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

 

“They Drank Beer Because the Water Wasn’t Safe” …OR DID THEY?!

Beer-Lovers, let’s have a chat.

When I was in the Black Creek Brewery, I often received the question, “Did Victorians drink beer because the water was unsafe?” I’d like to spend some time answering that question.

The short answer is, “In Toronto, the water was often unsafe, but that didn’t actually link to beer consumption very much.”

Let’s start at the beginning.

Toronto, 1850s-1860s. Yes, indeed, the water is not terribly safe to drink. Until the 1870s, the drinking water supply was handled by private companies. As you can imagine, they were mostly concerned with profits, and so sometimes let matters of safety slide. Most drinking water came from private wells, which was fine unless they got contaminated. Animals were slaughtered throughout the city streets, and their offal tossed in the sewers. Animals’ manure ended up in the sewers as well. So did untreated human waste. And where did these sewers empty?

Into the bay.

Toronto, 1851. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.

An article from The Globe, simply entitled, “The Cholera,” describes Toronto’s water situation thusly:

“The water used in Toronto is a byword through the Province. Thick and cloudy with feculence, it is unfit for human use until purified. No one who can possibly afford it should be without a filter to strain the impurities they are compelled to drink. Crystal clearness instead of yellow decoction of dead plants and animals, must be a blessing to any one”

The Globe, November 2, 1857.

Well, then.

So, yes. In 1860s Toronto, the water was not always safe to drink.

However.

Remember that germ theory was still developing at this time. In England, Dr. John Snow had established a connection between cholera and contaminated water in 1848, but his work wasn’t entirely accepted until later in the century. Louis Pasteur’s experiments in killing bacteria through heat (i.e. pasteurization) didn’t get rolling until the early 1860s. Obviously, Victorians linked filth and sickness. They knew the water wasn’t safe. They likely didn’t entirely realize the mechanism of why.

In fact, The Globe provides helpful tips on cholera prevention:

“Make a city clean; purge it from every foul smell, bury its reeking corruption, cleanse its drains permit no stagnant cess-pools; make it in fact what decency and common comfort demand, and cholera will pass along our streets harmless…”

The Globe, November 2, 1857.

Get rid of the ick; you won’t get sick!

An 1866 article is still preoccupied with the water quality—it suggests that allowing a more abundant supply might help flush the city’s pipes and keep everything cleaner. However, it also has good advice for disinfecting water.

Namely, these include solutions of hypochlorite of soda, lime, and “Condy’s fluid” (solution of alkaline manganates and permanganates—you could drink it, or use it like Windex!). These solutions could be poured into cess-pools and chamber-pots. Cooking/drinking water ought to be filtered through charcoal; you could burn a little wood in your hearth at night to encourage air flow.

Still sick? Placing iodine in a box or “in the ornamental cases on the mantle or shelf of a room” was thought to disinfect it. They suggest taking 8-10 grains of sulphite of magnesia when cholera is rampant. And most importantly, protecting one’s self from waterborne diseases by practicing “perfect sobriety” and avoiding all employments which “exhaust nervous energy.”

In other words…no one is suggesting an alternative to water. They’re trying to find ways to make it as safe as possible. In fact, the exhortation for sobriety (immorality = disease, obviously) directly contradicts any notion of drinking beer in place of water.

Indeed, there are calls from this time period for more drinking water. See these letters to the Editor talking about the joys of public drinking fountains—so people can have an alternative to beer.

The Globe, July 6, 1863

 

The Globe, October 24, 1862

 

Look, beer tastes nice. It has calories. Small beer gives a mild buzz (which Victorians assumed was a stimulant effect). Given the choice—without my modern knowledge of health and the effects of alcohol—I’d probably choose the beer too.

So the water in mid-Victorian Toronto wasn’t always safe. But the response does not seem to have been, “Break out the beer.” Rather, the city seems to have reacted by trying to make the water supply safer. Their beer consumptions seems driven by reasons other than health concerns. As they say in the sciences, “Correlation does not equal causation.”

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Victorian Root Beer

In the past, I was occasionally asked if common drinks like “root beer” and “ginger ale” were ever alcoholic—this question usually arose when Ed rolled out our Ginger Beer in June. The short answer is…yes! Several popular modern sodas like root beer, ginger ale, and birch beer (okay, maybe that one’s less common) had their origins in Victorian beers!

Since we’ve talked about ginger ale a while back, I wanted to explore root beer a little.

Root beer is a beverage traditionally made with sassafras roots and/or sarsaparilla as its main flavouring agent. The Indigenous populations of North America were making sassafras-based beverages long before European contact, using it to treat various ailments from wounds to fevers. Unsurprisingly, then, when “root beer” began to be sold through the mid-nineteenth century, it was touted as a healthful drink.

The sassafras tree grows from southern Ontario right to the southern United States! (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

(Point of interest: sassafras does contain an oil called safrole that can lead to liver damage and cancer. It’s been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration since 1960—root beer today is sometimes made with sassafras extract that’s had the safrole removed, but more commonly with extracts from wintergreen and black birch bark.)

Pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires was the first person to make a commercial brand of root beer—though being a teetotaller, he really would’ve preferred to call it “root tea.” And he wouldn’t have been far off the mark, either—though root beer can be fermented, most traditional recipes barely get to 2% ABV. However, when he debuted his drink at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, he wanted to attract customers among the local coal miners.

Thus, with (I’m sure) some regret, he sold his product as “root beer.” But not to worry—I’m equally sure he would’ve been cheered by a proliferation of non-alcoholic root beers. Indeed, they were very popular during the United States’ Prohibition years.

Poking around, I did find a recipe for traditional root beer in a lovely book called A Thousand and One Receipts Useful to Families (1883).

Looking this over, it’s not surprising root beer had such a low alcohol content. Remember, alcohol is what happens when yeast metabolizes fermentable sugars. With only a little bran (hard to break down) and molasses, there’s just not much to work with in this recipe!

But I was intrigued by a) the lack of sassafras, and b) the mention of “Indigenous bitters.” A little more digging unearthed this advertisement in the May 2, 1890 edition of The Québec Daily Telegraph.

Given the description of “a combination…of a large number of roots and barks,” and the assertion that “INDIGENOUS BITTERS never fail to afford prompt relief, and most frequently a perfect cure,” I think we’ve found our star player! Clearly, this was another incarnation of root beer as a health drink.

(I was also delighted to see that—sure enough—these “Indigenous bitters” are sold in “25cts boxes only.” Just like the recipe says!)

Obviously, root beer today is very different—in ingredients, method, and purpose. But as you raise a frosty mug, you can contemplate its Victorian predecessors!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

Black Creek Test Kitchen: Beer-Braised Pork Chops

Hello Beer-Lovers,

And we’re back with another recipe! This one is mostly from Taste of Home, except then I changed it as I am wont to do. While I’m very precise about most things in life, cooking is not one of them.

Anyway.

Beer-Braised Pork Chops: Ingredients

  • Pork Chops
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Oil
  • 3 Tbsp ketchup
  • Scant 1/2 Tbsp white sugar
  • Drizzle molasses
  • 3/4 cup of beer

What beer to use, you ask? Well, pork pairs really nicely with sweet things, so I was thinking a brown ale—caramel/chocolate sweetness. Something like Black Creek Brewery’s Rifleman’s Ration. But alas, my local LCBO’s stock was unhelpful.

Until I spotted the Griffin Maple Butter Tart Ale from Sawdust. I’ve had this beer before: it’s a very mild, very sweet beer. If I recall, my exact thoughts at first tasting were, Well, it tastes like a butter tart, but I’m not sure what that’s meant to accomplish.

 

“But…” quoth I, standing in the LCBO, “I bet it would go well with the pork.”

So I picked up a can, went home, and assembled my ingredients:

 

STEP THE FIRST:

Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Heat up oil in a large skillet and brown meat.

Or if you’re me, forget about the salt and pepper until after the meat is sizzling, and throw them in late, hoping it won’t affect anything (it didn’t).

STEP THE SECOND:

Mix beer, ketchup, sugar, and molasses. Pour over pork chops.

STEP THE THIRD:

Bring liquid to boil and then reduce heat. Cover and simmer until pork chops have reached an internal temperature of 145 F/ 63 C.

This is when I realized two things:

  • This is the first time I have knowingly braised meat: i.e. searing it and then stewing in a covered pot.
  • I have lost my meat thermometer.

So I kind of let the meat do its thing for 30 minutes and then cut the end from one of the chops. It looked done, and nothing happened when I ate it, so off we went:

The sweetness of this particular beer complimented the pork really well. I wasn’t sure how the ketchup would blend, but it gave things a nice savoury edge. There is definitely a buttery character to the beer I used – I’d be interested to see how the recipe works with other styles.

This recipe would work really well with our Brown Ale or Best Bitter: anything sweet, but not overpowering. A delicious summer dish!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

New in the LCBO: Canada 150 Ale!

Hello, beer-lovers!

We’ve brewed up a surprise for you! To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, we are releasing a new beer for the LCBO! The Canada 150 Ale is a special edition of our beloved Best Bitter—a refreshing way to enjoy the sesquicentennial.

If you enjoyed the historic version of this beer down in the Black Creek brewery, you’ll probably be a fan of this ale, too. It pours deep, coppery amber; almost like an autumnal maple leaf. As with all our commercial beers, you can expect some moderate head, too.

The nose is fairly mild with sweet, biscuit-like and malty aromas. Those flavours continue through the first sip and mid-tastes as well. You’ll notice some caramel/toffee notes too, and an earthy hop presence on the finish. It’s a light-bodied, easy-drinking beer: perfect for a summer barbeque, patio session, or as a refresher after time in the sun.

Another cool thing! You’ll notice that we’ve got snazzy new cans. We’re kicking things off with a fantastic Canada 150-themed design—it may have caused some swooning down in the brewery. 😉

Our Canada 150 Best Bitter will be available in the LCBO starting in June. As always, I strongly recommend checking availability on the LCBO website before you head out! Here’s to another 150 years!

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