Block Three Brewing and Sugar Bush Brown

Recently I posted an introduction to Block Three Brewing in St. Jacobs and their inaugural King St. Saison beer. Today we’ll take a look at their second offering, the Sugar Bush Brown ale, the name hinting at the addition of local maple syrup to give it a bit of a twist.

I love brown ales. Plenty of body and flavour, and very social, but not overly fussy. (Yes, some brewers consider them boring and unchallenging. So be it.) I was pretty happy that the first of Block Three’s offerings I got to sample was a brown ale, though we had to cut ourselves off from Derek’s generous pours, given we hadn’t had lunch yet…

The saison is a traditionally Belgian style of beer, whereas brown ales are traditionally English. Also, whereas saison was never really a majorly commercial beer, brewers have been making brown ales in the UK for centuries. They’ve specifically been called “brown ales” by brewers there since the 1600s.

These days brown ales span a considerable range of geographies, malt profiles, and degrees of hoppiness, but originally they were mild ales, lightly hopped, and brewed entirely with brown malt. In the northern UK, the brown ales tend to be stronger and drier, whereas in the south they are milder and sweeter. As with so many styles, in North America brewers have made this style their own, so American brown ales can vary widely in flavours and colours.

These days brown ales tend to fall under one of three profiles: sweet, nutty, or hoppy. The former two are the more likely profiles found in the UK, and the latter is newer and largely the purview of American brewers, particularly homebrewers, among whom strong hopping has been very trendy in recent years. Additionally, North American hops varieties tend to impart strong flavours and aromas.

The “mildness” refers to the lower amount of alcohol in the beers, and even today in the UK it’s not uncommon for “real ales” to be under 4% ABV. Sugar Bush Brown is a bit more of an American style ale, and clocks in at 4.8% ABV.

Brown ales are fairly dark in colour, ranging from rich chestnut to a dark chocolate brown. So it shouldn’t surprise you that chocolate malt is often used in the brewing. Crystal malt is also common. You might expect the darkness to be accompanied by bitterness, but this isn’t the case. The Sugar Bush Brown is smooth and milder in flavour than the colour might lead you to expect, lacking either heavy hopping or heavily roasted flavours. This style of beer is meant to be drunk easily, often several at a time with one’s mates.

Brown ales and mild ales are often fairly similar, and like mild ales brown ales can be fairly sweet, though not in the way that many fruity summer seasonals are sweet. However, if you sample the Sugar Bush Brown expecting to get a strong hit of maple syrup, you might be surprised.

Yeasts typically consume most of the sugars they’re provided, so adjuncts like maple syrup are more likely to end up imparting other flavours rather than sweetness. Look for those homey characteristics to linger on the tongue rather than explode up front. (Brewers can add more maple syrup at bottling time to intensify the maple flavours.)

Brown ales will often have some of the richer notes of stouts or porters that are imparted with the more darkly roasted malts. However, these flavours are not present nearly as intensely. Most commonly, the roast of the malt will impart some or all of three delicious Cs: caramel, cocoa, and coffee. Nutty characteristics appear when toasted malts are used in brewing. The Sugar Bush Brown’s dominant characteristics are toasty and nutty, especially in aroma, with those cocoa and coffee flavours.

To what meal would a Sugar Bush Brown ale be a tasty accompaniment? As with many beers, barbeque is a good choice, as are roasted meats. Cheeses would pair well, too, particularly aged ones or those with strong characteristics like blues. Smoked meats and cheeses would also pair well, as would roasted root veggies. Really, brown ales are the perfect accompaniment to fall foods.

Block Three will be back open this Friday, October 11th, with beers available, and don’t miss their Blocktoberfest launch party next Friday on October 18th.

Block Three Brewing and King St. Saison

Recently Block Three Brewing opened up in St. Jacobs next to/behind Benjamin’s. We’ve welcomed them heartily into the community, running them dry a few times already. Good problem to have, in a way, and a good statement on the quality of their beer. Couldn’t happen to nicer guys. (Though so far I’ve only laid eyes on two of the four. I’ll find you, Polkaroo brewers!) Derek informs me they’ve added new tanks and are brewing with all of them now, so lots more beer to come!

Block Three has gotten some great coverage already, so no need to re-hash the basics. Learn more about them and where to get their brews on their site or here and here, or some other spots listed on their site. Or just head down there and say hi.

The gents started out with King St. Saison, soon adding Sugar Bush Brown, a brown ale brewed with some local maple syrup. As much as they can they use local ingredients in all their beers. Soon to come will be their “Blocktoberfest” (beer names are the only puns I embrace), their take on a traditional Oktoberfest style Märzen, though Block Three’s offering will be an ale rather than a pale lager. Also coming soon is an English Style Pale Ale, which really needs a pithy name.

