IBU? ABV? What?

Some of our historic beer in the brew kettle

I’ll be the first to admit – beer can be a little confusing. Once you become interested in learning about beer, you’re hit with a number of acronyms and terminologies that you may have never heard of before. IBU? SRM? ABV? Huh?

Okay, so unless you’re a brewer it’s unlikely you’ll have to be an expert on every beer term imaginable. But when it comes to selecting a beer for yourself, understanding a few beer terms can help you make a more informed choice. Most craft breweries will list a little bit more advanced information about their product than an average macrobrewery. Let’s break down these terms and see what they mean.

This simply stands for international bitterness units. Once you know that, the rest is pretty self explanatory. IBU generally measures how bitter a beer is on the palate. As you can suspect, bitter tasting beers such as India Pale Ales tend to have higher IBUs. The IBU scale can technically range from 1 all the way up to 120 and over.  Some beers even boast IBUs in the quadruple digits, but it’s rare to see beers that boast an extremely low or extremely high number. A standard lager is usually around 10 IBUs, while a run of the mill IPA can be anywhere from 50-80 IBUs. If you’re a fan of bitter beers, you can confidently order something on the higher end of the scale. If you’re a fan of more mild tasting beers, aim for something that scores a little lower.

Another handy acronym – ABV stands for alcohol by volume. This one is fairly easy and probably a measurement you’ve dealt with before when ordering a drink. The lower the percentage, the lower the amount of alcohol per given volume. Beer usually ranges from around 4% for a lighter beer up to a whopping 9% for a double or imperial IPA. Be careful – a drink with a higher ABV can get you intoxicated much faster.

Compared to the other two, this one is a little more technical. SRM stands for standard reference method. This is a way that brewers measure the color of a beer. The lower the SRM, the lighter the beer. A pale lager usually scores about a 2, while a stout is usually around 30-40. This isn’t very important for choosing the right beer for your tastes, but it’s a handy classification method for those who brew their own beer.

The last bit of beer terminology I will leave you with is a session ale or session beer. This is a classification I had heard before, but I had no clue what it meant. Simply put, session ales tend to be lower in ABV than other types of ales. These beers are usually around 3-4.5%, and are brewed so that you do not feel the effects of the alcohol as quickly. Here’s an easy way to remember – session ales mean that you can drink more beer in one session. It’s fun to drink something like a double IPA, but not so fun when you have half your glass and suddenly can’t stand. A session ale means you can prolong your drinking session, taking things at more of a relaxed pace.

Hopefully after this post, you’ve learned a bit or brushed up on your beer terminology. The specificity and variety of craft beer is what makes drinking it so fun. So next time you go to a bar with a board full of information on each beer, instead of confusing you it can maybe help you make a more informed decision!

Hops to you,




History Mysteries at Black Creek Pioneer Village

It’s almost March Break at Black Creek Pioneer Village! The village has been closed for the season since Christmas, and i’ve been missing the busy feel of being open to the public. Our season officially begins on April 28th, but every year we open up the village for an exciting week of March Break programming. We will be open from Monday, March 12th to Sunday, March 18th. Not only do kids get in free when accompanied by an adult, but we have a ton of exciting things planned for visitors that stop by. In fact, we will have a March Break mystery for junior detectives to solve. To solve the mystery, you’ll have to hunt for clues and question suspects around the village. Unfortunately, our historic brewery won’t be open for March Break, but will open for the season on April 28th along with the rest of the village!

To celebrate our March Break mystery, here’s a beer mystery from the archives. Our previous beer writer Katie wrote an excellent piece about a case of potential death by beer. Was a poisonous small beer truly behind the death of Thomas Thetcher? Read on to find out…

Embedded image permalink

It all started with this photo: My boss sent it to me, adding, “…read as much of the small print as possible.” 

Luckily for my eyes, the full text is available elsewhere:

In Memory of Thomas Thetcher a Grenadier in the North Reg. of Hants Militia, who died of

a violent Fever contracted by drinking Small Beer when hot the 12 May 1764. Aged 26 Years.

In grateful remembrance of whose universal good will towards his Comrades, this Stone is placed here at their expence, as a small testimony of their regard and concern.

Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier,

Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer, Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall

And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all. 

What? How did the beer kill him? Did it have something to do with the temperature, or was it the “small” (low-alcohol) nature of the beer? Your trusty beer journalist cannot resist a history mystery like this, so of course I’ve spent the last three days digging. What killed Thomas Thetcher?

Continue Reading…

The Story of Stout

When I think of certain beers we serve here at the Black Creek historic brewery, they each remind me of a different time of year. Our darker beers like our historic Stout and Porter make me think of rainy spring days and cozy fall afternoons. Lighter beers like our Pale Ale and Best Bitter remind me of hot summer days, when the village is sunny and bright. We’ve been lucky here in Toronto, and an early spring has arrived in February.  It’s warm and sunny, but still chilly enough that i’m still in the mood for a darker beer. Hopefully you are too, as our flight lineup on opening day will include our dark and rich historic take on a stout.

