Drinking Ontario – The Rifleman’s Ration

For the past week or so, I’ve been at a cottage which is situated virtually on the beach at Lake Huron and which, for whatever reason, has virtually no cell phone reception, and no trace of anything like an “internet service provider.” Accordingly, as you might imagine, I’ve had very few decisions to make every day aside from how early I should crack my first beer and when I need to fire up the barbecue for lunch. I’ve also had ample time under the influence to create stupid word combinations–or stuwocombos–in an effort to save time.

It’s possible I got too much sun.

Anyway, in order to prepare for my vacation, I first took a trip to the Summerhill LCBO, aka my happy place. As a sort of experiment and a means by which to drunkenly preach my own fiercely local brand of craft beer evangelism when people joined my wife and I at the cottage, I made it my mission to bring up almost exclusively Ontario-made beers.

My haul included:

  • Tankhouse Ale from Mill Street
  • Wind Sail Dark Ale from Barley Days
  • Imperial Stout from Wellington
  • Augusta Ale from Kensington Brewing Company
  • Steam Whistle Pilsner
  • Cream Ale and Mad Tom from Muskoka Brewery
  • Dead Elephant IPA from Railway City Brewing Company
  • Smashbomb Atomic IPA from Flying Monkeys
  • Hops and Robbers from Double Trouble Brewing Company
  • Crazy Canuck and Orange Peel Ale from Great Lakes Brewery
  • Oranje Weisse from Amsterdam Brewery
  • Lug Tread Lagered Ale from Beau’s All Natural, and
  • Rifleman’s Ration from Black Creek Historic Brewing

In addition to some Rosée de Hisbiscus from non-Ontario brewer Dieu du Ciel!, some ginger beer, and a bunch of cider, I also threw in a good portion of scotch, some gin and, naturally, some Pimm’s–however it was the last item on the list above about which I was perhaps most beer-nerd-excited, or beenercited if you will.

The Rifleman’s Ration, the first in a series of 12 “Historic Beers of Canada” that will be offered by the historic brewery located at Toronto’s Black Creek Pioneer Village, is not only a limited beer brewed to commemorate the war of 1812, it’s also perhaps the first beer I’ve ever been able to find that is composed entirely of ingredients from Ontario. Which perhaps doesn’t sound like much, but to a locavore-beer-geek like me, or locabegee, it was an exciting prospect indeed. Furthermore, it’s no small achievement, really. Among my plethora of Ontario-based beer, there was nothing else in my weighed-down shopping cart that could boast all-Ontario ingredients.  In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of any other beer that could or has ever been able to make such claims in the past. The fact is, the vast majority of the hops used in Ontario beer are shipped up from the United States and the barley is usually from Saskatchewan. There was much ado about the “City Hops Project” a while ago, but when I first met Luke and Mike, the boys from Bellwoods Brewery, they admitted the project was largely just something with which to kill time until their brewery was up and running and then the local media simply got a little over-excited about the whole idea. Accordingly, no all-Ontario beer ever came out of Bellwoods Brewery. I’m also fairly certain that Brock Shepherd, the brains behind both Burger Bar and Kensington Brewing Company, has also publicly mused about the idea of using Toronto-grown hops for a one-off, all local beer, but it too has yet to come to fruition.

So you can imagine my beernercitement that morning when a lacabegee like me realized that The Rifleman’s Ration–the mythical all-Ontario beer I’d yet to try–was now available at the LCBO (I knew Rifleman’s Ration existed–it was first brewed at the beginning of Ontario Craft Beer week back in June–I just hadn’t had any yet). Anyway, I provide this merely as background–

Could you please shut up, stop making up dumb compound words, and just tell us what it fucking tastes like?!

Fair enough interjecting bold letters, fair enough.

The beer poured a dark amber/copper colour and had a fairly decent, fluffy head–notable given that Black Creek Brewery uses methods employed in the 1860s, thus no carbonation. The head didn’t stick around too long but it helped with the initial aroma, which was a really pleasant sort of smoky caramel and toasted malts. Nice.

Despite my first impressions based on smell, my first taste actually wasn’t all that pleasant. The beer’s most notable quality on first drink was a sort of bitterness, though the roasted malt taste was there, too. It was just quite subtle.

This is about the time, however, that I realized that I was drinking The Rifleman’s Ration far too cold. I had pulled it directly from  cooler and cracked the bottle, foolishly forgetting that beer circa the 1800s should probably be enjoyed at room temperature (as it handily also notes on the bottle I chose to ignore in my excitement to drink it).

After the beer warmed up slightly, something that took no time in the sun, it was actually considerably better. The toasted malt flavours were more pronounced and were joined with a sort of earthy, nutty flavour. I’m definitely glad I had the patience to let it warm up. I’m not sure if it meets the 1860s business model, but Black Creek might want to take a reverse cue from another brewer and have have the Red Coat pictured on the label turn dark red when the beer is finally warm enough to drink. Just a thought.

The beer’s finish was all malt and just a little sweet. It was also remarkable smooth with almost no–uch–mouthfeel.

Overall, it’s a thoroughly solid beer. Like the Black Creek porter and stout, this is simple a good beer. There’s nothing here that’s going to turn anyone off and probably nothing here to get overly excited about, but for the simple fact that it boasts 100% Ontario ingredients and was brewed using the methods that would have been used by brewers in the 1860s, it’s worth the $3.59 for the 500ml bottle.

I recommend picking up a few bottles of The Rifleman’s Ration and a six pack of Prince Edward County brewer’s Barley Days’ Royal George Brown Ale–also brewed to celebrate the bicentennial of the war of 1812–and having yourself a nice little historically themed Ontario drinking night–or histotheondrini.

4 thoughts on “Drinking Ontario – The Rifleman’s Ration

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