Tag Archives: Ontario Craft Breweries

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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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.

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

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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Colonial Williamsburg and Eighteenth Century Beers

What a ride!

Once again, your trusty beer journalist has gone international! Last week, my colleague Blythe and I spent a wonderful few days exploring Colonial Williamsburg. Depicting the city of Williamsburg just prior to the American Revolution, Colonial Williamsburg is one of the largest and oldest living history sites out there. Our time was not nearly long enough, but it was most entertaining and improving…

…and we got to sample some eighteenth century ales!

Displaying FullSizeRender.jpg

We may have taken some home, too…

We’ve discussed Colonial Williamsburg’s brewing on this blog before. Essentially, Colonial Williamsburg does not brew itself—at least, not for public consumption. Rather, they partner with Alewerks Brewing Co, a microbrewery in Williamsburg, VA.

(Colonial Williamsburg is separate from, yet still part of, the actual city of Williamsburg. Imagine dropping Black Creek Pioneer Village where Toronto’s Distillery District currently sits.)

So, Frank Clark, master of historic foodways at Colonial Williamsburg, adapted three eighteenth century ales. The original three beers were the Old Stich (a brown ale), the Dear Old Mum (a golden ale flavoured with coriander and grains of paradise—almost a Belgian Wit), and Wetherburn’s Bristol Ale (a lighter brown ale, a little hoppier). Since then, they’ve added Toby’s Triple Threads (a very nice porter).

Of course, learning about eighteenth century Virginia’s beer scene made me wonder about Toronto’s. What was happening with 1770s Toronto brewing?

The answer is…not much.

Remember, Colonial Williamsburg is set almost a century earlier than Black Creek. While Jean Talon established the first Canadian brewery in 1668, there weren’t many other large breweries until later. In fact, John Molson didn’t set up shop in Montréal until 1786—a good three years after the American Revolutionary War ended.

Map of the Toronto Purchase.

Map of the Toronto Purchase.

But here’s where the histories intersect. After the war finished, newly landed Loyalists were settling on land recognized as belonging to the Indigenous populations. Since Governor-in-Chief Lord Dorchester needed somewhere to put these Loyalists, he began negotiating the Toronto Purchase.

In 1787, the Mississaugas of the New Credit exchanged 250,808 acres of land (most of current Toronto) for various goods and money. However, they understood the deal as not so much purchase as land rental. Thus, the Toronto Purchase was renegotiated in 1805, though a land claim settlement was not reached until 2010.

In any case, the site wasn’t even surveyed for town planning until 1788…which explains the dearth of breweries. I can’t imagine there was much of a market. 😉

So, if there wasn’t much beer scene in 1770s Toronto, what were Williamsburg’s brews like?

They’re not too dissimilar from Black Creek’s, really. Like our summertime Best Bitter, they are brewed with East Kent Golding hops. That said, the hop character is very muted, as per the style of the time. Though all were flavourful and well-balanced, the Triple Thread porter was my favourite, with hints of molasses and licorice.

And of course, the beers were served in stoneware mugs, which I’ve never actually experienced before. I was entirely too excited!

Photo de Katie Bryski.

Thanks, Colonial Williamsburg! We’re sure to return soon!

-Katie

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New in Town: Getting into Craft Beer

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

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

barrel_l

Be Open-Minded

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

Take Notes

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

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

PumpkinAle1

Read Reviews (with a grain of salt)

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

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

Pay Attention to Tasting Notes

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

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

Practice, practice, practice*

*responsibly

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

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

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

Talk to People

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

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And of course, above all else…

Have fun and be safe.

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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Beer Soaps and Shampoos

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

ReallyNiceGrowler

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

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

Intriguing.

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

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

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

The Smell:

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

The Look:

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

The Feel:

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

The Reveal:

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

beershampooreveal

It still feels unruly.

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

The Verdict:

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

Cheers!

Katie

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