The dark, opaque look of a stout can be a little intimidating. I’ve had visitors to the brewery look at me hesitantly, remarking that they only like light beers. Most of the time, they take their first sip and change their minds immediately.  Stout is a much more complex, interesting beer than you may think. Not only in taste and richness, but also in its history!


A pint of our potato stout. This brew is available in Growler format usually around the beginning of October. Our regular stout is available throughout spring, fall, and winter. Look at that dark color!

Down in the Black Creek brewery, we describe a stout as “a porter gone mad,” and for good reason. The story of stout begins with the porter, which is a similarly dark and malty beer. The porter was an extremely popular beer in England in the 18th century, especially among the working class who needed to replenish energy and calories through drinking beer. Porters became so popular that many different breweries popped up to accommodate the demand, each with their own twist on the style. These new takes varied in color, richness, and alcohol content. Brews that were higher in alcohol were noted to be stronger – often called “stout porters.”

While the word “stout” has fallen out of our 21st century vocabulary, it is still typically defined as a synonym for strong, bold, or powerful. This makes perfect sense – stout porters were a stronger and bolder twist on the traditional porter brew. As time went on, “stout” and “porter” became differentiated as two similar but distinct styles of beer. It is still debated what separates one from the other, but it is mostly accepted that a stout tends to have more of a roasted, coffee-like taste than a porter. They also tend to be much darker in color, almost opaque. At the Black Creek historic brewery, our porter has a milder, slightly nuttier taste than our stout. Our stout has more of a rich coffee and roasted grains taste, while our porter is less intense and more on the sweet side of bittersweet. Our porter also has ruby tints when held up to light, while our stout is a very inky black color.

The classification of “stout” has become associated with one beer brand – Guinness dry Irish stout. The popularity of Guinness has made its brand name almost synonymous with stout. The Guinness brewery’s take is what most people have come to expect from the classification. Guinness beers tend to be creamy, rich, and even slightly syrupy. Fans of paler, lighter beer may shy away from trying a thicker, darker style. However, not all stouts are creamy and thick – our Black Creek stout is very light in body and mouthfeel while maintaining the traditional roasted coffee-like stout taste associated with the style.

Stouts are seen as the most hearty of all the beer styles. Our brewmaster describes some stouts as a meal in a glass, or a beer you can have with a spoon. It is even believed that a stout’s hearty consistency gives it healing properties. It is said that nursing women in Ireland were “prescribed” a pint of Guinness to renew their strength and iron levels after breastfeeding. While the medical validity of this claim is highly questionable, many still believe that a stout is more nutritious or healthy choice than any other beer. While darker beers do contain slightly more iron than lighter ones, it is not enough of a discrepancy to really make any noticeable difference in your health to pick one style over another.

Either way, we can all agree that a stout is an excellent choice for a spring beer. Don’t forget, our opening day here at Black Creek Pioneer Village is April 28th. The historic brewery will be open from 12:30 to close, so come drop by and try our take on a stout.

Hops to you,


What is Historic Brewing?

Did you know that the Black Creek Brewery is the only historic brewery in Canada that also functions as a microbrewery? We brew beer in the same style and technique that was used in the mid-1800s, which is much different from the way beer is brewed today. But what are those specific differences? Let’s find out what makes a historic brewery different from a modern, commercial brewery…

Some of the casks down in the Brewery, filled with beer waiting to be bottled

The Equipment

As soon as you step into the historic brewery, you are immediately struck by how different it is from a commercial brewery. For one, you will not see any sleek chrome equipment or large tubes and piping. Everything here in the Black Creek brewery is done on a small scale, by hand. The tools and equipment in the brewery are also made out of mainly wood or copper. This adds a rustic charm to the look of the brewery, but it also serves a purpose – it’s very authentic to the style of 19th century village brewing that we are looking to emulate. Our brewery was designed and conceptualized by studying images of real 19th century breweries!

The Process

One of the best things about visiting the historic brewery is that you are able to watch the entire brewing process right in front of you. Since everything is done by hand, it is very easy to see each step and why it is important to the entire brewing process. Our brewmaster mixes the wort in the mash tun by hand, and transfers the beer from the mash tun to the kettle to the cooling ship using a copper pail. One of the most interesting parts of the brew process is watching the hot beer hit the cold metal of the cooling ship, and watching the steam fill the room as the beer cools down. The coolest part is that the process does not require any electricity!

You can take this hands-on process one step further, and apprentice with our brewmaster for a day. There’s no better way to learn about the essentials of small scale brewing than doing everything yourself!

