Church-Key Northhumberland Ale | Church-Key Brewing Company

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Church-Key Northhumberland AleChurch-Key Northhumberland Ale

Brewed by:
Church-Key Brewing Company
Ontario, Canada

Style: Cream Ale

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 5.00%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
Northumberland Cream Ale is the Church Key classic and the first beer John Graham the owner and Head Brew-master at CKB produced in 2000. A personal homage to the Ontario brewing history, made following a local recipe that was used in the Northumberland Brewing taverns of the 1940s and 1950s. When you hear someone ask for a ‘Church-Key’, they are probably asking for the Northumberland Cream Ale. While cream ales are top-fermented ales, they are brewed as ale though are sometimes finished with a lager yeast, they typically undergo an extended period of cold-conditioning or lagering after primary fermentation is complete. It is also sometimes referred to as a stock ale.

15-20 IBU

Added by BeerAdvocate on 01-30-2004

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Reviews: 25 | Ratings: 37
Photo of biegaman
3.06/5  rDev +12.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Northhumberland Ale pours a picture-perfect golden and has a pristine white head courtesy of a carbonation that hastened into action like an army under siege. The bubbles look furious. I'm getting more tired watching them than they are actually working. And to think I opened this growler yesterday!

Speaking truthfully, I don't know that the smell of a Cream Ale has ever excited me; it's one of the few styles that offers virtually nothing of value aromatically. This one is no exception. In both the nose and the mouth there's a distinctly sweet and very corn-like graininess that dominates. It's very similar to that of mass-produced lager brands.

It's common knowledge in the wine world that what distinguishes the good from the bad is the quality of the grapes, the terroir, the vintage, etc. But people often forget that barley, like every crop, also has varying degrees of quality, favorable and less favorable growing sites, good and bad harvests, proper and improper storage conditions...

All sorts of factors that have nothing to do with the brewer. And the better overall quality of the barley, the more flavourful and full the beer, regardless of style. The best barley can taste so wholesome, nourishing, and satiating that a pint will substitute a home-cooked meal. Lesser quality grain tastes like plain cereal or stale tortilla chips, which is what I'm tasting here.

And there's my issue with this style in general and Northhumberland Ale specifically: the attraction of craft beer is that it offers more flavour and better quality ingredients - cream ales rarely have either. I could have paid substantially less of a premium and gotten a fairly comparable product. Church Key are good folks but I can't say I'm much of a fan of their flagship beer.

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Photo of SenorBiggles
2.9/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

The smell and initial flavour aren't great, but aren't unconvincing. Pretty grainy, with some metallic and orange juice flavours. However, it quickly fades to an unsatisfying, watery aftertaste. Not a whole lot to like here.

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Photo of DaveBar
3.63/5  rDev +33.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

Purchased as a single at the LCBO. Served at 4deg C in a tulip.

A- Opens well and pours a small head that is gone pretty fast. Dark gold. Filtered

S- Pretty good hops and a goodly amount of malt.

T- Good malt backbone. Not a complex beer. Just a refreshing moderate flavored beer

M- Pretty dry. Good aftertaste

O- Pretty good. Will not buy again as there are more beer out there to drink!

Food Pairing

This pretty good beer went well with..... chicken wings


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Photo of thehyperduck
3.18/5  rDev +16.9%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.25

341 mL bottle from a six-pack picked up at the LCBO; coded H161313:37 (I am guessing August 16 2013). Served ice cold.

Pours a clear, pale golden-amber colour, topped with one finger of frothy, soapy white head that recedes steadily over the next few minutes. A thin cap soon results, with a modest ring of lacing. Fairly sweet, uninteresting aroma that includes grainy malts, corn, honey sweetness and some bready notes. Not all that encouraging...

A drinkable ale, but not much more than that. This is a fairly bland stock ale, but about what I'd expect from this pseudo-style - bready, pale malts, grainy sweetness, a touch of honey, and some vaguely floral, earthy hops at the finish. Slightly bitter aftertaste, with some metallicity. Light-bodied, with moderate carbonation appropriate for the style - this is as sessionable as any macro lager or blonde ale, and equally dull.

Final Grade: 3.18, a C+. Church Key's Northumberland Ale is a pretty forgettable brew. Priced like a craft beer, but tasting more like an industrial blonde - I can't think of any convincing reasons to select this one over cheaper alternatives like Molson Export, Sleeman Cream Ale, etc. I'd drink this again if someone else were buying, but I'm not going to be spending money on it again. Most BAs can probably skip this one without losing out on much.

