5 Reasons to Try Beer Tasting (Even If You're A Light Drinker)
If you're already a fan of craft beers or just beers in general, then I probably don't have to convince you to give proper beer tasting a try. But if you were on the fence like me, then keep reading. Even if you already like beer, keep reading, too, for some insider tips from a pro!
Just to differentiate from beers you can get at a supermarket or LCBO, craft beers are limited batched beers produced at a small brewery. By American standards, craft brewers are those who produce 6 million barrels or less annually. I like to think that there is much more thought taken into developing each beer because it's produced in such limited amounts. There's also a guarantee that the flavours and ingredients put into each batch are high-grade quality as well. Without sounding too pretentious, craft beer is hand-crafted and has more defined flavours. Unless you enjoy binge drinking and chugging, craft beers (in my humble opinion) are best enjoyed with food pairings, great company and conversation, and preferably with a working fireplace.
I was over at Old Flame Brewing Co. in Port Perry, Ontario last week and sat down with Mark, a.k.a. Big Red, to talk about beer tasting and how to maximize your first tasting experience. There's no science behind it and no rigid etiquette like its more sophisticated sister, wine tasting. We chatted about useful tips, beer preferences, seasonal favourites, and food pairings over beers and mixed drinks.
Here are some useful tips on what to order when you visit a craft brewery:
For starters, beer tasting is very casual and informal. When I entered Old Flame tasting room, it felt like I was visiting a friend at a log cabin. Everything is furnished with reclaimed wood, vintage art and bicycles, and even an old, upright piano in the corner. In the centre of the tasting room is an old carriage, a remnant of the building's rich past of being to Ontario Carriage Works in 1884. Off to the corner by the big roll-up doors is a lounge area and coffee table from what used to be a wagon. Everything inside is refurbished, beautiful, and local. This is nothing like wine tours at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario or in Sonoma County in California. This is more homey and intimate. Like a warm, winter escape with friends.
Sample A Flight
The best way to sample a variety of beers without getting wasted is to order a flight. A beer flight is a sampling of different beers in smaller sized glasses. This is the best option to order when you are just starting out with craft beers, if you're visiting a new brewery and haven't yet found a favourite, or if you're just indecisive.
Here, I am sampling (from right to left): Love Potion No. 9, Blonde, and Red.
When sampling a series of beers, Big Red advises to start with the lightest, less hoppy lager and to work your way to the darker stout. The Love Potion No. 9 has an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 3.9% and was the first one to try. It's an American light lager and is extremely light. For new craft beer drinkers, this is a good introduction to the world of craft beers as it is very light and welcoming. Interestingly, the name Love Potion No. 9 is named after the 60s song of the exact same name by The Clovers. Look it up and groove to the beat with a glass of Love Potion No. 9!
Next up is the Blonde (ABV 5.0%) , which is also a light and refreshing beer. The flavour is golden and crisp, so it's just a hint darker and more flavourful than the Love Potion No. 9. This drink is perfect summer get-togethers on the patio under a canopy of fairy lights. At this point, Big Red noted that their patio will be open for the summer so you can enjoy beer tasting al fresco.
Last but not least, we work our way to the dark side. The Red (ABV 4.8%) was awarded the Best Amber Lager in 2015 by the Canadian Brewers' Association. Within the first few sips, I tasted sweet notes of rich caramel and toasted bread in the Vienna-style beer. It was both smooth and a great finisher for the flight samples.
Story behind the name
If you haven't put two and two together by the hair colour names, female silhouettes, and the Old Flame brand name, the name Old Flame Brewing Co. really originated from 'old flame', a term that you would call an ex, the one that got away, an old lover, etc. Every name represents an old lover from the past: Blonde, Dirty Blonde, Red, Brunette, Perry Loved Mary...you get the idea! The naming convention is romantic, nostalgic, and fits the overall ambiance of the old brewery. Because in the end, that's the beauty of having a past - there's something (or someone) to drink to, hopefully, in the company of true friends.
Thoughtful Food Pairings
For the bon vivant, bar nuts are not enough. Enter the Brewer's Plate, a platter of local cheeses, crackers, sausages, pickles, and butter tarts. Big Red says that everything is sourced locally. The infamous butter tarts themselves are from Pantry Shelf over at 7 Water Street in Port Perry. In fact, Old Flame Brewing Co. partners with several local restaurants, bistros and cafes. On top of supply beers on tap, they also collaborate with Herrington's Butcher Shop to make various meat pies, including their lamb and ale pie, and with Jester Court Restaurant to create a beer-infused BBQ sauce. The brewery is so in tune with friendly collaborations with local joints that customers are also welcomed to bring in their own food to eat with the beers. Regulars are also known to have ordered pizza delivery from Crusty's (another local favourite) straight to Old Flame!
Creativity and innovation are common elements in specialty craft breweries. Old Flame is no different. Their seasonal rotation includes aptly-named editions like the Witchy Woman, a pumpkin spice flavoured beer, for fall and Halloween. For the winter season, the brewery is offering the Maple Walnut Stout with both maple and walnut ingredients supplied by Willowtree Farm, and the Scary Mary, a double IPA beer.
Overall, Old Flame beers are very easy to drink and with the atmosphere and relaxed vibe in the tasting room, it's very easy to spend a few hours drinking and snacking on the Brewer's Plate. For those who are still unsure about enjoying the taste of beer on its own, there are mixed drink options that are sublime. During my interview with Big Red, I was happily sipping the Diva Drink (naturally!), which is a mix of the Blonde, grenadine, and ginger ale. It looks and tastes very much like a Shirley Temple, one of my favourite drinks and a drink that was named after the actress whom I, in turn, was named after (random fact). Other mixed drinks on the roster include: Shandy (ginger ale + beer), Radler (grapefruit + lager), and Lime + Lager (lime cordial + beer).
Know Before You Go
- Call ahead of time to book a tour and learn how beer is made (each brewery does it differently)
- Check the brewery's website for upcoming events, i.e. Cheese Pairing Nights and music nights
- Make it a party and book a limo tour with Lux Limo to visit Old Flame Brewing Co. and other local craft breweries (great option so you can drink and NOT drive)
- Come with an appetite so you can order the Brewer's Plate (or order a pizza from Crusty's)
- Be prepared to shop at the retail shop for beer, clothing, glassware, snacks, gift cards, etc.
- Map out a walking tour of historic Port Perry (because it's so pretty and idyllic)
- Drink responsibly. Don't go alone if you plan on driving immediately after (because it's unsafe)
Old Flame Brewing Co. is located 135 Perry Street in Port Perry, Ontario. A BIG thank you to Mark 'Big Red' Forderer for sharing with me all this amazing information over flights of beer, Elaine Chan-Dow for photographing the interview, and Richard Roth of RothPhoto for the tasting room images.