A very strange thing has been happening lately. I am going out to a store in my own town and buying the same Ontario-made beer week after week. I wrote about Lake Ontario's (not Lake Erie's) Great Lake Brewing's take on a winter ale a few weeks ago. That beer was a bit frustrating as, while I liked it, I had to buy it in a presentation pack for more than a bit too much. This beer, however, if anything is under-priced at $2.50 a tall can. Better than that, 666 has turned out to be a bit of a puzzle to my mind and in the brewer's description:
Brewed with 6 select malts and 4 premium hops, it has a rich mahogany colour, reminiscent of early English pale ales. The wonderful hoppy aroma is revealed even before your first sip, followed by a hearty malty body, and culminating with a pronounced bitterness. Prepare yourself for a devilishly good time...Hmm...six percent...hearty malt body...English hops. Is this a Burton, the elusive Georgian and Victorian bad boy of pale ales before the advent of barley wines? My only possible comparator could be Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome, itself a likely pretender, reviewed back here and happily sampled every year. The only thing I think might be against that 666 is claim of final hoppiness but I won't know until I pop the caps.
As you can see, the Winter Welcome 2007-08 is much lighter, the dark amber orange ale sitting under white foam and rim. By comparison, the 666 is darker - chestnut with a fine rich tan rim and foam. On the nose the 666 speaks of roasty nuts with dark raisin, with a nod to oloroso sherry. The Winter Warmer leans more to orange marmalade but there's plenty of biscuit in there, too. In the mouth, the two have about the same mouthfeel and, if anything, the Sammy Smith offering is more bitter: fresh green salad herb mixing with twig blended throughout the orange-kumquat biscuit malt. A sip of 666 is more about a rougher bitterness framing the darker dried winter fruits.
Martyn Cornell, the Zythophile himself, recently summarized Burton's style in a few words - "a recognisably Burton Ale profile: red-brown, bitter-sweet, fruity and full-bodied, with a roast malt aroma." It's certainly hard to exclude this Canadian-Satanic joint enterprise of a beer from the categorization even if it were to turn out to be unintentional. It certainly is a lush brew, fruit-ridden with hop and a true roastiness within the grainy malt. Loverly. But is it Burton? Who knows? It fills a similar place in the pantheon but I would likely have to mail Martyn a sample. For now this side by side will have to do.