Tag Archives: sampling

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.

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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…

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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!

*

And of course, above all else…

Have fun and be safe.

To Queen and Country!

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:

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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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New Brew: Pumpkin Ale

The air is brisk, the leaves are changing. October is well underway, which means that it’s time for the Pumpkin Ale. While the Pumpkin Ale has been on LCBO shelves for a few weeks now, Ed’s version comes out this weekend from the Black Creek Brewery. We know you’ve been looking forward to it, so we’re thrilled that it’s ready!

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And this is no “Pumpkin Spice Ale,” either. Ed’s Pumpkin Ale uses real pumpkin puree. One addition during the mashing breaks the pumpkin’s starch into sugar that will be fermented alongside the malt. Another during the boil adds that truly pumpkin-y taste and aroma. Ed’s also added ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice – everything you’d expect in a pumpkin pie. It’s autumn in a glass, perfect for Halloween!

Look for the Pumpkin Ale in the LCBO, too!

Our LCBO version!

Speaking of Halloween, our Howling Hootenanny weekends are also here: October 22nd/23rd, and 29th/30th. Take the kids trick-or-treating in the village, make creepy crafts to take home, and decorate your own pumpkin. If you need some refreshment after braving the Haunted Maze and testing the Apple Slingshot, come join us in the historic brewery for a fresh sample of Pumpkin Ale!

Katie

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Tasting Beer

Hello, Beer-Lovers!

Hot enough for you? This scorching summer continues; we’re very happy that the Black Creek Brewery is kept quite cool! As befitting these warmer months, we’re still exploring the lighter end of things with our bitters and pale ales (the Simcoe Hopped Ale is our next specialty beer – out for the August long weekend – its hoppy character should cut right through this humidity!).

Last time, we talked about cicerones here on the Growler. An important part of being a cicerone is learning to taste beer. Let’s continue the discussion and break down one of our Black Creek beer tastings, step by step!

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Step 1: Appearance

First impressions count for a lot, and sight is an important part of the overall sampling experience. Pour your beer into a clear glass (at the brewery, we’ll do this for you). Take a good look at it. Hold it to the light.

Just look: you can see the bar rail through the glass!

What colour is it? Pale gold, copper, pitch-black? Can you see through it?

Look at the clarity: can you see my smiling face through the glass, or is it clouded? Hint: our beers tend towards cloudiness because they’re unfiltered—and the further down in the growler your sample was, the cloudier it will be!

Our naturally carbonated beers don’t have much head, but make sure you note it in modern beers!

Step 2: Swirl

You’ve seen people swirling wine glasses before, right? Same idea: swirling the beer around your glass releases aromas and nuances you wouldn’t catch otherwise. Just a few gentle swirls will do it, and don’t worry about looking pretentious: this is exactly the behaviour we encourage.

Step 3: Smell

Our senses of taste and smell are closely linked. Don’t be afraid: give your beer a good sniff. How intense is the smell? What aromas do you notice?

More malt-oriented aromas? (Grains, nuts, chocolate, coffee, caramel, toastiness, sweetness)

More hop-oriented? (Citrus (often grapefruit for us, particularly in our IPA), earthiness, resins, pine, floral and/or spicy aromas)

Step 4: Sip

And now, it’s time to taste the b—do not chug it! Slow down and enjoy your drink. We’re friendly people, I promise. Take a small sip, but don’t swallow it right away.

Start with the beer on the tip of your tongue and move it slowly through your mouth. Different flavours will trigger taste buds in different regions of the tongue, so enjoy the different sensations as your beer travels over the tongue.

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In tasting notes, I frequently mention “mouthfeel.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this term refers to the way the beer feels in one’s mouth: that is, its weight and texture. Is it thin and sharp? Smooth and rounded? Does it feel heavy or light?

If you’d like to be really thorough, some people suggest exhaling while tasting; this is called “retro-olfaction.” Essentially, beer is warmed by being in your mouth, which causes more aromas to travel through your nasal cavities. It’s a different way to experience the beer’s aromas than the preliminary sniffing.

Got all that? Good—swirl the beer around your mouth once, letting it touch every part of your tongue, cheeks, and palate.

And swallow.

Step 5: Finish

We’re not done yet! The finish is highly important. Swallowing lets the very back of the tongue and throat experience the beer. How does the flavour change?

