New in Town: Getting into Craft Beer

Very often in the Black Creek Brewery, we meet people who haven’t really tried craft beer  “I’m not really sure what I like,” they say, in low tones. “It’s all so new to me.”

I can certainly sympathize with that! At some point, it’s new to all of us. And so, if you’re just starting out exploring craft brews, here are a few tips to help you feel at home.

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Be Open-Minded

I’m always so impressed when people who “aren’t sure about beer” join us for a sample. It takes courage! When you’re first starting out, try everything. In my early days learning about beer, I tried never to order the same beer twice. Sure, you’ll hit a dud from time to time, but you may also discover a wholly unexpected new favourite.

Take Notes

Mentally or physically: either way works. But if you find something you really like, take note of it! What style is it? Who brewed it? Try something similar and see if you like that, too. Slowly, you’ll start to build a personal database.

For instance, I’ve had enough pilsners to know that it’ll never be my favourite beer. On the other hand, Ed is well-acquainted with my documented love of stouts and ginger beers…

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Read Reviews (with a grain of salt)

Sites like Untappd, Beer Advocate, and Rate Beer are wonderful sources of information. Not only do they provide vital stats for most beers (style, ABV, IBUs, etc.), they often have ratings and reviews as well. If you’re on the fence about a beer, it can be helpful to see what other people are saying.

That said, remember what we say in the Black Creek Brewery: “Beer is very personal.” It’s all right if you disagree with a review. In the end, your palate won’t lie to you.

Pay Attention to Tasting Notes

Reviews can be handy for tasting notes, though! At first, it can feel overwhelming: “How am I supposed to identify cinnamon in this Winter Ale? What undertones of fig and raisin? What do you mean by grassy hops?”

Tasting notes are your cheat sheet. They help you learn the language of flavours and aromas. Soon enough, you won’t need your friendly Beer Expert to point out the toasted grain flavours: you’ll be doing it on your own!

Practice, practice, practice*

*responsibly

Like anything else, beer gets easier with practice. You train your palate, you recognize individual breweries’ quirks, and you grow familiar with different styles. I can’t recommend flights enough. Not only can you try a range of beers, you can do so in moderation. 😉

Beau's All-Natural Brewing's "Ich Bin Ein Bearliner" is in the centre. Love that gorgeous light colour!
Beau’s All-Natural Brewing’s “Ich Bin Ein Bearliner” is in the centre. Love that gorgeous light colour!

Talk to People

Reviews are great, but it’s no match for actually talking to people. I’ve learned so much from Ed, and from chatting with other Beer Experts. So come try a sample at the Black Creek Brewery. Take brewery tours; ask for recommendations; chat with beer experts about their brews. Beer is a social beverage—there’s no need to go it alone!

*

And of course, above all else…

Have fun and be safe.

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Beer Soaps and Shampoos

One of the many things I appreciate about beer is its versatility. You can drink it, you can cook with it…and you can wash with it. That’s right—beer-based artisan soaps and shampoos have been enjoying a vogue of late. To create beer soap/shampoo, all you do is replace the water in your recipe with beer (much like how beer bread is essentially soda bread, only with beer instead of buttermilk!).

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But why would you use beer for bathing? Well, apparently beer has several properties that make it an excellent soap additive. According to some artisan soap=makers, the B vitamins naturally present in beer nourish the skin and hair—much the way they nourished thirsty Victorians! The hops also play an important role: soap-makers claim that their amino acids soften the skin.

While we sell beer soap in the Black Creek Pioneer Village gift shop, it is the off-season, and I thus cannot go pick some up. However, I do have some stout shampoo, gifted to me by a friend. The label reads: “Stout, cognac, and lemons make this a supremely conditioning shampoo to give weight and shine.”

Intriguing.

On the other side, it reads, “Top tip: Rinsing your hair with beer will give it shine and volume.”

Well, I like shine and volume—more websites claim that beer’s various proteins and vitamins help with that. However, there is only one way to find out.

For you, beer lovers, I washed my hair with beer shampoo.

The Smell:

Right away, I sense this will be a drawback. I love the rich, roasted coffee/chocolate nose of a good stout. This shampoo, however, smells sharp and alcoholic. I guess that’s the cognac.

The Look:

It’s more…um, liquid than the shampoos I’m used to. Seriously, it looks like I’ve got a handful of stout cupped in my palm.

The Feel:

It actually lathers pretty well, and it doesn’t feel that different from regular shampoo once you get going. That cognac smell is something else, though.

The Reveal:

Oh, you guys. The next morning, my hair was super shiny, but it also felt…slick, you know? If I’d been at the Black Creek Brewery, I would’ve been fighting all day to keep it in a Victorian hairstyle. As it was, I spent a long time with the hair straightener this morning, trying to make it behave a little.

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It still feels unruly.

It didn’t go well. This is “volume,” I suppose.

The Verdict:

So…not my favourite hair-washing experience. For my hair, this wasn’t a great fit. I wonder, though, if that was the cognac more than the beer. It definitely made its presence known! When we return to Black Creek on April 29th, I’m going to see if the gift shop has any beer soap available. I have a feeling that beer alone (no spirits) may turn out differently!

Cheers!

Katie

Interview: Toronto Booze Hound

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Hello beer-lovers! Today, we bring you a very special edition of the Growler. Toronto Booze Hound is a wise, insightful voice on the Toronto beer review scene. Run by Kole McRae and Shawna O’Flaherty, they’ve been sharing brews and news for over two years! I recently caught up with Shawna to chat about our favourite topic.

