During the 2011 Christmas break, Bucky and his entourage toured Black Oak Brewing Company ("Black Oak") located at 75 Horner Avenue Unit #1 in Etobicoke, Ontario. Call ahead to book your tour, which costs $5 per person and includes samples of the company's two year-round brews (Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale) and whichever of its seasonals are then on offer.
Black Oak was established in 1999, and its beers are currently brewed in small batches using a 17 hectolitre brew house with four 34 hectolitre Unitanks and one 34 hectolitre Bright Beer Tank in a 4,200 sq. ft. facility. Black Oak uses reverse osmosis water during the brewing process to ensure the consistency and quality of its water supply. Both its Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale have been gold medal winners in the Great Canadian Brewing Awards.
Ken Woods, Black Oak's President
Ken Woods, Black Oak's President, showed us around the facility, beginning with samples of the brewery's Pale Ale, Nut Brown, and seasonal Oaktoberfest beers. Unfortunately for us, the brewery had been cleaned out of its Nutcracker Porter shortly before our visit due to a favourable newspaper article. While the Oaktoberfest was my personal favourite (watch for an upcoming review in the next few weeks), all three of the beers were solid brews.
While Black Oak's facility is fairly modest in size, a tour is definitely worthwhile for the chance to discuss how beer is made, the Ontario craft beer market, and the industry generally with Ken Woods. Ken is a man who obviously loves what he does...and be sure to ask him about creative uses for broken garden rakes during the tour! For me, one of the most interesting discussion points was the history of the brewery's successful, and not quite so successful experimental brews. One noticeable trait about Black Oak's facility relative to some other craft brewers is its cleanliness...as Ken himself pointed out "many things other than people like beer".
Overall, the tour is an enjoyable way to spend an hour of your weekend, and is a good idea for entertaining any beer loving visitors that you may have. Black Oak's seasonal Double Chocolate Cherry Stout will be ready some time in January, so you may want to time your tour to catch a sample of this brew.
For our first foray into Black Oak's brews, we picked up a 6 pack of their seasonal "Oaktoberfest" beer from the company's on-site retail store. The bottles were 341 ml and Oaktoberfest was 5.0% alcohol by volume. I understand that date codes are normally stamped on the bottom of Black Oak's boxes, but for whatever reason mine were stamped on the front of each bottle just below the label, with what I'm reading as an October 7, 2011 production date.
Oaktoberfest poured a slightly hazy deep copper colour, taking on more of a copper/golden hue when held up to the light. Pouring produced approximately 1" of sticky, light tan coloured head which lasted for about 5 minutes before receding into a thin film and foamy collar, leaving plenty of lacing down the glass. It's certainly a good looking beer. The aroma is dominated by sweet and toasted malts, and Oaktoberfest's flavour is fairly heavy on the malts up front (well suited to my personal taste), finishing with a mild hop bitterness which lasts for about 5 seconds after swallowing. The bitter finish balances the initial malt sweetness nicely, and though there is a bit of an aftertaste, it does not overstay its welcome. The carbonation is just right...enough to give the beer a crisp mouthfeel and heft up the body without crossing the line into gassy. In summary, a satisfying beer that represents good value for money. I'll be visiting Black Oak again next October to pick up another 6 pack ..or two.
Having enjoyed Black Oak's "Oaktoberfest" seasonal, we headed to the brewery's retail store to pick up a couple of six packs as soon as their Double Chocolate Cherry Stout ("DCCS") was available. DCCS came in a brown 341 ml bottle and was 5.8% alcohol by volume. A production date of February 13, 2012 was stamped on the bottom of the six pack, which sold for $13.50/6, equal to $2.25 per bottle.
The beer poured an opaque black, and a fairly aggressive pour produced 1" of dark tan coloured head that dissipated within 2 minutes. The head resolved itself into a collar of foam and thin film, leaving considerable lacing down the glass. Despite the darkness of the beer, some carbonation was still visible. Its aroma was dominated by woody smoke and chocolate, with hints of cocoa. I didn't really notice any cherry in the aroma. The flavour began with lots of chocolate and smoke, transitioning to a subtle, tart cherry finish. A smoky, slightly bitter aftertaste lingered, but wasn't strong enough or long lasting enough to be offensive. I found that there was just enough tart cherry in the flavour to be interesting, any less and it would pretty well pass unnoticed....and it wasn't the artificial cherry Lifesaver flavour used by some brewers. Although still quite subtle, the cherry flavour did become more noticeable as the beer warmed. Typical of a stout, DCCS had a soft carbonation and I would describe it as medium bodied. I would certainly buy DCCS again, and the beer is reasonably priced.
