Illustration of a baby eating with a spoon

Beer for Breakfast?

Yesterday something pretty amazing happened in Sochi, Russia. The Canadian men’s hockey played the American team in an olympic semi-final match as millions of Canadians made time in the middle of their busy days to watch our national pass-time. A tense and narrow 1-0 victory advanced Team Canada to the gold medal match against Sweden, to be played on a Sunday at 6:00 am Central Standard Time.

Wait… what? Hockey at 6:00 am in Winnipeg? Toronto and Montreal have it a bit better off at 7:00 am, but only marginally. Our poor friends in Vancouver have to be up at the unholy hour of 4:00 am though, and we feel for them. Who’s bright idea was this anyway? And they know Canadians won’t miss the game. We can’t. So almost 35 million people will be getting up far earlier than anyone ought to on a Sunday. No biggie.

And then something even more amazing happened in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission announced shortly after the game that they were relaxing the restrictions on alcohol sales for that particular Sunday, allowing bars to open up early to show the game and on top of that – allowing alcohol to be served as early as 5:00 am. It is a surprisingly progressive move from an organization that is well-known for outdated policies and red tape. Cool. So almost 35 million people* will be drinking far earlier than anyone ought to on a Sunday. Also no biggie.

This got me to thinking though. If people are allowed to drink early, what on Earth are they going to drink? I am well-versed in the language of breakfast beer, but I have a feeling that this isn’t common knowledge. So if you are going to be watching the game bright and early like me and you are going to be drinking beer before anyone probably should be, you should make sure it’s something that pairs with breakfast foods like bacon and eggs, pancakes, or crepes. Maybe the beer replaces your coffee or maybe it replaces your Sunday mimosa, but what follows is a list of my favourite beers that are more than fit to be consumed before noon.

Half Pints Stir Stick Stout. For us Manitobans, this really is the quintessential breakfast beer. It’s a local stout brewed with locally-roasted coffee from the excellent people at Black Pearl Coffee. It’s smooth, roasty, and really well-balanced with the added coffee. Some notes of dark fruit pop out from underneath it all and make this an incredibly well-rounded coffee stout. If you’re in Winnipeg and end up at a bar with this on tap, this should be your no-brainer choice. If you’re from somewhere else, it’s worth finding a bottle or six.

Founders Breakfast Stout. It has breakfast in the name, so how could it not make the list? Actually, it could be named anything and still make the list. This is a big beer, a thick oily imperial oatmeal stout brewed with loads of coffee and chocolate. On the nose you get the perfect combination of all the ingredients. On the tongue you get coffee up front but then it magically fades away and reveals a perfect bittersweet dark chocolate middle on the palate, which is where this beer really shines. It finishes smoothly, preparing you for the next sip. At 8.3% abv though, you’ll likely have to cancel any lunchtime plans if you have more than one. If you feel like really upping the ante, seek out KBS, the Kentucky bourbon barrel-aged version of this gem.

Surly Coffee Bender. This beer is probably my favourite coffee beer of all time. Basically, it’s Surly’s regular Bender brown ale with added coffee. This is definitely more than just the sum of its parts. What it adds up to is really is a perfect combination of coffee and beer. It’s not as thick as a coffee stout but comes across the palate more like a cup of coffee with malt backbone. If you’re a fan of cold-brewed coffee this is the beer for you. In fact, I love this beer so much I’ve created a homebrew version so I can have it around at all times.

Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast & Brunch Weasel. These two imperial oatmeal stouts from Mikkeller are just fun to drink and are really solid beers in their own regards. The Breakfast version clocks in at 7.5% so it’s no slouch and features loads and loads of coffee flavour. In fact, that’s what I mostly get from this beer – it’s intense and will definitely send your brain a wake-up call. Brunch Weasel is a heavy-hitter at 10.9% and is a much smoother and more well-rounded beer than its little brother. I get a lot more chocolate in this and a subtler coffee bite. This is no doubt due in part to the larger grain bill full of sweet malty goodness, but this may also be down to the inclusion of rare and expensive cà phê Chồn civet coffee, one of the most sought-after coffees in the world. This is fairly likely the best beer made with weasel poop that you’ll ever drink. Yes, you read that right.

Any Doppelbock. Rather than recommend just one, I’m going to recommend any traditional Doppelbock. The malt-forward nature of the style yields big toffee, caramel, and molasses notes that pairs so well with pancakes, bacon, or breakfast sausage. If you are in Manitoba, seek out some Half Pints Isolator for a locally-made treat. If you are in the greater Vancouver area or on Vancouver Island, you should look for some Vancouver Island Brewing Hermannator – it’s phenomenal, ages well, and I’m told makes amazing pancakes. If you’re in neither of those places or just prefer a more traditional example of the style, go for an Ayinger Celebrator. It embodies all the qualities you’d hope for in a Doppelbock and is probably the best example of the style I’ve ever tasted.

Dieu du Ciel! Péché Mortel. Not just a great coffee stout but a great stout all-around. This is a perfectly balanced imperial coffee stout and is just all-around a treat to drink. The espresso in Péché isn’t too overpowering and in fact complements the roasted malts. Widely available across most of Canada in 6-packs, this is also a no-brainer.

Dieu du Ciel! Aphrodisiaque. Another great stout from Dieu du Ciel! in Montreal, consider this if you want a switch-up from coffee stouts. It’s an excellent beer brewed with vanilla and cocoa, and those sure come out in the taste. The vanilla in particular comes through strongly and would be incredible alongside a stack of pancakes or Belgian waffles.

Flying Monkeys City & Colour. A one-off brew from the crazy folks over at Flying Monkeys in Barrie, Ontario, City & Colour is an imperial wheat wine with loads upon loads of pure Canadian maple syrup. This beer tastes exactly like you might expect – it’s maple up front, maple in the middle, and maple on the finish. The strongest beer on this list, its 11.5% abv makes this a monster of a beer to drink before noon and it comes only in a 750ml bottle to boot, making sharing a must. Serve it up it while enjoying a family-style breakfast of bacon, sausage, hash browns, and most importantly – a stack of pancakes. This might be a tough find these days, but there might still be bottles floating around in stores and there should be some bottles in the cellars of beer geeks across the country.

HaandBryggeriet Costa Rica Coffee Porter. Don’t be fooled – this beer is not from Costa Rica, but is named so due to the origin of the coffee beans they use in the brewing process. This most unique of coffee beers is brewed by the smoked beer experts at HaandBryggeriet in Norway, who bring that same expertise to this porter. That smokey quality plays off the coffee component in a really interesting way, which is all supported by the addition of lactose to give this a smooth, creamy mouthfeel and hazy appearance. I could see this pairing excellently with savoury breakfast foods like bagels and lox, eggs benedict, latkes, or mixed grilled meats.

Make a Radler. For you mimosa drinkers out there, you might want to consider switching it up and making yourself a radler. Popular in Germany and Austria, this is a mix of beer and either juice or soda in a 1:1 or 3:2 ratio. The great thing about radlers is that you can choose what goes into it, so pick your favourite European or North American craft lager and mix away. The only rule is to not use cheap beer that would get lost in the mix. Popular mixes include lemon or orange soda (European style), lemonade, or grapefruit juice. You can also find some pre-mixed radlers in stores (Stiegl makes a decent one), or in some taprooms during the summer months.

Honourable mentions: Great Divide Oak Aged Espresso Yeti and Elysian Split Shot Espresso Milk Stout – both of which I have in my collection but haven’t gotten around to drinking just yet.

* Yes, I realize there are children in Canada and they are included in the count. I am just too lazy to find out how many there are and do that math. It sounds more poetic this way anyway.

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