Batch Sizes

Since our brewery is so small and nothing is automated, our batch sizes end up being very small. We brew about 70-75 liters of finished beer per batch, and we make about two to three batches per week. If you do the math this isn’t a lot of beer, but it suits our purposes at the village. Not only do we get to show visitors how beer is made, but they have a fairly good selection to choose from if they’d like to take a growler home. It also adds some fun to our specialty brews, as we only make about 34 growlers of each. Once a brew is gone, you’re out of luck until next year! I kept this in mind when I bought my Apricot Ale on the very first day it was available!


Most (if not all) large breweries are brewing commercially.  To fill an order placed by the LCBO or the Beer Store, a brewery needs to make beer that lasts a long time so it can stay fresh on the shelves. This is why breweries add preservatives and carbonation – to ensure a long shelf life, and freshness long past the natural shelf life of beer. Here at the Black Creek brewery, we are not looking to make a beer that can sit on a shelf for a long time. In the 19th century, beer was mainly brewed for consumption right away. This is also the case with Black Creek historic beer. We don’t add any preservatives or extra carbonation – the beer is naturally carbonated and preservative free. This gives our beer a much more authentic taste that is closer to what villagers in Ontario would have been drinking in the 19th century.

Period Costume!

Okay.. maybe this isn’t such an important distinction, but it sure is a fun one. When you visit the Black Creek brewery, our brewmaster brews in a charming period costume, like our other interpreters around the village. In what other brewery could you find that??

Hops to you,



Beer and Chocolate!

Happy Valentine’s Day from us here at the Black Creek Growler. As an early Valentine’s Day present, i’m writing a couple of days ahead of the usual Friday afternoon posts. What is the number one food associated with Valentine’s Day? If you guessed chocolate, you’re right. Chocolate is an indispensable part of Valentine’s, whether it’s receiving some on the day of, or buying a ton of discounted chocolate on February 15th. Here at the Black Creek Brewery, we always think of things in terms of beer, so this post will help you find a beer to pair with your Valentine’s day gift.

A Victorian Valentine from the Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections

Many beer purists believe that IPAs can’t go with chocolate. The bitterness of the IPA and the sweetness of the chocolate is said to clash. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Chocolate doesn’t have to be just sweet and milky. If you can find a dark chocolate with peppers, sea salt, or any other twist that makes a chocolate less sweet, you can find an excellent pairing to go with an India Pale Ale.

Stout or Porter
The coffee and caramel notes in a porter or stout match perfectly with many types of chocolate. However, it is recommended to choose a chocolate that also has a hint of coffee or caramel in order to compliment the beer you’ve chosen. If you choose a stout that’s on the sweeter side, you can even venture into the dark chocolate caramel territory. However, if your stout or porter has a more bitter coffee flavor, choose a darker and more bitter chocolate with more of a mocha or espresso note.

Fruit Beers (such as a Lambic)
Choosing a fruity lambic ale can offset the sweetness of chocolate. Feel free to pick a sweeter chocolate to pair with this one, as a sweet choice will not overpower this beer.

Best Bitter
Choosing a lighter Best Bitter allows you to pair with a lighter chocolate. If you’re not the biggest fan of darker chocolate but still want to try a beer pairing, choose a maltier beer. Our Canadian Frontier Best Bitter is sweet yet malty, and would pair well with a nice milk chocolate.

Of course, beer is ultimately very personal. There are some beer enthusiasts who believe that beer and chocolate will never go together. Others don’t mind what beer goes with what chocolate, as long as both taste great. It’s all up to you and your personal tastes to decide whether or not your Valentine’s Day will be filled with beer and chocolate!

Hops to you,


How to review a beer

In one of our previous posts this blog outlined how to set up a DIY beer tasting, similar to one you could experience in our brewery. If you really want to take it up a notch, you can learn how to review a beer like a pro. It’s perfectly okay to describe your beer like a newbie – perhaps it’s “bitter” or “light,” but can you describe the aromatics? The mouthfeel? If you’d like to impress your friends during your next beer tasting, read on to learn how to review a beer like a seasoned expert.

Brewery Sampler
A flight down in the Brewery

First Glance
As soon as a pint or a flight is placed in front of you, what do you notice first?  The answer is likely the appearance of the beer. Even a newbie knows that not all beer looks the same. Beer can range from the palest gold to pitch black, and everything in between. Hold your glass up to the light to get a look at the different color tones. Also – can you see through your beer? If not, the beer is likely unfiltered and still contains yeast and sediment from the brewing process. How thick is your beer? How foamy? How creamy? How carbonated? Taking note of all of these factors helps you to judge the beer in front of you. It also helps you to realize how much of a range beer truly has.