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Photo of mick303
2.76/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 3.25 | smell: 2.75 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.75

Light golden colour with a decent cap of white fluffy head. Lots and lots of carbonation.
S - graininess, light, bready, some faint grassy/earthy hops but nothing exciting.
T - really lightly bodied, bready grains, stinging amounts of sharp carbonation and metallic notes. Has a cloying finish. Some harsh lemon and a slim body, with some sour vegetal notes coming through, a bit more heft than BMC but this has nothing notable about it. Finish is wet and has shallow malts.
M - tons of carbonation and a strong metallic feel. Watery body.
Boring, overly carbonated, watery. There is nothing to recommend in this beer, a light ale a half-step above the macros it is trying (admittedly!!!) to emulate. If Church Key wants to convert beer drinkers you have to offer something different not a more expensive/harder to get example of the same watery fizz. They arent necessarily alone on that strategy in ontario sadly, but eventually people are going to be demanding actual craft beers.

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Photo of atr2605
2.49/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 3 | smell: 2.75 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.75

A-pours a golden very light copper color with a white head with decent retention
S-sweet malt, no hop aroma
T-Pretty faint flavor, bit of sweet malt in the finish, comes across as more of a macro lager with a heavier body
M-medium-light bodied
O-not a bad brew but doesn't strike me as a cream ale. Would drink it if it came my way, but wouldn't seek it out

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Photo of kjyost
2.57/5  rDev -5.5%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

An English brown ale, eh? Thanks tbeckett! Poured into a tulip around 4C.

A: Copper, clear, light white head with little lacing.
S: Not much here, some vegetal that grows as it warms, with a nice hint of malty sweetness off the top
T: English brown ale or non-descript BMC lager? Hard to tell here. The esters go towards the vegetal. A touch of sweetness from malt with hints of earthy hops. Not much going on here, and certainly nothing I would be wanting to go to again.
M: Crisp, with an odd aftertaste, likely from the vegetal aromas.
O: Now I know why people drink crap beer in ON, if this is a craft option, I too would avoid craft. That said, upon review of their website they medaled with this beer as a cream ale. A cream ale? Still not quite, but at least the description is closer.

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Photo of spinrsx
3.1/5  rDev +14%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

12oz Bottle

Appearance - Clear amber colour with an average size fizzy white coloured head. There is an average amount of carbonation showing and there isn't much lacing. The head lasted for around 4 minutes before it was gone.

Smell - Malts, caramel, bread

Taste & Mouth - There is an average amount of carbonation and I can taste malts, caramel and a very light amount of hops. There is also a bit of a rusty taste going on. The beer finishes with a malty cookie sweet aftertaste with a slight amount of bitterness.

Overall - The beer definitely isn't a brown ale.. so I'm not sure what's up with that. The taste ins't awful.. it's actually pretty decent considering what's out there for beers from Ontario. It does seems a little bit like a watered down american pale ale, and the rusty flavour kind of ruins it. But regardless, it's not as bad as some of the reviews make it out to be.

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Photo of bylerteck
2.52/5  rDev -7.4%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

Birthday present sixer from last week. Had one but didn't get to review so here it is.

A - NOT brown. Odd for a BROWN ALE. Pours a slightly dark golden colour with good carbonation. Bright. Initial two finger head faded to a cap or white, soapyness fast. No lacing and a very thin cap of retention.

S - Sweet grain, corn, some floral notes, earth. Mostly sweet grain.

T - No rich malt, nuttiness, or any other EBA characteristics. Sweet grain, some floral notes, and a sweetness that's a little much.

M - Good carbonation, medium body, and a lingering dry kinda sweetness.

O/D - This isn't a Brown Ale at all. It's not a good lager or blonde either. Just a sweet grain, one-dimensional beer. I'll find someone to drink the others.

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Photo of bryehn
3.25/5  rDev +19.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

This is not a brown ale by any means. Described on box as a stock ale similar to those produced in Eastern Ontario/Southwestern Quebec in the 1940-50s. It has much more in common with an American pale ale, so I'm treating it as such.

BB of Sept. '11, I think this may be a completely different recipe that what's been listed/reviewed here thus far.

Poured a nice deep golden colour to a moderate frothy head settles as a thick film and there is a fair amount of visible carbonation.

Has a sweet, toasted malt aroma with a honey-like tone and a sort of earthy character and a freshwater note to it. Slightly faint, but smells quite fresh.

Rather light in the taste department. Quite dry at first before sweetened toasted malt comes through on the tongue. Could definitely use more character, but there's nothing offensive in there.