As well, note any flavours that linger after the beer has left your mouth. Are they bitter and/or floral (more hoppy), or more rich and grainy (leaning towards malts)? How intense are they?

Oh, that Chocolate Stout...

Oh, that Chocolate Stout…

Give it an extra second—sometimes, you might be surprised by how long the finish lasts. For me, sampling BadWolf Brewery’s stout epitomized the necessity of waiting. I’d swallowed my beer, and I thought the finish was over—only to have another surge of chocolate flavour catch me completely off-guard.

Take a moment to let all these impressions settle.

Now, the most important question of all…

Does this beer work for you? Do you feel it, love it? Do you want to keep drinking it?

Remember: no right or wrong answers, just the one that works for you.

See you soon, beer-lovers!

-Katie

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Specialty Brew: Ginger Beer

Currently in our fridges at the Black Creek Brewery: Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, Best Bitter, and Pale Ale. And of course, our June specialty beer is the Ginger Beer!

That comes out Father’s Day weekend. It is one of my very favourites, so I am excited! It’s also a beer with an interesting history…

Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes!

Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes!

Ginger ale derives from ginger beer, which is itself descended from drinks such as mead and metheglin. These were sweet, honey-based beverages, fermented with yeast and flavoured with a variety of spices, including ginger, cloves, mace. Ginger beer was 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 symbiotic composite of yeast and bacteria! From the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, ginger beers were impressively alcoholic, sometimes reaching 11%.

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.

So, what’s the difference between ginger beer and ginger ale? Easy: ginger beer is brewed, ginger ale is carbonated water flavoured with ginger. With some exceptions, ginger beer tends to be spicier, with a more pronounced ginger taste and cloudier appearance, while ginger ale is lighter in taste and colour.

Although ginger ale was reputedly invented in Ireland, Canada has a role to play in ginger ale’s history. In 1890, University of Toronto alumnus and pharmacist John McLaughlin opened a carbonated water plant in Toronto by Old City Hall. By adding various fruit juices, he developed sodas to sell to pharmacies. His Belfast Style Ginger Ale was one notable example, and by 1904, he had refined the recipe into a lighter, sharper version he called “Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Our Ginger Beer is an amber ale with a lovely burnished orange hue. In addition to the gingery heat, you might also get a bit of sweetness – Ed’s added some molasses this year to bring that ginger taste out even more.

This one, specific Ginger Beer is mine, though.

This one, specific Ginger Beer is mine, though.

It will be available starting this Father’s Day weekend until it’s all gone. Do remember, it’s also our Battle of Black Creek Revolutionary War Re-Enactment this weekend! In between hunting the Yankee spy and following the battle, you can swing by the brewery and pick up a ginger beer of your very own. 😉

 

-Katie

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New Brew: Elderflower Stout

A new month, a new brew. 🙂

Elderflowers in a basket (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Elderflowers in a basket (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Our November specialty beer launches this weekend! This month at the Black Creek Historic Brewery, Ed has crafted an Elderflower Stout. Elderflowers are flowering hedgerow plants or shrubs. They’re identifiable by their feathery white sprays of flowers and small, dark berries. Both flowers and berries are frequently used in cooking and baking (the leaves, roots, and sticks can leave you pretty sick, though).

The indomitable Mrs. Beeton tells us:

The elder-berry is well adapted for the production of wine; its juice contains a considerable portion of the principle necessary for a vigorous fermentation, and its beautiful colour communicates a rich tint to the wine made from it.

Turns out it’s good for beer-making, too! The Elderflower Stout pours very dark indeed; black enough that you can’t see through it. At first sniff, I thought, “Wine,” but then richer, more chocolate aromas came through. Those carried through the flavours as well­—chocolate and roasted grains carry things at first, but then the elderflowers emerge in the mid-taste. They give a subtle, floral edge to the beer: a hint of grape-like fruitiness. The BBC’s food writer likens elderflowers’ aroma to a “heady Muscat grape,” so the very strong wine character I’m getting isn’t too surprising!

This beer is medium-bodied: some weight on the tongue, but nothing too heavy. It’s very round and smooth, with a dry finish. This would make a good dessert beer, I think, perhaps paired with some lighter tea-cakes or scones.

The Elderflower Stout launches this weekend, and will last until we’re out. Come on down for a floral taste in the middle of November! (And don’t forget, Black Creek’s Christmas events and activities begin November 21st!)

Cheers,

Katie

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