I’ve had the good fortune to sample the first two beers, and quite enjoyed both. So what are these beers about? I’ll cover the King St. Saison in this post (and a bit about brewing and its constituent elements, though not in great detail), and the Sugar Bush Brown in the next post.

The King St. Saison is a Belgian pale ale, which a fair bit different in appearance and flavour from the upcoming English Style one. Once you’ve tasted Belgian style beers, you’ll notice some distinct and consistent characteristics, which many wheat beers also share.

There is a certain fruitiness to the taste, though not in the same way as a lambic or fruit beer. Many saisons also have a spiciness to them, though King St. is reasonably mild that way. Saison is also a more crisp-tasting and milder beer than you get with Belgian dubbels or tripels (Belgian style strong pale ales). “Strong” in beer usually refers to alcohol content.

Back in the day, this was a style of beer commonly brewed by farmers and the like, rather than commercially. A great way to refresh your hot and tired farm workers that was safer than chugging water in those times. It could be brewed in the summer or fall and stored over the winter to be available the following spring and summer.

Block Three keeps their ABV (alcohol by volume) fairly low, which tends to be how the English do things in brewing. It’s about beers with good flavour and body, but not too heavy or too hot (high alcohol), enabling you to enjoy a few pints and still remember where you live to get home. 🙂 There has been a trend the last few years among American style ales toward much higher ABV, from 6-8% and more. The higher the alcohol, however, the harder it is to balance the flavours so you can actually taste something other than “booze”.

Saison has fairly good carbonation, which gives it a crispness, though you’re not talking something on par with a Coke or champagne, and the finish is very smooth, not biting on the tongue. The lightness and crispness of these beers is also why they’ve been popular in the summer. The yeasts traditionally used to ferment them tend to work better at warmer temperatures, too.

Saison beers used to be fairly strongly hopped because of hops’ ability to act as a preservative before the advent of refrigeration. The seed cones of the hops plant are used in brewing, and also impart flavour, aroma, and bitterness. Saison doesn’t require that degree of hopping anymore, so this beer is quite mildly hopped. That means it’s not really bitter, or doesn’t taste like grapefruit, which many strongly hopped beers, like Imperial Pale Ale, or IPA, do. Will have to see if the Block Three guys will share their hops varieties…

In fact, with saison, you want the flavours from the yeast to be more prominent, so you need a hops variety more noticeable for aroma than flavour. Noble hops are commonly used in saison, which are types that tend to be more common in European beers. Did you know that hop plants are perennial vines that can grow to 50 feet?

King St. Saison is a fairly light, golden colour, which tells us that it was brewed with a pale malt. The darker the malt, the darker the colour (and flavour) of the beer, and malts get darker by being toasted. The darkest malts result in nearly black beers like stouts or porters. Malts are the germinated grains, typically barley, used in brewing. Pilsner malts are commonly used for saisons (though I am not sure which malt Block Three uses). “Adjuncts” like candi sugar or honey are sometimes added to complement the malt as well. The sugars are what the yeast eats in fermentation, whether they come from the grain or are added.

To what meal would King St. Saison be a tasty accompaniment? Barbeque, certainly, particularly seasoned meats like sausages. Richly seasoned or spicy dishes like curries would be delicious as well.

To try the beers for yourself, aside from the various pubs and restaurants, you can sample from the taps at the brewery, buy litre bottles, or refillable growlers (64 oz. or 1.9L). Or if you’re having a party, splash out and get a keg.

Next up: what’s in a Brown Ale? And what happens when you add maple syrup?


This is a picture I did not take of a little boy in Spider-man jammies, sitting in the kid seat of a grocery store cart, singing/chanting a fairly catchy made-up song to his toy car, which, in hand, he was making dance along the hand rail. And he stopped just long enough as I passed to flash me the biggest, most infectious grin, which I could not help but return, and then resumed his song, which remained stuck in my head all the way to the parking lot.


This is a picture I did not take of a little boy trying to climb a wrought iron fence, with his mother trying to haul him off of it by pulling on the long “tail” of his Winnie the Pooh backpack, which was really just a semi-disguised child harness. (It wasn’t working.)


This is a picture I did not take of an Old Order Mennonite woman at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market giving a “weirdo” look to a young man decked out in his finest steampunk garb (including top hat and goggles) at 8am on a Saturday morning.

Help me showcase interesting design in Waterloo Region

Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge… and beyond! What do you see on your daily commute, while walking the dog, or out for a night on the town? What buildings or architectural features do you love, hate, or find striking?

For the Fluxible conference attendees, I want to showcase some of the interesting design tidbits around the Region. But I only have two eyes and so many pictures, and I know there are folks out there with amazing photography skills and a fine eye for design. Help a girl out?

