7 Winter Ales to Cozy Up with in the Kootenays

7 Winter Ales to Cozy Up with in the Kootenays

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With the change of the seasons comes a craving for new flavours. Summer’s salads and light dishes turn to winter’s warm stews and spiced baked desserts.

For beer drinkers, it’s the same. Notes of vanilla, coffee, chocolate, and caramel richness creep in. Fruits swap from grapefruits and raspberries to oranges and cranberries. Malts deepen and warmer flavour profiles give extra cheer to winter nights.

Our Kootenay brewers know winter just about as well as anyone can. Each winter around our region, seasonal pop up to tempt skiers after a day of riding thigh-deep snow or friends who’ve come to visit.

Arrowhead Brewing Company - Invermere
Name: Rhubarb Rye P.A. (a.k.a “Redrum”)
Type: Rye pale ale

Arrowhead, Invermere’s first microbrewery, produces 13 beers and collaborates with local sources to buy their ingredients, including hops, pumpkins, crabapples, herbs, rhubarb, honey, and the local coffee roaster’s beans.

For this winter season, Arrowhead’s brewer and co-owner, Shawn Tegart, created “RedRum”, a popular 6.6% rye-based pale ale with additions of rhubarb. “Rhubarb doesn't seem to make it onto many [beer] ingredient lists,” says Leanne Tegart, the other half of Arrowhead’s co-ownership duo. “It seemed only natural to try an ingredient you don't see all the time; and good thing we did—it's delicious!”

Expect this unfiltered beer to fill your glass with a red-coloured hue and a soft, ivory head. On the taste bud side of the glass, expect a malty, low-carbonation mouthfeel with a gently bitter bite at the end thanks to the locally-farmed rhubarb.

Backroads Brewing Company - Nelson
Name: Name TBD
Type: Strong, malt-forward old ale

Each beer at Backroads will be new this winter; that’s because this nano-brewery is Nelson’s newest. With its 55-seat taproom and a dedicated focus on in-house craft beer, it’s also the first of its kind for this Kootenay ski town.

(Photo by Gina Begin)

Opening its Baker Street doors in February, with a private pre-opening tasting for growler club members, the three-person team is on the hunt for the perfect name to accompany their winter brew. One thing they do know is that the title will pay homage to the ski and snowboard world.

“Look for our names to draw on things like the secret stash runs that only locals know about,” says founder Brent Malysh.

While they are deciding on names, their brewmaster, who has over 22 years experience crafting local favourites, is prepped with a specific flavour profile. For Backroads’ winter warmer, brewmaster and co-owner Mike Kelly describes a strong, malt-forward, old-ale style beer with hints of caramel, chocolate, and raisin. Expect a strong (7.0%), dark amber-brown beer for this classic, with a rich body; thick, tan head; and a warming finish.

“Winter warmers are great after a day in the snow,” says Kelly. “Kind of like hot chocolate for grown-ups.” 

Fernie Brewing Company
Name: Java the Hut
Types: Coffee milk stout

Partnering up with their award-winning winter seasonal, Sap Sucker, Fernie Brewing Co. brings in a three-month winter newbie with “Java the Hut” this January 2017. As the name suggests, this coffee-forward beer adds locally-roasted coffee beans to its list of ingredients along with chocolate and malts. It’s then sweetened out with lactose, the naturally-occurring sugar found in milk.

In other words, it’s like having a great coffee, only with a 5% kick of alcohol.

“We feel it’s the perfect breakfast brew,” says Abi Moore, Brand Manager for Fernie Brewing Co. She goes on to say that the coffee comes from local favourite, Crowsnest Coffee, located in the Fernie-vicinity Crowsnest Pass.

“It really is a beer from the mountains, and is the perfect pairing with any wintery adventure.” 

Mt. Begbie Brewing Company - Revelstoke
Name: Stoked Winter Ale
Type: Winter ale

Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. chalks up the awards its beers win — at least in part — to Revelstoke’s mountain water. When water falls in the frozen form, the town is known for providing world-class skiing. Inspired by this winning combo, Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. produced a winter ale that celebrates the excitement of ski season in a flavour profile that’s carried by mountain waters.

To capture the goodness — and pay homage to Revelstoke, the epic-centre of it all — Mt. Begbie’s owner and head brewer, Bart Larson, created “Stoked Winter Ale”.

