The 12 Bottles of Christmas – Part 1

by Stephen Beaumont 

Bottle #1 : Big Rig Midnight Kissed My Cow

Whatever else you think about Ottawa’s Big Rig Brewery, there is no question that they come up with some of the best beer names in Canada. First there was the Andy Kim homage Bock Me Gently and now we have Midnight Kissed My Cow, a delightful bit of whimsy that is – of course! – a double chocolate milk stout. In this case, the “double chocolate” is cocoa and, I presume, chocolate barley malt, which is combined with lactose to earn the beer its “milk stout” moniker. And in the interest of complete disclosure, this first “Bottle of Christmas” is actually a can.

What it all adds up to is a can of highly attractive, 5.6% alcohol ale that is sweet and approachable enough for a stout novice, yet with sufficient character and body that it won’t disappoint any but the hardest core beer geek. Expect notes of chocolate, burnt cream and black plum in syrup on the nose and a soft, rich body that starts chocolaty and stays that way throughout, with a slight hoppiness arising in the mid-palate to dry it out a bit and a hint of alcohol on the finish.

This has sufficient heft that it could be used as a dessert pairing, partnered perhaps with chocolate mousse or a light chocolate cake, but I’d be just as happy serving it as milk stouts were once traditionally served, as a late afternoon/early evening restorative.

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Bottle #2: Cameron’s Where the Buffalo Roam Barley Wine

Cameron’s of Oakville, Ontario, garnered some well-deserved press earlier this year when this barley wine was named ‘World’s Best Pale Beer’ at the World Beer Awards. Shortly thereafter, the citizens of southern Ontario showed their appreciation by lining up in the morning hours to buy out Ontario’s modest allotment of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.

The fools.

If only they had realized that, for considerably less than they would have to pay for the BCS, they could pick up this little gem with no lining up required. It is a beer that has matured mightily with brewing – I admit that I wasn’t a fan of the first iteration, but am all over the version currently for sale at the LCBO – and one that is every bit the barrel-conditioned equal of the more famous and Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned interloper. (And yes, this “Bottle of Christmas” is also a can. Not doing very well with my theme so far, am I?)

Light amber with a bit of haziness, there is a lot to the aroma of this beer and as it warms it reveals hidden layers: heady with alcohol, but also vanilla, bourbon, blueberry, plum, soft notes of raisin, and even a hint of chili spiciness. The body is thick and rich up front, with berry fruitiness dominant and a not-quite-maple-syrup sweetness. Next comes raisin and plum-port notes, along with vanilla-bourbon notes and a spicy and peppery aspect that could equally come from the barrels or the hops. The finish is smooth, warming and lingering, capping off what is a damn fine barley wine, perhaps the best Ontario has yet produced.

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Bottle #3: The Kraken Black Spiced Rum Limited Edition

If we’re honest, we would all admit that part of the fun of Christmas is the silliness of the season, the frivolity of some of the things we buy for ourselves and for others. This is a bottle that falls within the boundaries of that admission.

While I’m not normally a fan of spiced rums, I do enjoy The Kraken. Deep brown in colour, it has an aroma that speaks to every one of the thirteen spices purportedly included in its seasoning, with a mix of cinnamon, black cherry and cacao nibs plus allspice, licorice and other spices. On the palate it is sweet and warming, with a slightly cough syrupy front that is a little too thick and sweet for my liking, but is redeemed in the mid-palate by a surge of spiciness and, thanks to its 47% alcohol bottling strength, a peppery and warming finish.

This is a rum that could be used equally as a tiki cocktail ingredient and an after-dinner digestif. My leaning would be towards the latter. Oh, and that “silliness of the season” part? This limited edition ceramic bottle contains the same rum sold for less in a normal bottle. But it is a cool-looking vessel and, if you are buying it as a gift, the extra cost can probably be justified in the name of visual impact.