Tag Archives: OCB

New Brew: Ginger Beer

Father’s Day weekend is almost here! On June 17th and 18th, you can enjoy a fun-filled weekend of muskets, soldiers, and spies! That’s right: once again, the village will be hosting a Revolutionary War re-enactment!

And as per tradition, Ed has made an alcoholic ginger beer in honour of the event.

Ginger beer originally descends from drinks such as mead and metheglin (flavoured mead). These were sweet, honey-based beverages, fermented with yeast and flavoured with a variety of spices, including ginger, cloves, and mace. Early ginger beers were made from water, sugar, and ginger, and fermented with the ginger beer plant. Interestingly, the ginger beer plant wasn’t really a plant at all, but a gelatinous composite of yeast and bacteria! From the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, ginger beers were impressively alcoholic, sometimes reaching 11%.

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By the 1850s, however, new laws forced English ginger beer brewers to water their product down to 2% alcohol. It still remained incredibly popular. In 1877, writers John Thomson and Adolphe Smith estimated that some 300,000 gallons of ginger beer were being sold in and around London.

With the rise of imperialism, ginger beer also went global. Soldiers stationed in the Caribbean and Africa were particularly fond of this spicy brew, drinking it to combat homesickness. The ginger was also useful in treating upset stomachs and inflammation – I guess soldiers are more likely to take their medicine if it comes in the form of beer!

Ed’s ginger beer is a really nice amber-coloured ale. It is a malt-oriented beer, so the flavour comes predominately from the grains, rather than the hops. Because this is a fairly light malt, that translates into a subtle sweetness – this isn’t an overly bitter beer. The ginger is definitely noticeable, but mild. The spice grows more pronounced after the first sip; it gives some warmth in the chest! I like it! There’s a moderate finish, too; the light maltiness comes back through the nose at the very end. I think curries and stir-fries would go really well with this beer: foods that are themselves a bit spicy and complex (actually, a ginger-soy pork stir fry, plus this beer…now I’m getting hungry).

Please note: this ginger beer is NOT for children. It’s still about 5% alcohol, so save it for the adults!

Our ginger beer will be only available in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. It hits our fridges this weekend, and will last until…well, until we run out.

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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Interview with Robin LeBlanc: Beer Writer

Hello beer-lovers!

Welcome back to another installment of our interview series! This week, I am thrilled to welcome Robin LeBlanc to the Growler. Robin is a respected beer expert and reviewer, talented writer, and all-around awesome person. You may recognize her name from her blog, The Thirsty Wench, from Twitter (@TheThirstyWench), or from The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, which she co-authored with fellow beer expert Jordan St. John.

And guess what??? A new, second edition of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide releases May 20th! Packed with nearly 100 new breweries, this book promises a comprehensive survey of the Ontario craft scene. I’m stoked for its release, and I was very glad the chance to chat about the book with Robin!

Without further ado!

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

RL: I got bitten by a radioactive brewer, and…
No. That’s a lie. What really happened was I was in a friend’s apartment in 2007 and their roommate brought over a bottle of Chimay Première, a Trappist dubbel and shared some of it with us. Considering the most adventurous with beer I had been at the time was a pint of Guinness, I can safely say that I experienced an explosion of flavours that were earth-shattering. Dark fruits! Caramel! A subtle alcohol burn! From then I was hooked. I started going to the original Bar Volo with friends, which then led to picking up books on beer, which then led to starting a blog about beer, and that ended up with being a columnist and author on beer. It’s amazing how much it just escalated.

 

KT: The Ontario craft beer scene has exploded over the last number of years; what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?

RL: Well the big one is that there is no more craft beer out there. As you said, the Ontario beer scene has exploded and we’re seeing more and more breweries pop up every WEEK in areas both urban and rural. The great thing has been seeing the places outside of the city fully embrace craft breweries opening in their area because it adds to part of their identity. So really that’s the biggest change, where we are now at a point where one could take a weekend trip to almost anywhere in the province and chances are really good you’ll be able to visit many breweries throughout.