Bucky missed out on Black Oak's Nutcracker Porter ("Nutcracker") last Christmas when an article in the Star caused a run on the beer, but this year he managed to pick up a 6 pack at the brewery's retail store. Nutcracker came in a brown 341 ml bottle, and was 5.8% alcohol by volume. There was no visible production date on either the bottles or box, possibly because the brewery ran out of Nutcracker boxes and had to sell the beer in Nut Brown Ale boxes.
Nutcracker poured an opaque dark brown, nearly black colour, with a thin tan coloured head that quickly shrank to a collar of foam. There was little lacing or spotting left down the first half of the glass, but the remaining collar of foam left a surprising amount of lacing through the bottom half of the glass for its small size. Its aroma was mainly of chocolate and coffee malts, with a subtle presence of hops. Nutcracker had a BIG chocolate malt flavour up front, transitioning to coffee and spice, with a mild bitter coffee finish that lingered for a while as an aftertaste. Even without the added cinnamon, this would have been a good flavourful porter and nicely balanced. The beer was medium bodied, had the moderate carbonation normally characteristic of a porter, was very enjoyable on a cold winter night. I look forward to the reappearance of this beer next winter.
On the basis of some solid Black Oak brews sampled to date, Bucky picked up a 650 ml bottle of their 10 Bitter Years Imperial IPA XIII at his local liquor store. 10 Bitter Years was 8.0% alcohol by volume and this bottle had a production date of what looks like September 25, 2014 printed on the reverse.
Opening the bottle, Bucky receives a bitter hop punch in the face from the aroma, and fears that he has a serious hop bomb on his hands. The beer poured a clear, attractive dark amber colour with a fairly gentle pour producing about 2” of off-white, orange tinged head which lasted for several minutes before fading to a collar and thin film of foam. 10 Bitter Years left some attractive lacing all down the glass as the beer level receded. Its aroma was dominated by bitter grapefruit, with undertones of caramel malt and pine. Bracing himself, Bucky took his first sip. Sweet caramel malt up front, followed by a distinct grapefruit bitterness, mitigated somewhat by pine and some sweeter citrus fruits including orange and pineapple. The bitterness lingers as an aftertaste, but Bucky's fears of a hop bomb are unfounded…though distinctly bitter, the sweet malt and citrus fruits provide an effective counter balance. 10 Bitter Years had a soft carbonation and was medium bodied. Though IPA's are not my favourite style, to date, this is my favourite Canadian IPA. Perhaps a bit pricey versus competing IPAs at $6.50 per 650 ml bottle, this is a wonderful mixture of the bitter and sweet.
On Christmas day, Bucky was happy to find a bottle of Black Oak's Epiphany No. 1 (“Epiphany”) in his stocking, a Belgian style quadruple aged on cherry wood. Epiphany came in a 650 ml bottle, had a production date of September 25, 2014 printed on the label, and was 9.5% alcohol.
Epiphany poured a mahogany brown colour with orange highlights when backlit, and despite its murkiness plenty of carbonation bubbles were visible. Pouring produced about 1.5” of orange-tinged tan head, which faded to a thin film of foam after a few minutes, leaving some minor spotting as it retreated down the glass. Its aroma was primarily of sweet caramel with undertones of candi sugar and black licorice. Epiphany's taste began with a sweet caramel flavour, which gave way to more subtle notes of yeast, black licorice and candi sugar, and ended with a very mild bitterness. Bucky was hoping to pick up the cherry wood presence, but no luck on this occasion. Overall though, the flavour is as good as the Abbey style beers the Belgians brew. Epiphany had an active carbonation level with a consequent crisp mouth feel, and was medium bodied. Perhaps a bit on the pricey side at $9.95 per 650 ml, which actually makes it more expensive than its Belgian competitors.