I remember the first time I went to Cloak and Dagger, on College St. I was meeting a friend before hockey, and we had decided to just randomly find a place near College and Bathurst, as that was a good meeting spot. I got there first, walked east along College, and saw a dark little place that looked closed. Then somebody outside it stubbed their cigarette and walked in, which I took to be a good sign. I crossed over and wandered in, and found a dark narrow bar, with a whole heap of taps. Still not being a fully infected beer geek, I was a bit out of my depth. There were familiar European offerings, Steam Whistle, and an assortment of taps, some that I recognized and some I didn’t. One of the unfamiliar ones, was a big Christmas tree. It looked so cool, I didn’t care what it was, I ordered a pint, and had my first taste of Great Lakes Winter Ale. It was spicy and rich and not like any other beer I had tasted. As well, it was (I think) the first winter seasonal beer I had ever had, so there was a lot wrapped up in that moment; first time at Cloak and Dagger, first Great Lakes seasonal, first winter beer. A year later, I had my beer geek license, and was a bit apprehensive to re-visit the Winter Ale. Would it live up to my memories? How could it? The good news was, while it wasn’t a heady romance-filled glass, the beer was still quite pleasing and lovely. It remains one of my favourite Great Lakes seasonals, and a beer I seek out each year, both in bottle and draught.
From a big 750ml dinner bottle with no freshness date, Winter Ale pours a lovely coppery brown, with ruby red highlights. A Thick frothy off-white head drops to a dense film that leaves a little lace, and linger most of the way through the glass. Aroma is like comfort food: Warm sweet caramelly malts with hints of rum and something woody, as well as a heap of dark honey. There is definitley cinnamon and ginger in there, as well as orange peel, and I just read the back of the bottle and am realizing this is what it says, basically verbatim. So I guess my nose is in good shape today. Still, a classic mix of Christmas aromas, and in great balance. Taste is much more spicy, with a heap of ginger and some cinnamon, with the orange peel filling in a nice bitterness underneath. The sweet malts and honey pop right on the front of your tongue, then reappear in the finish to linger with the spices. There is a bit of a nice hop dryness, that compliments the orange peel well, but this is by no means a hoppy brew. As it warms a bit, the ginger becomes a little heavier, which, depending on your feelings about ginger is either good or bad. For me, it’s good. Definitely another great dessert beer, but in this case, I would go with sweets, things like gingerbread, shortbread, fruit cake, and Christmas pudding. The spices are definitely the show piece, and are both well balanced, and well chosen. The body is medium weight on the palate, with a prickly bright carbonation; the spiciness lends itself to sipping, but the mouthfeel means that a pint isn’t out of the question. A great spiced ale, all around.
Cheers, Great Lakes!
If you want this beer, while I certianly encourage you to enjoy it at your local pub and purchase it at the LCBO, consider heading down the Gardiner to the brewery, and picking some up at the retail store. Each Holiday season, Great Lakes does a charity event called “Hops for Hunger”. From December 1-22, they donate a portion of the weight of your beer purchase, in non-perishable food to The Daily Bread food bank. They are aiming to donate 2000LBS, so go buy some beer! Buy a lot, it makes a great present.
About the Brewery
Our small-batch brewing process allows us to carefully blend only the finest all natural ingredients to produce our award-winning beers. Our water, hops, malts and yeast are selected from local producers and those afar on the basis of but one criteria; quality.