KT: Researching “The Ontario Craft Beer Guide” was an impressive undertaking! Were there any surprises along the way?

RL: There definitely were! In doing research we would get to as many breweries in the province as possible and more often than not I found myself in small areas getting a feel for the context of which the brewery makes their beer and the local inspiration that drives them. Places like Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay, or New Ontario in North Bay, and Haliburton Highlands in Haliburton. All breweries that are shaped by the places they call home.

KT: And finally, what can readers look forward to in the second edition?

 RL: A more massive book than the first one, for sure. We’ve completely expanded and revised this second edition, revisiting many of the breweries from the first edition and adding nearly a hundred new breweries in the book, with ratings for over a thousand beers. On top of that we have chapters covering the history of Ontario beer, where to purchase the beer, and Ontario ingredients. We’ve also expanded the suggested pubs list from 50 to over 100, showing all the great places in this province to get a decent selection of local beer. And finally, we have colour pictures, giving a nice visual representation of Ontario beer.

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Robin, thanks again for sharing your time with us! Remember, you can pick up your copy of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide on May 20th – a perfect start to the long weekend!  Here’s to many more fantastic beers ahead!

To Queen and country!

Katie

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Beer Flaws

Down in the Black Creek Brewery, we frequently said, “Beer is a very personal thing! There’s no right or wrong answer, only the beer that’s right for you!” While I wholeheartedly believe this is true, there is an aspect of beer that rarely came up in brewery conversations: beer faults.

That’s right. While preferences on style, flavour, and aroma are largely dependent on personal palates, it is possible to have beer that is—from a purely objective standpoint—flawed.

What makes beer taste bad? Sometimes, faults in beer arise from poor sanitation or infection (this was particularly a problem in the Victorian age). Sometimes, the ingredients are poor quality, stale, or improperly stored. Maybe something went wrong in the brewing process.

Victorian breweries didn’t have modern standards of sanitation…

 

Or maybe the recipe itself wasn’t very good (we’ve all eaten baked goods gone wrong—the same principle applies to brewing). Perhaps the wrong ingredients in the wrong quantities were used; or maybe the brewing method wasn’t followed correctly; or maybe a brewer let their creativity and zest for experimentation run too wild.

(A beer that will forever remain etched in my memory is a “Choc Lobster Porter.” Chocolate and lobster do not go together. The best I can say about that beer is that it makes a really good story now.)

Even if a perfectly good beer leaves the brewery, it can still pick up flaws before you drink it: improper storage, age, exposure to heat and/or light, and even dirty draught lines can all create undesirable flavours.

So that’s why a beer might have faults. But what are some common flaws?

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Green Apple

This is a very common one. If you’re detecting an odd, green apple flavour in your beer, you’re tasting the result of acetaldehyde. This compound is actually a precursor to sugars becoming alcohol. In small quantities, it can be perceived as a simple fruity note, but a large presence usually means the beer needs more aging.

Astringency

Astringency isn’t just bitterness. It’s an over-steeped-black-tea flavour and sensation. Unsurprisingly, astringency in beer comes from tannins. In brewing, astringency can result from over-steeping and/or over-sparging the malt, or mashing with water that’s too hot. In some cases, it can also result from bacterial infections.

Cheese/Feet

Mmmm, delicious! You’re smelling/tasting isovaleric acid, resulting from poorly stored, oxidized hops.

Skunk

Ever wonder why so many beer bottles are brown? It’s to avoid this fault. When the iso alpha acids in hops react with light, it creates a flavour incredibly similar to a skunk’s odour. It’s quite common in beers stored in clear or green glass bottles. To avoid “light-struck” beer, stick to brown glass, draught beer, or cans.

Metal

Does your beer taste like you’re licking an aluminium can? A metallic taste in beer is a fault that results from old, improperly maintained equipment and/or poor-quality water.

