DIY Beer Tastings!

Over the years, we’ve had thousands of people come to sample our beer in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. But what if you want to bring some friends together at your next dinner party? What if you want to put together…your own beer tasting?

Never fear! Your trusty beer journalist is here to give you some advice!

 

Step One: Consider Your Audience

Who’s your crowd? What do they normally drink? Are they game to try anything, or do they have a preferred style?  Are they seeking easy recommendations for their next night out, or do they want to try really unusual, hard-to-find beers?

Answering these questions for yourself will help you figure out the next set!

Step Two: Choose Your Scale and Scope

Do you want to have a close exploration of one style? Get as wide a range as possible? Stick to one geographic region, or taste beers from all over the world?

Every answer’s a good one, but sorting this out before you get to the store can save you time staring at bottles and second-guessing yourself.

Generally speaking, you probably want to sample between three to five beers, so setting some parameters can help you narrow your options!

Step Three: Calculate How Much You Need

One standard serving of 5% ABV beer is 12 oz. A pint’s either 16 oz (American) or 20 oz (British). Obviously, you want to be consuming responsible amounts.

If you’re doing flights of beer (which you are), you don’t want to go above 4 oz per style, and 2-3 oz is just fine—this is only a taste, after all!

Step Four: Logistics

You will need…

  • Sufficient glasses
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • A place to dump unwanted samples
  • Napkins if you are fancy
  • Notepads and pencils if you’re REALLY fancy

Step Five: The Order

There is a method to our madness in the brewery. When you’re sampling different beers, the general rule of thumb is to start mild, and work your way up.

First, look at the ABV content of your beer. The lowest ABV beers usually get sampled first, working your way up to the higher ones. (So that 4% English Bitter should come before the 6.5% India Pale Ale.)

But wait, there’s more!

Consider “mild’ in terms of flavour as well. If you have a 5% pilsner and a 4.8% oatmeal stout, you don’t want to have the stout first. Why? Because it’s a much heavier, more complex beer and it’ll mask the pilsner on your palate.

One more caveat: sour beers and hops affect the palate longer than malt tastes. So still save those lambics and IPAs for the end.

Confused?

Low ABV → High ABV

Mild flavours → Malty flavours → Sour/Hoppy flavours

Don’t worry. It’s part instinct, part practice. You’ll get the hang of it!

Tasting at Pen Druid, in Sperryville, VA.

Step Six: Do Your Homework

Your pals will appreciate if you can tell them a little about each beer. Learn the dominant tasting notes for each style, and maybe a little history, if that’s your jam. Though if you’re reading this blog, I hope it is!

Step Seven: Be a Good Host

While serving, keep track of quantity and pacing. People tend to adjust their rate to match others’, so keep things easy and relaxed. Break things up with snacks and water, and make sure all of your friends have a safe way to get home.

And there you have it!

Your very own beer-tasting party, in seven easy steps! Be responsible, and have fun!

-Katie

 

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A Beer for All Seasons

While chatting about people’s beer preferences, I would often hear visitors to the brewery describe themselves as “seasonal beer drinkers.” Fair enough, I am too. Even the most fervent lover of stouts and porters finds them a bit much on a day when the Humidex hits 40. Likewise, a light lager doesn’t always do it on a cold, rainy night.

But then I thought a little more about it, and I realized: the weather isn’t the only factor influencing the beers towards which I gravitate. When you’re selecting a beer to drink, there’s a whole range of things to think about: the setting, the list of available beers, the food, your cravings/mood on that particular day…

And so, I have compiled this list of alternate beer categories. Enjoy!

“The Go-To”

This is the beer that you can find on tap in nearly any pub. Easy-drinking, it’s the sort of beer you can drink throughout the night—and feel pretty pleased about.

For me? Beau’s Lugtread Ale.

“The Back-Up”

Okay, so you’re scanning the beer list…and you’re not seeing anything that grabs your interest. In fact, you’re contemplating getting water instead. Then you see it­—that beer that really isn’t your favourite, but you will still drink it!

For me? Guinness

“That Beer That’s Harder To Find, But You Love It, so When You See It, It’s Yours”

It’s not a common beer, but you fell in love with it long ago. When you spy it on a beer list, there’s no question. It’s yours, right now.

For me? Black Creek’s Ginger Beer, Péché Mortel (Dieu du Ciel).

“The Thirst-Quenching Beer”

You’ve been outside for hours. The sun is beating down. Probably, you’ve been doing physical work or exercise, and you are parched. Sometimes, you just need a beer, and this hits the spot.

For me? Sidelaunch Wheat, Beat the Heat (Black Oak)

The Half Way House Inn: home of the Black Creek Historic Brewery.

“The Sitting By the Fire on a Midwinter’s Night”

It’s the middle of winter. The wind chill is somewhere in the negative-20s. A gale is howling around your house, darkness has fallen, and if you don’t have a blazing fire, you should. It’s just you, a good book, and a beer in a very fancy glass.

For me? Midvinterblot (Sigtuna Brygghus)

“That Beer You’ve Heard Everyone Rave About and then You Randomly Spy it in the LCBO One Day”

Pretty self-explanatory, and it also just happened to me!

For me? Founders Kentucky Breakfast Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout

(Old Bust Head, a craft brewery in Warrenton, VA)

“The Local Brew in a Strange City”

Travelling as often as I do, I’ve made friends with beers and breweries in many different cities. It’s always fun to see what’s on tap elsewhere, and you start to find a few reliable favourites.

For me? Old Bust Head’s Mocha Macchiato Stout, Alewerks’ Old Stitch

“The What IS That, I MUST Try It!”

Every so often, you come across a beer that you just have to try. Maybe the description is particularly intriguing. Maybe it boasts your exact favourite flavours. Or maybe your favourite brewmaster is trying a new recipe. 😉

For me? Black Creek’s Gingerbread Stout, Hypnopompa (Omnipollo), Earl Grey Porter (Royal City Brewing)

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What about you? What are your beers for all seasons? Maybe you’ll find your next one down at the Black Creek Historic Brewery!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

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%.

ginger-300x262

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!

(courtesy http://www.warof1812.ca)

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

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

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

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!

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