Mouthfeel is on the thin side, but very crisp and extremely easy-drinking. Slightly malty, resin-like taste and feeling on the finish.

Rated as a brown ale it's terrible, but treated as an American IPA or stock-style ale, I find it decent. Seems like it would make a great patio or session beer and I'm glad I tried it and will likely buy it again, though it is a tad pricey.

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Photo of kwjd
2.81/5  rDev +3.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Pours an amber colour with thin white head. Smells quite bready, in a way that overpowers anything else. Flavour is a bit bland, lots of bread, no real sweetness or bitterness. Carbonation was ok though. I certainly don't plan on having this again, but had to try it once.

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Photo of JohnnyBarman
2.26/5  rDev -16.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

On tap at C'est What. My first offering from Church-Key.

Poured a rich golden hue, very light for the style, with some visible carbonation and a thin head with some retention.

Nose was citrus, honey, light hoppage. Floral and fruit notes as well.

A very fruity, grainy ale with something vegetable-like going on in the back. Had a very strange taste to it that I couldn't quite put my finger on, and certainly didn't care for. Desperately out of balance; needed either a bigger hop presence or something. Tasted more like a blonde ale than a brown. I ordered a spicy dish for lunch that actually paired well with this, but for the wrong reason - by numbing my tastebuds a little I could actually finish the pint.

A bit watery, slightly oily, good carbonation.

A strange-tasting ale (if one could ever call it an ale) not something I would pick up again. Something about the whole construction just felt off. Pass.

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Photo of soju6
2.63/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

A: Light golden color with a small head that fades to some lacing.

S: Fruity aroma with a hint of sweetness.

T: Taste seems to be of grain with a dry finish.

F: Fairly light body.

D: Goes best with food. Pretty bland, expected more for this style of ale.

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Photo of biboergosum
3.28/5  rDev +20.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

On-tap at C'est What.

This beer appears a clear medium golden hue, with one finger of soapy white head, which leaves a consistent wall of lace around the glass as it fades. It smells of light barley malt, and floral hops. The taste is sweet white grain, and floral, earthy hops. The carbonation is moderate, the body average weight, and it finishes more or less dry, and clean.

An all right, if fairly unremarkable, session ale.

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Photo of mrmanning
2.27/5  rDev -16.5%
look: 2 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

Bottle samples from brewery and at home-Pours a golden body with a crisp clean looking white head. Aromas are not all that strong, but a sweet citrusy and hoppy smell is what I got. Tastes a little weak, but slightly bitter. Light bodied, and very refreshing.

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Photo of MeisterBurger
1.96/5  rDev -27.9%
look: 3 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 1

Pours a light honeyed brown with a wonderfully bright white head that dies down and doesn't stick around for long.

The smell is bright, highly subdued mind you, but fresh with hints of apple juice from concentrate. Overall there's not a whole lot to say here in terms of malt, yeast or hop aromas. You know. The three main components of beer's aroma and flavor. If I get any of the three it's a bit of yeast.

The taste is a bread-like toffee, but I'm being generous, because really I'm picking up more pear like esters with a subtle hop flavor that could really use some serious help here. It's fruity and again almost has a bit of an apple juice taste and is sweet and sour more than sweet and bitter. It's almost as if someone mixed one part Sir Perry to two parts Molson Golden with just a splash of club soda and Apple Cider Vinegar and called it beer.

Mouthfeel is um..okay. I guess.

Yeah, even a beer that's intended to please the masses should taste more like a beer than this.

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Photo of allergictomacros
2.31/5  rDev -15.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 2

Pours a clear gold with an inch of frothy white head. Nose has a sharp fruitiness and honey-like sweetness. Odd flavour - yes, fruity, a bit tart with a sweet edge. Overbalanced on the estery side without anything to counterbalance. Not really very impressed with this one - perhaps a case of being too light and having defects show through?

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Photo of Viggo
3.06/5  rDev +12.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Pours a clear amber/orange, thick white head forms, lots of lace, good retention, looks pretty decent. Smell is grainy, lots of malt, vegetables, some citrus, light sourness. Taste is similar, very dry and grainy, lots of vegetables, big of bready caramel, balanced finish. Mouthfeel is light bodied with medium carbonation. Not as bad as I have heard, but the vegetables are kind of strange.

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Photo of crwills
3.52/5  rDev +29.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

When had fresh, this beer isn't bad. Pours a cloudy yellow, not as pale as light macros but reasonably so. Look unfiltered. Decent sized white bubbly head when poured at the right temperature.