Water quality greatly affects beer. Here is Joseph Bloore’s brewery in the Rosedale ravine, painted by R. Baigent , 1865 (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca)

Butter

Beer and popcorn can be a good combination, but you don’t want your beer tasting like popcorn.  If your beer is slick on the tongue and tastes like a movie theatre, you’ve got excessive diacetyl. This is a natural by-product of fermentation: a little can be all right, but too much is unpleasant. Usually, high levels are found in beer that’s been rushed out or beer fermented with weak yeast. However, it can be caused by dirty draught lines.

Paper/Wet cardboard

Beers’ flavours change as they age. If you’re getting cardboard, your beer is probably old and overly-oxidized.

Nail Polish Remover

Yeast gives off esters as it ferments: the resulting ethyl acetate can be responsible for a slight fruitiness…or harsh acetone flavours. Beer that tastes like solvent indicates poor handling, though it can result from low-quality, plastic brewing equipment.

Mouldy/Musky

We all know bread goes mouldy. And we all know that beer and bread are made of similar ingredients. Mouldy, musky beer may indicate the presence of mould in the grain or casks. It may also arise from dirty draught lines.

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Fortunately, a good brewer using quality ingredients in a clean environment (like our brewmaster Ed!) will avoid most of these faults. But learning to detect flaws is just another part of educating one’s palate. Beer is still down to personal taste—but knowing standards of flavour can help beer-lovers make even more informed choices about their brews. 🙂

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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The Red Lion Inn: An Early Local Pub

Welcome, beer-lovers! This week at the Black Creek Growler, we’re delving into another chapter of Toronto’s beer history: the Red Lion Inn!

You can’t get very far into researching Toronto taverns without running across the Red Lion. It was built somewhere between 1808-1810 by Daniel Thiers. Like Black Creek Pioneer Village’s Stong family, Thiers was of Pennsylvania German origin, settling in Upper Canada in the late 1700s.

The Red Lion, ca. 1888. (courtesy Toronto Public Library)

The Red Lion sat on Yonge St, just north of modern-day Bloor (near the Toronto Reference Library today). When Thiers built the Red Lion, the area was still quite undeveloped—Toronto grew largely northward and westward from the lake. However, it was already an important crossroads: Davenport, Yonge, and Bloor were all established travel routes, and seemed likely to become even more heavily-travelled as the young city grew.

The inn itself was always large: its façade was about 100 feet along Yonge St. As wings and extensions were added, it eventually encompassed a two-acre site—including its outbuildings and yards. And of course, it had a sign emblazoned with a red lion rampant.

The bar area: 1912 painting based on an 1888 sketch. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

In the early days, the Red Lion served as a stopping point for travellers, particularly for farmers taking their goods from Holland Landing to York. An 1808 advertisement states Thier’s intention to open a public house, selling, “…[the] best strong beer at 8d, New York currency, per gallon, if drank in his house, and 2s 6d New York currency if taken out.”

(A few things to note about this: first, we can see the absolute mishmash of currency that pervaded the colony during this period. Second, takeaway beer is more expensive than beer drunk in-house—perhaps a tactic to get patrons to settle in, order more pints, and eventually take a room for the night?)

In his Landmarks of Toronto (1894), publisher-politician John Ross Robertson imagines what the Red Lion Inn might have been like: “…bronzed farmers, patriotic reformers, intriguing politicians, bright eyed girls, and spruce young men—all classes that made up the society of York and its environs.” Contemplating the ballroom, he writes, “Perhaps here many a maiden breathed that wonderful ‘Yes.’”

The ballroom, ca. 1888. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

While his tone is a touch sentimental—even by Victorian standards—it’s clear that he considered the Red Lion Inn a focal point for the community. Indeed, it proved to be the nucleus around which Yorkville developed (ably assisted by Joseph Bloor, as we learned here).

In addition to facilitating socialization, the Red Lion also played an important role in civic life. It was used for polling and political debates, and Reformers met there frequently through the 1830s—including William Lyon Mackenzie itself. After his expulsion from the legislature in 1831, a by-election was held at the Red Lion Inn. Following the vote, a triumphant Mackenzie greeted his supporters in the ballroom, receiving a medal and making a speech before leading a procession into town.