I will be selecting a bunch of the coolest pictures of buildings, art, flora, and who knows what else, to showcase our home and native land to folks coming to the conference. Sure, it’ll help out-of-towners get to know Waterloo Region (we’re more than Old Order Mennonites and tech companies!), but I bet even the locals will be surprised at things they never knew were there.

So what do I need you to do? Email URLs of photos or your favourite examples of interesting design from around the Region. Or attach pictures to an email. I will curate and assemble a slideshow and cite what, where, and by whom (that’s you). You will receive my eternal gratitude. My email address:

Can’t wait to see what you see. 🙂


This is a picture I did not take of a middle-aged woman with elaborate, bleached blonde hair, a black miniskirt and strappy, sky-high stilettos, leaning very heavily on a cane while walking slowly from the parking garage to the hospital.

Tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen…

So, I got myself a job. Kinda had to eventually, though doing the freelance thing has been really interesting. (The constant hustle, administrivia, etc. really isn’t my bag long-term, though.)

Anyway, I start on Monday, May 14th, as Community Manager, Developer Relations, at RIM.

Derp?I’ll just give a few of you a moment to enjoy that needle getting yanked off a record sound in your heads.

Yep, I am well aware that I’ve said I wouldn’t work there. (Side note: never bother to use “never” statements in life; it just makes the gods laugh.) There are certainly plenty of areas of the company where I still wouldn’t work. I know too much of the history and not enough has changed.

Except then the sneaky bastards went and posted a community management role, and stuck “Developer Relations” onto it. Professional geek wrangling. Which is about as up my alley as jobs get.

Additionally, it’s an area of the company that is being built/re-built, and there’s a very different feel there. And not a single person I’ve talked to was wearing rose-coloured glasses of any kind. People know shit’s broken. And they’re of the “How’re we gonna fix it?” and “What’re we going to build next?” ilk. Those are my kinda folks. It also didn’t hurt that I’d be working in close proximity to some people who’re already friends.

Do I have concerns about going back to work for a big company, and one that clearly has some big issues? Sure. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t. And I don’t tend to drink anybody’s Koolaid. But of the offers I received, this one ended up making the most sense. We’ll see if my brain and gut were right. 🙂

In the community management game, you learn very quickly that there are two kinds of people who complain: the ones who’re genuinely trying to do something, and are just frustrated, and the trolls. If I can help out the folks who are genuinely trying to do something, I’ll be happy.

PostRank gave me the opportunity to be a part of building a new industry. It was fascinating and educational stuff (on good days). 🙂 I suspect what there is to learn about rebuilding part of an industry will be even more so. And so it begins…

Behold! The power of cake!

Back in April, I wanted to pick up cupcakes for a friend’s birthday. Alas, or, perhaps, serendipitously, as it was Easter Monday, the Cake Box was closed, and I was forced to seek sugary goodness elsewhere.

The fine people of Twitter provided several recommendations, and we checked out Vincenzo’s, who did, indeed, have a selection of cupcakes from Tiny Cakes, of whom I’d never heard. They’re a bakery out of Galt. I picked up half a dozen, noting the name of one in particular: Knotty Pine Buttered Almond.

Wasn’t that a blast from the past.

Knotty Pine Buttered Almond CupcakeY’see, from birth to age four, my family lived in Preston, pretty much literally around the corner from the Knotty Pine restaurant, which was located where The Pines is now at Fountain and King. And my Mom loved their Buttered Almond cake. (Seriously, I remembered the name of a cake from when I was four. LOVE.)

So I checked out Tiny Cakes’ website, and sure enough: “based on the Knotty Pine recipe”. I mentioned it to Mom, and said I’d have to get her some cupcakes to test its accuracy, which I did this past weekend as the family was getting together for brunch. In the mean time, I’d also gone back to the website and noted that they did actual cakes, too. Eeeexcellent.

The verdict? They got it right. Mom said from the first taste of the icing it all came back to her. She also told me a story I hadn’t known. When my brother and I were really little, on Saturday evenings after we were in bed, she’d call the Knotty Pine and order two burgers and two pieces of cake, then during intermission of the hockey game, Dad would drive over and pick up the food, and they’d have a healthy, low calorie dinner while watching the rest of the game. 🙂

She also said she put the rest of the cupcakes in the freezer to ration them. Except that wasn’t working out very well, since she said the other evening she didn’t even wait for the cupcake to thaw before she started to eat it. Heh.

Unsurprisingly, I got curious, so picked one up for myself today. It was, indeed, a damned tasty cupcake. And there was a certain familiarity to the flavour. As luck would have it, Mother’s Day is coming up on May 13th. Then my parents’ 45th anniversary is on May 20th. Then my birthday is June 11th…

Let them eat cake? Don’t mind if we do…


This is a picture I did not take of a middle-aged woman and an elderly woman walking out of the local mall, the elderly woman carrying a cellophane-wrapped gift basket of Justin Bieber’s Someday perfume.