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 sweeter chocolate 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,


Canada 150 is now Canadian Frontier

Last year, we released our Canada 150 Best Bitter ale to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. This was the commercial version of our historic Best Bitter ale, known for its light and easy-drinking taste. Canada’s 150th birthday celebration can’t last forever, but you can continue to enjoy our Best Bitter well into 2018. Our Canada 150 brew is back with a new name – Canadian Frontier. You can find Canadian Frontier Best Bitter ale at your local LCBO, along with our Rifleman’s Ration Brown ale.

Canada 150 is now Canadian Frontier

Canadian Frontier is an amber colored, malty ale with subtle hints of caramel. It’s light enough to be a refreshing choice for warmer weather, but the flavors are strong enough that any craft beer fan will truly be impressed.  Down in the brewery, we affectionately refer to our Best Bitter as a “patio beer,” so when patio season slowly but surely comes around again this is a perfect choice! Check out the availability on the LCBO website, and immerse yourself in history with a pint of Canadian Frontier!

Hops to you,


What is Ale? What is Lager?

One of the most common questions I get down in the Brewery is – what is the difference between ale and lager? It’s not exactly common knowledge to know the difference between the two, and unless you’re a big beer fan it’s likely you don’t know all the differences.

Many casual beer drinkers notice a difference immediately between ale and lager as soon as they take a sip. If you prefer popular brands of beer such as Molson Canadian or Coors, you are likely used to the taste of lager. Lager is crisp, light, and easy to drink. Lagers do not tend to be overly bitter or complex, which makes them a popular choice for those who are not a huge fan of overly bitter or malty beers. Ales tend to have a more complex variety of flavors. Here at the Black Creek brewery, our flights can go from a dark beer with hints of coffee and caramel, to a bitter hoppy beer that tastes like grapefruit and citrus. This is not for everyone – a bitter beer or a malty beer can be flavors that can be a little overwhelming to someone who is used to a clean and mellow Lager taste. One type is not inherently better than the other; it is all up to your personal tastes and palate. If you don’t like ales or you don’t like lagers, maybe you just haven’t tried the right one!

The most precise and scientific answer to the difference between ale and lager lies in the brewing method. Ale is made with something called top fermenting yeast – this is what we use down in the Black Creek brewery, as all our beers are ales. This yeast tends to thrive in a warm climate, Black Creek beers ferment in the cask for a week before they are bottled.

The yeast used to make a lager does not rise to the top the way the yeast used to make ale does. But that is not where the differences stop. This yeast does not thrive at warm temperatures, and instead needs cool temperatures to do its job. The brewing process also takes much longer – often a few weeks or even a month.

There are a few other differences than have less to do with yeast and more to do with another ingredient – hops. Ales tend to use more hops, especially in bitter beers such as India Pale Ales.

Down here at the Black Creek brewery, we serve ales in an old fashioned way. Ales have historically been served at cellar temperature, which is cooler than room temperature but not ice cold. If you head over to a regular bar, it is likely you will have your ale served quite cold. However, advocates of traditional ale will insist on serving your ale at cellar temperature. Ales also tend to be cloudier in appearance if they have not gone through a filtration process.

Lagers are traditionally served at a very cool temperature, and are not intended to be served at cellar temperature. A cold serving temperature pairs well with the crisp and smooth flavor of your usual lager. Lagers also tend to be clearer than unfiltered ale.


Ales are thought to be the original style of beer. Enjoying ale, especially one with lower alcohol content, was a nutritious way to replenish calories and quench thirst. Everyone from children to adults would enjoy beer, as it was a way to deal with both hunger and thirst. Ales were typically enjoyed all over Europe, especially in Britain. When British settlers immigrated to Canada, they brought the tradition of brewing ales with them. That’s why here at the Black Creek historic brewery, we only brew ales. Settlers in this part of Ontario at the time would have been making ales as opposed to lagers, much like their British counterparts back home.

Historians believe that lagers became popular in Bavaria during the middle ages. When brewing was typically undertaken in colder temperatures, brewers realized that fermenting their beers longer and at a colder temperature produced a much different style of beer. Not only did this beer have a mellow and clean taste, but it was also lighter and clearer in appearance. When serving beverages in glassware became popular in the 19th century, it only made sense that a beautifully clear beer would be the beverage of choice.

So as you can see, there are some important differences between an ale and a lager. Hopefully this post helps you differentiate next time you’re down at a bar or at the brewery!

Hops to you,


Specialty Beer: Simcoe-Hopped Ale

Hello Beer-Lovers!

Just a friendly reminder that our August specialty beer debuts this long weekend. In honour of John Graves Simcoe (first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada), Ed has once again crafted the Simcoe Hopped Ale.