But alas, the good times could not last forever. The Temperance movement did not treat the Red Lion Inn kindly. After a series of struggles, it closed in 1892. Two years later, Robertson wrote, “Most of the characters who figured in the Red Lion’s history have gone over to the great majority, and soon the old inn will follow the course of all mundane things.”

The Red Lion Inn, ca. 1885. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

Sadly, he was right, for no trace of the Red Lion remains today. Yet it remains in memory, “The Most Famous Hostelry in the Annals of York.”

To Queen and Country!

Katie

PS. Keen for more? You can read a digitized version of John Ross Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto here!

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Interview: Beer Reviewer Robert Arsenault

Hello beer-lovers!

We are back with another special interview edition of the Growler. This week, I’m thrilled to welcome beer reviewer Robert Arsenault. Under the guise of the “Drunk Polkaroo,” he’s been brightening up my Instagram feed for a while! I’m stoked to have had the chance to catch up with him. 🙂

Photo de Drunk Polkaroo.

KT: It’s clear that you’re very passionate about craft beer—how did you get into it?

DP: To be honest, a few years ago I was a dedicated macro beer pounder. I was in a really bad place and drinking a lot when a friend introduced me to an app for my phone called Untappd. It tracked your beers and gave you badges for trying different ones. We started to compete on finding new beers and I started to drift into craft beer as a result. It didn’t happen overnight, but when I started doing short reviews on Instagram, it became a bigger part of my life.

KT: We love your vibrant Instagram with its daily beer reviews. Do you feel that social media has helped boost the craft beer movement?

DP: I think Social Media and the people who do it well at the breweries help to boost not only the profile of that brewery but the industry as  a whole. Interacting, commenting and sharing their fans’ photos has given rise to a whole host of people who are trying to catch the eyes of the managers, and it makes the beer drinking even more fun. Feeling connected to the brewers, even online, encourages people to take their time, appreciate the beer and share it with others.

KT: Your pictures are beautiful, and we love how they show each brew to its best. What goes into setting up your shots?

DP: If I have the time, I do try to find a beautiful way to showcase the beer, or the reason I am enjoying it. Sometimes it’s an outdoor shot, which is great for natural colour and light, or I add some props from around my house for a little fun. For every one though, I am taking pictures when I drink the beer and that dictates a lot of the shots. I was not a great student of art in school, but craft beer has inspired me to look for beauty I didn’t know existed.

Photo de Drunk Polkaroo.

Gorgeous – check out Drunk Polkaroo’s Instagram for more!

KT: Lead us through one of your tastings—what do you look for, in a beer?

DP: The first thing I do when I choose a beer is think about what I am doing that day or night. Is it a social gathering, or a quiet night in? Slow sipping Imperial or crushable session beer? Once I pick from the fridge or cellar, I get a clean glass, hopefully the proper style of glassware for the beer to be consumed, as it does matter to a degree. Rinsing it always before I open the beer, to remove any dust or residue. When I pour it, I take my time, watching it build the head, cascading the carbonation down and finally lifting it up to the light to gauge the colour and consistency. Smelling, swirling and smelling again, I want to get the aroma before I try it.

I leave room at the top specifically so I can get a good sniff of what is going on in there. Almost as important as the beer itself. Finally, I take a small sip and let it swirl around, trying to capture the first impression and nuances of the first sip. I try to close my eyes and block out all distractions to be present and mindful inside the texture and flavours of the beer. Another small sip and then I begin to pick out the subtle and not-so-subtle notes. It can change as it warms and depending on the style, a tasting can take anywhere from a half hour to 2 or 3. I like to enjoy every moment as much as I can, especially with beers I may only try once. It is also a way to try and curb my old habits of overindulgence. I appreciate everything that each beer brings to my glass and I try to convey that in my reviews.

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And he certainly does! The Drunk Polkaroo’s thoughtful, passionate reviews always brighten my day – and remind me why we write this blog in the first place…

For the love of beer. 🙂

You can follow the Drunk Polkaroo at the links below:

Instagram!

