in the way of lacing. Muskoka Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout has a deep, dark chocolate aroma accented by the smell of freshly picked cranberries and grains.
The taste of Muskoka Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout starts with a bright, slightly sweet berry taste before bitter dark chocolate, roasted malt and coffee flavours take over and linger throughout the finish. The stout is full-bodied with just enough carbonation to give off a subtle pop and a nice creamy sensation on the tongue. The aftertaste is tart, with the cranberry flavour whetting the palate for another sip.
This strong seasonal ale from the Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge, Ontario pours a copper colour with amber highlights around the edges of the glass and has the appearance of wavy lines on a hot road. A moderate tan coloured head burns off quickly, leaving a bit of lace and a thin collar behind. The aroma of Muskoka Harvest Ale is dry in nature. The beer smells of fresh grains and grasses, caramel malts, baker's chocolate and it has a peppery spiciness to it. A sweet, honeydew-like fruity note and a hint of alcohol appear as it warms.
Muskoka Harvest Ale tastes like dark or toasted malts, a dark fruit like raisin or date and it’s highlighted with a note that reminds me of a buttered bran muffin. The ale has a very crisp and bitter finish with a hint of grapefruit and there is little trace of alcohol in the taste, but there is a definite warming effect. The beer has a medium body with a smooth and creamy mouthfeel. There is a yeasty pop on the tongue and the aftertaste is dry, but with an oily quality and a peppery bite.