John Graves Simcoe (1725-1806) Courtesy
John Graves Simcoe (1725-1806)

This is a burnished amber ale  with some subtle caramel notes. The addition of Simcoe hops from the west coast give this beer an abundance of pine/citrus notes. As the beer moves over the tongue, there’s even a hint of nectarine. It’s a fresh patio beer, with a little more malt character than our Pale Ale and IPA. According to Ed, “If you like real West Coast beers, this one is for you.”

Simcoe hops originate in the Pacific Northwest. They’re a dual-purpose hop: great for  aroma, but also for bittering. They impart lovely earthy and pine/resin notes, perfect for summer! As well, Ed has dry-hopped this beer. Usually, hops are added during the boil, to extract oils and resins and integrate it into the wort (isomerization). When dry-hopping, they are added at different points in the fermentation process. Because they’re not boiling, you’re not extracting any oils, but you are getting even more of that hop aroma.

Have a great long weekend…with great, responsibly-consumed beer! 😉


Interview with a Beer Writer (Me!)

Our Interview Series continues! As some of you may know, I’ve been administering this blog since 2013. In four years, I have written many articles on brewing, sampled many beers, and done my best to share that knowledge with you!

And so, I thought it would be fun to try something different for this interview. I’m stepping out from behind the curtain and interviewing myself! Besides writing this blog, I’m also one of Black Creek’s History Actors and an award-winning author. I’ve spoken about beer and brewing history at conventions across the United States and Canada, and historically-accurate beer regularly appears in my fiction. And so, without further ado, here I am!

Presentation for the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, 2014.

KT: As you know, I love origin stories. Everyone has a different reason for getting into beer—what’s yours?

KT: Ironically, for the longest time, I thought that I didn’t like beer. But what was I drinking at 19? Some Molson, some Sleeman—lighter beers that don’t really suit my palate. I didn’t realize this, however, so I continued in denial until my first year working at Black Creek Pioneer Village. Somehow, I heard that the brewery needed an extra pair of hands for our Christmas by Lamplight event. Since I had my SmartServe certification from a previous job, I volunteered to help out. One thing led to another, and…

I fell in love. From the moment I set foot in the brewery, I fell completely, utterly, hopelessly in love with it. The space captured my heart immediately: this cosy, tucked-away corner of the village with its gleaming brew-kettle and proudly standing casks. The history and technical aspects of brewing fascinated me – forgive the pun, but that first taste awakened a raging thirst for more knowledge. And so, I spent the next 18 months or so learning about beer on my own, preparing myself in case there was another opening in the brewery.

There was. The rest is history.

I’m still in love.

KT: How has your palate changed, over the years?

KT: How hasn’t it changed? Remember: I thought I didn’t like beer, so I resisted drinking it at first. Fortunately, I had our wonderful brewmaster Ed to tutor me. He led through different beer styles: explaining their characteristics and giving recommendations on what to try. I started out really enjoying IPAs—the hoppier the better. I think it’s because the aggressive, sharp bitterness of a hop-oriented beer was immediately apparent to my immature palate in ways that the rich, deep malt flavours of a stout weren’t.

But gradually, I shifted to the dark side. I’ve always been a fan of dark chocolate and black coffee, so my fondness for dark beers makes sense—I just needed to work up to them.

Mmmm, stout.
Mmmm, stout.

KT: Of all the things you’ve learned about beer, what is your favourite?

KT: Well, I do really like being able to give tasting notes. That’s a cool skill, and one I’ve worked hard to develop. I’ve spent a lot of time training my palate and learning the vocabulary. At time of writing, I’ve got well over 400 different beers logged in my database. This is another instance where I was so grateful to work with Ed: he taught me how to approach beers, examining the colour and appearance, before taking in the aroma and that all-important first sip. It takes practice to train your palate to detect different flavours, and further practice to learn how to describe those sensations in a way that makes sense.

I was also amazed to learn just how important beer was to Canada’s history, and how much beer history is still hidden all around us in Toronto. Culture, politics, nutrition, gender roles, industry…beer touches so many different aspects of our lives, and it’s fascinating to see those connections draw together.

KT: You’re also an author. How has beer impacted your fiction?

KT: In my stories, my beer is always historically accurate, so there is that. I’m also able to describe flavour and aroma with precision – it’s those sensory details that make stories come alive. On a deeper level, though, I’ve been most impacted by the notion that beer touches many different aspects of our lives. My fiction leans towards the historical (I can’t imagine why), and I know how important taverns and beer culture were to Victorian society. And so, taverns tend to occupy a central place in my fiction as well – just as they were deeply interwoven into the society about which I write.

See, while I’m an artist, I’m also an educator. And so, I’m still drawing those connections between beer, culture, politics, et al., as much as I did in the brewery. I’m just doing it through a different form of art.


And there you have it: a  behind-the-scenes look at your favourite beer journalist! Thanks, beer-lovers!

To Queen and Country!