Aroma is faint, but mostly floral. I don't detect any adjuncts... mild yeast, no hops to speak of, some clover or other field flowers, and a little bit of fruit (maybe pineapple?).

Taste is not too bad. Mouthfeel is actually really nice. Smooth and oily (almost a little overly so). Very mild floral hops, fruitiness is not present in the flavour. Tastes very 'fresh,' although there's a slight metallic edge to it on some sips. There's some other unusual flavour in there I can't identify that separates this beer from other similar ones. Not a bad flavour.

Oh, and just to note -- I'm not reviewing this as though it were an English Brown, because it very obviously isn't. Probably an American Blonde Ale, as it's definitely lager-like.

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Photo of Cwrw
2.18/5  rDev -19.9%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 2 | overall: 2

Thanks to 42ndtourist for the sample. From Campbellford, Ontario comes Church-Key Brewing. The Northumberland Ale label is fairly plain, showing a brown church on an almost peach-coloured background. It poured with a big styrofoam-white head, and is this beer unfiltered? This bottle certainly was, I could see the haze floating freely in the tangerine-coloured beer, and the bottom of the bottle shows substantial sediment. This beer is super-hazy. Decent lace. Overall, the appearance is nice enough, if not quite what I expected. This is NO brown ale, though. Mainly vanilla-like malt on the nose, a little sour, like Big Rock's Traditional Ale. The malts smell allright, but there is almost no complexity to the beer whatsoever. Grainy sweetish malt, a little caramel, and no detectable hops. As I taste, I sincerely hope this beer is spoilt. Watery, tart and lacking any ale tastes whatsover. What is this? The beer tastes like lemon-water. The mouthfeel is thin and watery, and the drinkability is nill. There must be something wrong with this beer--tell me there is. If this is the way the actual beer tastes, shame on Church-Key. Not acceptable. I hope my sink is thirsty.

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Photo of Sammy
1.93/5  rDev -29%
look: 2 | smell: 1.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

Fishy smell, pale yellow and thin head. Close to a drain pour. Thin with a tad of graininess and grassiness. Did C'est What serve this up appropriately? No substance nor taste. sweetness and bitterness, grassy. Doesn't work. Tried it again 2.5 years later, why is this being carried anymore?

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Photo of baiser
3.04/5  rDev +11.8%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

First off, this is definitely not a brown ale. It is more of a pale ale than anything.

Poured a pale yellow colour, with a small head, little retention, no lacing. Served in a Church Key pint glass at Volo Caffe.

Taste was quite distinctive, but not something I would call 'pleasant'. It took me a while to find the words to describe the taste, but in the end I settled on 'almond-like' taste. The end is dry, grainy and moderately hopped.

Overall a less than average ale. Would not have again. I've tried the maple cranberry wheat too...overall I'm losing faith in this brewery.

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Photo of Popsinc
2.16/5  rDev -20.6%
look: 3 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 2

By the looks of things, this was hardly a brown ale or amber ale at all. This looked like a pretty generic pilsner to me. In fact, the comparisons didn't end there. Pale yellow in colour. Almost no nose whatsoever...maybe some grain. The taste was bland with sweet hints of corn. A very light body that was neither crisp or complex. Either i was served the completely wrong beer or Churchkey made a really bad ale.

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Photo of DrJay
1.41/5  rDev -48.2%
look: 2.5 | smell: 1.5 | taste: 1 | feel: 3 | overall: 1

Clear yellow colour with a very thin white head that quickly disappeared. Some spiciness in the aroma, reminiscent of noble lagering hops without the depth of character. It had a medium body, appropriate for a pale ale. The flavour was not enjoyable at all. Mostly just bland with a slight bit of bitterness, the dominant flavour was sourness that lingered on the palate and continued to build through the pint. Two of us tried to finish it, and we ended up leaving a third of a pint on the table.

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Photo of TerryW
2.05/5  rDev -24.6%
look: 2 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

Pours crystal clear and bright, bright golden yellow. No head, no lace. Except for a few bubbles this could pass for a glass of apple juice.

Putting your nose to this could throw you for a loop. Grassy and hoppy, but smells like it's been run through a horse. I can appreciate a touch of the barnyard in a beer, but this is over the top.

Dry mouthfeel, hops up front and some lingering hops, but doesn't really offer anything else. Too rough and harsh. Unpleasant vegetal odours, slightly sulphorous.

Sorry. Just does not work.

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Church-Key Northhumberland Ale from Church-Key Brewing Company
2.72 out of 5 based on 37 ratings.
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