Facebook!

Twitter!

Until next time!

Katie

 

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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!

Follow Toronto Booze Hound:

Instagram:

Twitter:

Facebook:

Untappd:

-Katie

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Society of Beer Drinking Ladies – All Ladies’ Craft Beer Festival

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It was long a matter of regret that in all my years as a Beer Expert and resident Beer Journalist, I had not attended a Beer Festival. Curated beer tastings, yes. Other breweries’ tours, yes. But ill luck and circumstance had prevented attendance at a larger event.

Clearly, this had to be remedied. Last Saturday, November 5th, former beer expert Steph and I went to the All Ladies’ Craft Beer Festival, organized by the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies. If you’ve not run across the SOBDL before, they are a vibrant group of beer lovers:

We are a group of Toronto ladies passionate about all things craft beer. On the last Friday of every month, we hold a “bevy” in a secret location, where we explore delicious craft beer in the company of other fantastic women. Join us at our next event.

So I duly turned up at the beautiful Artscape Wychwood Barns, tickets in hand. While I waited for Steph, I saw something really cool.

Women. Women of all sorts – getting out of cabs, hopping off the bus, walking up with huge grins. Down in the Black Creek Brewery, we see this every day: craft beer is for everyone. But the sense of camaraderie was palpable; the atmosphere charged with excitement, but still low-key.

When Steph and I got our drink tickets and stepped inside, we both stopped.

“Wow.”

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Imagine the cavernous, high-ceiling barns filled with breweries and chalkboards proclaiming their offerings. Directly ahead of us, a display of malt and hops. To the right, SOBDL merch. And tables stretching as far back as we could see – table upon table upon table of beer. We grinned at each other.

“Where do we start?”

I’ve manned the Black Creek Brewery table at various events, but this was my first time on the other side of the table. We quickly fell into a rhythm: check out the beers, chat with the other ladies, choose a beer, duck against the wall to compare tasting notes. For me, the hardest part was deciding between beers I’d tried and loved, and beers I’d never had before. I won’t go through all the beers we tried between the two of us – suffice it to say we ended up purchasing extra drink tickets – but here are a few highlights.

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Beau’s All-Natural Brewing: Pilot Batch 1

Beau’s All-Natural Brewery is raising funds for the Rwanda Brewery Project – a woman-owned and operated craft brewery in Rwanda. Entrepreneur and soon-to-be brewery owner Fina Uwineza brewed this beer in collaboration with Beau’s, using non-traditional ingredients like cassava and banana.

It was a delightful blonde ale – the banana paired really well with the light malts, almost like a nice hefeweissen. I’ve had cassava on its own before; it tastes not unlike potato. Still, this beer was light and fresh – I got rather more citrus than I was expecting!

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(PS. You can support the Rwanda Craft Brewery project here – only about a week left on the Kickstarter!)

Royal City Brewing Co.: Earl Grey Porter

My understanding is that this one ran out partway through the night, so I’m glad Steph and I found it when we did!  This is Royal City’s winter beer – a porter infused with Earl Grey tea. And goodness, it’s uncanny! This could almost be a cold black tea with plenty of bergamot, but a luscious chocolatey undertone reminds you of its true porter nature.

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Nickel Brook Brewery: Raspberry Uber Style Weiss

This was a beer that I needed to try again, although I’ve had it before. This is a Berliner Weisse: a sour wheat beer. While I’m a fan of sour beers in general (beers partially or wholly fermented with lactic acid bacteria, to give it that distinct tang), this one ups the ante by aging on Ontario raspberries. It’s gorgeous in the glass – an almost jewel-like pink – and equally delicious on the palate; the raspberries’ tartness blends perfectly with the style’s natural sourness.

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All in all, it was a delightful event: wonderful, supportive vibe; an excellent assortment of beers; and exceptional organization. Much thanks to the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies for putting on this event – it was wonderful!

So, if you’re looking to chat with other beer-lovers and try some innovative and unusual brews, a beer festival may be the place for you. Keep your eyes peeled!

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-Katie

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