KT: We’re always interested in origin stories! Can you tell us how you got into craft beer?

S: I got into craft beer pretty early, when I was probably 18-19 (the legal age in Quebec is 18 and I lived there till I was 27). Brutopia was near my university and they had $4 pints on Mondays so it was a popular hangout in 2002-2004, when I was in university. Before that I had tried Molson and Sleeman products and it never really clicked. Dieu Du Ciel was in my neighbourhood and a francophone friend brought me there to try a smoked beer for the first time. I was hooked. There was a huge linguistic divide in the beer options in Montreal back then – even now you’ll get radically different results from Google in Montreal depending on your search language.

I got Kole into craft beer. Actually a Sawdust City beer was a test on a very early date at Bar Volo, and Kole was man enough to drink a beer named Princess Wears Girl Pants with me.

We’re getting married at Beer Bistro this spring.

KT: What do you, personally, look for in your beer?

S: Oh boy, that’s tough. In the winter I want something full bodied, rich in flavour like a stout. In the summer a sour really cuts the heat. I like beers that are true to style, I like beers that push the boundaries. I like balanced beers. I like light sessionable beers and I like heavyweight boozy beers. I particularly like when they pair well with food and compliment the flavours. I don’t really go for pilsners, lagers or wheat beers unless it’s very humid out.

KT: Toronto Booze Hound has been running for over two years now! Have you found that your reviewing style and/or palate have evolved?

S: I think I’m more in tune with style guides for beer and can offer a more balanced criticism. I’ve taken many classes now on beer and wine at George Brown College and that helps me develop my palate and interests. When we started, I would not drink sour beers and now I love them! Brettomyces has grown on me too. The beer scene has changed a lot since October 2014 in Toronto.

KT: And finally, you have an impressive array of badges on Untappd. Which is your favourite?

S: Any of the travel badges, or the “from the source”. Apparently we recently untapped our 50th from the source beer so that’s 50 distinct beers at their brewery or brewpub. We always seek out breweries or vineyards when we travel.

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Thank you very much to Shawna for chatting with us! You can follow Toronto Booze Hound here, and across various social media platforms (links below). Check them out!

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Untappd:

-Katie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph Bloore: City-Shaper

If you live in Toronto, you probably divide your universe into “north of Bloor” and “south of Bloor.” If you’ve visited Toronto, Bloor was probably (hopefully?) a landmark around which to orient yourself. In any case, Bloor is one of Toronto’s cardinal points—I think only the West End/East End divide is greater.

But did you know that Bloor Street is named after a brewer?

Well, we are the Black Creek Growler, so you may have had an inkling. 😉

Joseph Bloore. NOT a post-mortem photograph. (courtesy http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

Joseph Bloore was born in 1789 in Staffordshire, England. Around 1819, he immigrated to Upper Canada with his wife, Sarah. He didn’t get into the brewing business straightaway, instead opening an inn near the St. Lawrence Market. Located quite close to the St. Lawrence Hall’s current location, the “Farmers’ Arms” was part of the “Devil’s Half-Acre,” so-called for the plethora of inns and taverns ready to service thirsty farmers.

While refreshing themselves at Bloore’s tavern, those farmers likely would’ve been drinking beer brewed by the Helliwell family. They had an off-site shop near the Farmers’ Arms, and the two families seem to have had a close relationship—one of Bloore’s children was named John Helliwell Bloore, while a Helliwell son took the name John Bloore Helliwell. (This happened with Gooderham and Worts’ sons as well—the thought of brewer/distiller buddies in 1800s Toronto is immensely pleasing to me).

In fact, beer historian Jordan St. John wonders if Bloore learned brewing from the Helliwells. While it’s impossible to say for sure, we do know that in 1830, Bloore moved his family north to what’s now Yorkville. At the time, the area was decidedly out of the big city—this was the 1800s equivalent of moving to the suburbs for greener spaces and purer air.

Once settled, Bloore established a brewery in the Rosedale Ravine, not far from today’s Sherbourne subway station. Of course, the landscape was remarkably altered by Bloore—he dammed the river, creating a large pond, and built a sluice to direct water for his brewing.

Joseph Bloore's brewery, painted by R. Baigent , 1865 (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)
Joseph Bloore’s brewery, painted by R. Baigent , 1865 (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

By 1843, he’d made enough money with the brewery to retire and go into land speculation with William Botsford Jarvis (we’re sensing a pattern with Toronto street names, I hope). Jarvis and Bloore established the village of Yorkville, and Bloore spent the rest of his life working to develop the area.

Originally, the concession road running along Yorkville had the rather uninspiring name of “Second Concession Road” (Lot Street – Queen Street, today – was the first). A series of names followed, but eventually, the village settled on Bloor—sans E.

But what of the brewery? On Bloore’s retirement, it was taken over by a man named John Rose. He operated it until 1864—two years after Bloore’s death. In this article on Bloor Street’s history, historian/heritage advocate Stephen Otto says, “…anybody looking for the location of Bloor’s brewery today can practically stand on Sherbourne Bridge and drop a penny.”

So the next time you’re strolling along Bloor Street, raise a glass to Joseph Bloore. The brewery may be gone, but his name and contributions remain!

-Katie