As winter set in, my weekly social media callout to Islanders asking for suggestions for fun activities to list in my weekly column began to gather this frequent comment: "Drinking beer in front of the woodstove."
Some people even suggested specific brands, which got me to thinking — which beer is best for fireside consumption? Turns out, craft brewers have thought about this, too.
I surveyed brewmasters at P.E.I.'s four breweries for their suggestions of one of their own varieties.
P.E.I. Brewing Company
The P.E.I. Brewing Company is the Island's oldest brewery, started by restaurateur Kevin Murphy almost a decade ago, where brewmaster Chris Long is the brew boss.
"When I'm curling up next to the old wood stove, I'm reaching for a Hell Street," shared Long.
Rich malts provide sustenance during those lean winter months, he explains, while lager yeast lets the simple ingredients shine through so you can settle in and enjoy the character of the bourbon barrels the beer was aged in.
"The high alcohol will warm you from the inside when the fire starts to die down," he adds. Hell Street is a whopping 8.1 per cent alcohol.
Hell Street is a limited seasonal, Long points out, so if there's not any to be had, he'd go for the Milk Stout from Barnone.
"Winter and dark beers go together like hand-and-mitt, and Barnone's brew is sweetened with lactose to provide the rich flavours that we all crave as well as those extra calories you'll need to keep you warm when you have to go out to the woodpile," he said.
Barnone brewmaster and owner Don Campbell, in the midst of getting ready for his weekly "growler night" Thursdays at the brewery in Rose Valley, P.E.I., was happy to oblige with his short list.
"The beers I would recommend for this type of occasion and time of year would be our E.S.B. (Extra Special Bitter), "Bitter Winter," said Campbell.
It's an English-style pale ale (ESB) — ESB stands for "extra special bitter" — known for its balance and the interplay between malt and hop bitterness, he notes.
"English pale ales display earthy, herbal English-variety hop character -— ours is fermented to around 6 per cent alcohol, deep rich in color and well-balanced. We use an 'Abbey' style yeast which lends a nice finishing character."
Campbell's other choice: another Barnone brew, a milk stout named "La Vaca Loca" — Spanish for the Crazy Cow. "It is deep dark in color but very sneaky with its complexity and not overpowering or heavy/burnt flavours as many stouts out there over do it in there 'stoutyness'," said Campbell.
Do-Gooder APA is "my go to beer in any kind of weather really," said Mike Hogan, Upstreet Brewery's co-owner and chief beer engineer.
"I always enjoy the hoppy bite and lower alcohol content compared to a big IPA."
What's also nice about Do-Gooder, he adds, is that it has enough malt character to still taste great when it's a little warm, which is fortunate if you get buried in your book and forget about it for a spell by the fire!
Hogan's second pick: Picaroon's Dark & Stormy Night Dunkelweizen.
"This time of year I become more drawn to the darker beers. When the weather turns cold, it's nice to enjoy something with a more roasty and sweet flavour."
"In front of a fire is a great place to ponder life's questions and The Answer IPA is a great accompaniment to deep thinking," responded Eric Wagner, owner of P.E.I.'s just-opened Moth Lane Brewing in Tyne Valley.
"The intensity of the hops keeps the mind churning," Wagner said. "Hoppy beers are my favourite so I would probably pick Island Brewing Company's 1772 IPA for my second pick."