Late last week, Black Oak Brewing Company celebrated Ontario Craft Beer Week with an event at the brewery called Ken's Still Bitter. The name plays on president Ken Woods' affable nature and the brewery's signature seasonal, Ten Bitter Years.
This Double/Imperial American-style IPA was originally brewed to celebrate the Black Oak's 10th anniversary. In the two years since it was initially brewed it has quickly built a cult following amongst Ontario beer lovers as one of the best beers of its kind available in the province.
The latest batch was released at the event and customers lined-up to get their share of this limited production beer, which has sold out in a little as a few days. After a sip, it's easy to see why. Although it's extremely hoppy with west coast style grapefruit aromas and a grassy bitter finish, it's equally tropical with mango, pineapple and tangerine notes. There's also a strong caramel and toffee maltiness, which helps balance that bitter hop bite. But this event wasn't all about Ten Bitter Years, there was also some interesting limited production beers and collaborations available to sample.
The Marmalade Summer Saison cask was a popular thirst-quenching choice given temperatures in the mid-thirties. It's normally subtle citrus edge was pumped-up with bright strong flavours of orange, grapefruit and lemon, leaving the wheat flavour and coriander spice a supporting role.
But it was the collaborative brews, a theme of this year's OCB week, that were the most interesting. The awkwardly named but very memorable How Do You Say Monkey in Latin? (simius by the way) really stood out. Brewed in conjunction with Quebec microbrewery Charlevoix and Gravenhurst's Sawdust City, this Belgian-style dubbel IPA had a dried dark fruit core reminiscent of medjool dates and raisins. There was also an intriguing yeasty and slightly medicinal undertone that reminded me of famed Trappist brewery Rocheforte's 8. The IPA twist provided more bitterness than is typically found in a dubble, but there was a Seville orange marmalade note to the beer that really melded well with the slightly bitter hop finish. Woods told me it initially smelled like Champagne and he was really happy how the collaboration turned out.
The standout beer of the evening was probably the Stichback/Switchback collaboration. According to Woods, it was the brainchild of brewery friend Victor North, who also brews at the downtown location of the 3 Brewers brewpub restaurant. North explained that he went to Kensington Market and picked up a whole bunch of interesting ingredients to make a beer evocative of something brewed in 1812 Ontario—another of this year's OCB Week themes. There were multiple batches of this beer made and each one is a little different, but some of the ingredients include spruce tips, panela or jaggery sugar (an unrefined sugar in block form), smoked malt, rye grain and an unidentified variety of hops from a planting that is 200 years old. It was a malty and layered beer with flavor and aromas of malted milk chocolate balls, bramble, dark toffee and smoke with a mild hint of bitterness and peppery, spicy rye on the finish. It's a distinctive beer that's much more malt-forward than the current local trend of hop-prominent microbrews
Those intrigued by these collaborative brews will be happy to hear that Black Oak plans to make extra kegs available to beer-focused bars like C'est What and Bar Volo. So if you're curious to try one, those are good places to visit sooner rather than later.
To accompany the beers, street food vendor favorites Comida del Pueblo were serving their famous cornbread grilled cheese, Rock Lobster was dishing out its lobster rolls and the Caplansky's Deli Truck had its smoked meat sandwiches.
At the event guests were having a good time conversing amongst themselves and with staff regarding the beers. The fact that people were lined-up and excited to spend an evening amongst the brew tanks of a microbrewery in a commercial strip mall in Etobicoke is a good indication of how much local beer culture has grown.
Written by Mike Di Caro
Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.