Once you’ve sized up the look of your beer, you can move on to its aromatics. Taste and smell go hand in hand, and smell is a huge part of the sensual experience of food and drink. If you’ve ever seen a beer or wine connoisseur swirling their glass around, they’re not just doing this to look fancy. Swirling your beer in the glass is said to aerate it, and pull out more of the natural fragrances. Different beers have different smells – malty beers tend to have a much different aroma than hoppy ones. For example, our Black Creek Porter has been described as smelling roasty, burnt, and slightly nutty, similar to coffee. In comparison, our India Pale Ale smells citrusy, floral, and tropical, like a grapefruit. Take note of what you smell as a clue about the flavor profile you are about to experience.

First Sip
After making note of look and smell, you can finally get down to the most important part: tasting the beer. First impressions are everything, so your first sip will tell you a lot about the beer you are reviewing. It’s always a good idea to cleanse your palate before you dive into the first sip – water and neutral foods such as bread can help to reset your taste buds. This is especially important if you just sampled a different beer, or if you just had a meal with overpowering flavors.

During your first sip, really savor the feel and taste of the beer on your palate. What flavor notes are you getting? Beer can be extremely complex, with multiple flavor notes and distinct aftertastes. Are the flavors similar to what you noticed during the smell? Is the beer balanced, or is it too mild or too bitter? All of these questions are things to pay attention to as you taste your beer. As you continue to sip, you can also ponder the most important question of all when it comes to a review – do you like this beer?

When I was a beer newbie, this word seemed strange to me. Mouthfeel? What is this concept and is it really that different from taste? To the seasoned beer reviewer, the answer is yes. Simply put, mouthfeel is the sensations you are experiencing as you sip the beer. For example, adjectives such as carbonated, creamy, crisp, and watery are all ways to describe how a beer feels when you drink it. This is an important part of tasting a beer, and mouthfeel makes more of a difference than you may think. For example, purists of real British style ale expect a certain mouthfeel when they sip their beer. British ales are naturally carbonated, like the beer we make at the Black Creek brewery. The mouthfeel of a British ale can make or break the perception of how authentic it truly is.

Final Impressions
Beer reviewing may seem a little overwhelming, but it can be a very enjoyable experience. It’s very rewarding to slow down and experience a beer mindfully, and to understand the flavor notes and complexities that beer has to offer. The final impressions of a beer truly come down to your personal tastes. Was the beer enjoyable? What did you like and dislike? As we say down at the Black Creek brewery, beer is very personal. Therefore, don’t be shy about thinking of your own personal tastes as you review.

So next time you’re enjoying a flight or a pint, slow down and size up your beer. Hopefully it’ll get a good review!

Hops to you,


The Story of India Pale Ale

A map of British India


One of the most popular styles of beer that we serve down in the Black Creek brewery is our historic India Pale Ale. Visitors who are fans of a hoppy, fruity, and bitter tasting beer tend to enjoy our IPA – it is balanced, smooth, and refreshing. As they sip their IPA sample, they are treated to the history of the India Pale Ale by our brewmaster.  One of the most popular questions he gets asked is – “Why is it called an India Pale Ale?” They are usually surprised to hear that the IPA’s roots trace back all the way to colonial times – to India during the time of the British Raj.

In the early days of British rule, the colonizing Brits were likely taken aback by the cultural and environmental differences between Britain and India. One large difference was the climate – it was hot and humid all year long. In this time period, beer brewing depended on the temperature and was usually a seasonal pursuit. This type of hot weather was not conducive to brewing, but beer was still required to satiate thirsty soldiers serving on behalf of the Raj.

In this case, necessity was the mother of invention. It was not possible to send beers such as malty brown ales over to India, as they would spoil on the months long journey by ship. The proposed solution was to double up on a natural preservative already found in beer – hops. This natural preservative ended up being the solution, and extremely hoppy beers managed to survive the journey to India, maintaining an acceptable taste and freshness.

However, the IPA did not retain its popularity between colonial times and now. With the end of the colonial period (and the dawn of refrigeration), the desire for India Pale Ales dwindled. Brewers instead opted to brew weaker Pale Ales instead, which were much less hoppy and bitter. It seemed as though the India Pale Ale was destined to be forgotten by time, right along with the sherry-cobbler cocktail and the gin sling… so why is it that every other craft beer on the market seems to be an IPA?

The India Pale Ale has made a comeback in the last few decades, all due to a newfound interest in craft beer brewing in the United States. American craft brewers became bored of the traditional lagers that were crowding the market, and were apt to try something new. This included brewing old English recipes, such as the forgotten IPA. American  brewers have put their own spin on the India Pale Ale – American (and Canadian) IPAs tend to be more fruity and citrusy than the traditional British version of the IPA. This winning combination of bitter and fruity has made the India Pale Ale one of the most popular types of craft beer on the market today. So next time you order a Boneshaker, a Lagunitas, or even a Black Creek historic IPA in the brewery, you can think of the rich and complex history that brought that India Pale Ale to you.

Hops to you,