“We wanted to create a spice-forward, easy drinking ale with slightly higher alcohol-by-volume at 6% [vs. the 5% more common in winter ales],” says Darryn Shewchuk, director of sales and marketing for Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. Those spices include cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and bitter cocoa in addition to malt, hops, yeast.

The icing on the cake? “The label design was inspired by the sweaters my Norwegian grandmother knit for me,” says Shewchuk, passing along a Stoked Winter Ale photo, the bottle itself sporting a miniature Norwegian sweater.

(Photo courtesy of Mt. Begbie Brewing)

Over Time Beer Works - Kimberley
Name: Good Evening
Type: Brown ale

This winter, Over Time Beer Works’ patrons have a lot to look forward to: With all of the brewery’s beers being new, there’s a number of taste tests to conduct. But Over Time’s director of marketing, Matt Thompson, gives a nod to one that particularly stands out as a good offering for the winter season: the “Good Evening” brown ale.

The name stemmed from Over Time’s theme of looking for a connection between the beer and a specific moment in time. “Sometimes a little character connects the right pint with a good time,” says Thompson. So for the winter, he says, “if the days are short and cold, then there better be a ‘Good Evening’ at the end of it.”

With the Good Evening brew, expect a smooth, robust brown ale with roasted flavours that include chocolate. The deep colouring gives way to a toffee-coloured head in this beer that is described as the least bitter in Over Time’s line.

Savoy Brewery - Nelson
Type: Irish stout

This brewery is tucked inside one of Nelson’s newest restaurants and live-music venues, The Falls Restaurant in the Savoy Hotel.

Alongside dishes put together from locally-sourced ingredients and sophisticated cocktails running in the same vein, the Savoy Brewery concentrates on beauty in small batches.

“Our brewery is in the nano-brewery category,” says Jimmy Bundschuh, brewer and owner at the Savoy Hotel. “We don’t sell our beer anywhere but at the Savoy Hotel. This means small batches of fresh beer with the best possible ingredients.”

For their winter brew, expect a medium-body, classic Irish dry stout with roasted coffee and chocolate overtones and a creamy quality owing to being served on nitro.

Whitetooth Brewing Company - Golden
Name: Name TBD and Truth Dare Consequence
Type (respectively): Belgian-style dubbel and imperial stout

With its own grand opening this past December, Golden's Whitetooth Brewing Co.’s offers plenty of new beers to test this winter. But, though each of their six “core” beers makes its debut this winter, there are two additional ales that are the spotlight of the season.

The first — which, as of this writing, waits for a name — is a dubbel released in late December. This classic, Belgian-style beer weighs in at 7.7% alcohol-by-volume and sports a deep reddish-brown colour with rich, malty flavours.

“Truth Dare Consequence” is Whitetooth’s second winter release and scheduled for a late January showing. According to the brewery’s Brenna Donaldson, this Norwegian-inspired imperial stout is named after the three burly chutes at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort’s Terminator Ridge. Layering a premium-base malt with smoked malt and juniper berries, the stout follows suit with its namesake by going with a burly 10% alcohol level.

Honourable Mentions (other Kootenay beers)

~ New for the start of this ski season, the Fernie Brewing Company rolled out their Snowblind Belgian IPA, as well as their Black Mammoth Ale is back!

~ The Nelson Brewing Company released (just prior to Christmas 2016) their "Oso Negro Prince of Darkness Organic Coffee Stout".  A coffee-infused concoction to celebrate the season and the company's 25th Anniversary.  While last year they release their "Bent Pole Unfiltered IPA" to commemorate Whitewater Ski Resort's 40th Anniversary. 

Link here to the Ale Trail Itinerary for the Kootenay Rockies

Words by Gina Begin.  Cover shot courtesy of Over Time Beer Works in Kimberley, BC.

Gina Begin - 
Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. On a quest to reach the distant adventures of North America, she lived in her car, traveling to ski the backcountry of Alaska, sleep under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climb Colorado's frozen canyons, photograph Nova Scotia’s coves, backpack in southern US wildernesses and munch on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But after three years living on the road and seeing the many wonders this continent had to offer, she chose the place she knew would fit an explorer looking for a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains.

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