Hop Harvest: 2014 Edition

A sure sign that autumn approaches: our hops have been harvested!


Last weekend, Head Gardener Sandra Spudic and I teamed up with a band of intrepid hop harvesters to gather in our crop for Ed’s Wet Hop Ale. After introductions in the Visitors’ Centre, we went straight to our hop garden behind Laskay’s Emporium. The air was cool and fresh from recent rains – perfect weather for harvesting. As we admired the hop trellises, Sandra told us a bit about their cultivation.

Hops grow fairly quickly and easily, but they are vulnerable to dampness. You need a lot of airflow to ensure healthy plants – hence the wide spacing between our trellises. Sandra describes training the hops as a “Maypole effect.” That is, three plants grow up and around the central pole. When they reach the top, some of the more vigorous ones start spiraling back down!

I then shared a bit about the history of brewing with hops. Hops have two major uses in beer. Their lupulin, the yellowish powder found in female hops, acts as a bittering agent (it also creates a mild soporific effect) and the oils and resins in the hops helps to keep beer from souring. However, hops were not always used in brewing.


The first reference to cultivated hops dates from 736, and they were used in brewing in the Low Countries by the eleventh century. Otherwise, beer was brewed with gruit, a mixture of herbs including bog myrtle, yarrow, and rosemary that flavoured the beer, but did not provide hops’ preservative benefits. While we consider ale a subset of beer today, this was not always the case either. Until the sixteenth century, they were two different beverages, with a distinction was made between hopped beer and un-hopped ale.

But hops encountered resistance. Partly, this was because the English were particularly protective of their national drink, which was un-hopped ale. As well, the right to produce gruit (the gruitrecht) was granted by your lord: if you wanted your gruitrecht, you had to pay for it. Hops had no such right attached; shifting away from gruit therefore meant less money going to the lords.

However, the benefits of hops outweighed these arguments, and they were more-or-less accepted for use in brewing by 1600. By the 1860s, they were an expected component of beer, and ale had come to mean a beer brewed with top-fermenting yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), in contrast to lagers, which were brewed with bottom-fermenting yeasts (Saccharomyces uvarum).


After filling two bushel baskets, we carried our bounty down to Ed. Usually, hops are dried before brewing, but for this very special Wet Hop Ale, we put them straight in. Our harvesters assisted with adding the hops to the boil and ensuring that everything was well-stirred.

We then said goodbye to Ed and learned about another important component of beer: barley and malt! Sandra showed us the barley fields, and then it was off to the grain barn for some threshing and winnowing. Threshing with a flail takes skill and a nimble wrist. Our harvesters did very well; I did not.

I would blame the crinoline, but we all know that blame is misplaced.

The process of winnowing separates grain from chaff. One method involves tossing threshed barley with a blanket and hoping for a stiff breeze. We used our fanning mill instead. A hand-turned fan creates the necessary wind, whilst weed seeds pass through an inclined screen, leaving our clean barley to fall out the other end.

The fanning mill's inner workings (courtesy www.etc.usf.edu)

The fanning mill’s inner workings (courtesy http://www.etc.usf.edu)

After all that work, our harvesters deserved a break! In our historic restaurant, they sampled cookies and bread made from Ed’s spent grains, while I discussed the social history of beer and brewing in nineteenth century Ontario. Naturally, a beer tasting followed.  :)

Thank you to all our harvesters for all your hard work! And thank you very much to Sandra Spudic for an amazing event. As I type this, the Wet Hop Ale is fermenting down in the brewery. It should be aged up and ready to hit the fridges by September 4th – watch this space for updates.

Hoppy drinking!

- Katie

PS. Don’t forget, we have another fantastic event coming soon! A Spirited Affair is less than a month away! You can sample craft beer, wine, and spirits while enjoying the best of the 1860s and 1960s – click here for more information.

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(Extra-Special) New Brew: Honey Brown Ale

We have a new brew! And it is a very unique beer indeed. During last year’s Spirited Affair fundraiser, one of the silent auction prizes was the chance to design your own beer. Two weeks ago, our lucky winner Joel dropped by Black Creek for a day of brewing alongside Ed.

Joel’s offering is a Honey Brown Ale. For this beer, our brewers have used buckwheat honey. Buckwheat honey is fairly dark, and known for a spicy, malty taste—which is lovely for brewing!

Buckwheat Honey (via www.backtotheland.ca)

Buckwheat Honey (via http://www.backtotheland.ca)

This beer is a rich brown colour, similar in hue to our usual Brown Ale. Smooth and rounded on the tongue, it has a little more weight than the standard brown ale as well. The honey shows up as a subtle sweetness on the aftertaste—in some ways, you feel it more than anything, as an extra bit of depth to the brew. At 5% ABV, this is a mellow beer, perfect for winding down those hot summer days and thinking about the first winds of autumn.

The Honey Brown Ale is available at the Black Creek Historic Brewery until our stocks run out. And then—well, a Spirited Affair is coming up again! Who knows? Maybe next year you’ll be designing one of our brews!




PS. If you missed the Global TV segment on the Black Creek Historic Brewery, you can find it here: they have footage of Joel and Ed making the Honey Brown Ale!



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A Spirited Affair meets Rowland Burr: Temperance Advocate

A Spirited Affair is coming quickly! On September 25th, we’ll be having a night of wine, whisky, beer, music, and food to fundraise for the restoration of our Burwick House.


Ironically, the man behind Burwick was a staunch temperance advocate. Rowland Burr (1798-1865) was born in Philadelphia, but moved with his family to Canada as a young boy. He was a contractor, landowner, and Justice of the Peace. While he didn’t live in our Burwick House, he established the village in which it was built (Burrwick: now Woodbridge). From 1851 onwards, he lived in a large house in Toronto—the 1861 census lists him as living in St. Andrew’s ward (between Queen/King and Yonge/Strachan streets) with his wife Hester. That census also lists him as being a Wesleyan Methodist, which may partly explain his attitude towards alcohol.

I first found an outside reference to Burr in an American treatise on temperance: it referenced a “Mr. Burr, Esq.” who had petitioned the Canadian legislature to adopt prohibition. “Say,” I thought, “I wonder if that’s our Mr. Burr.”

Spoiler: it was.

In 1860, Burr published a pamphlet of extracts from temperance-related reports. Some of them from an 1834 British parliamentary inquiry into drunkenness; the majority were from The Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly of Canada on the Prohibitory Liquor Law (1859).

Burr felt that alcohol was dangerous, but more, a twisted use of divine gifts: “…an immense amount of wholesome and nutritious grain given by a bountiful Providence for the food of man, which is now by distillation converted into a poison” (5). The symbolism here is potent. Grain which is given by God (think of the importance of the bread of life in an Evangelical/religious context) is instead transformed into something sinful.

Indeed, according to the Committee, intemperance was the reason behind most of the suffering, sorrow, and poverty in Canada. Burr himself was particularly worried about the role alcohol played in encouraging crime and pauperism. This is in itself very telling of the Victorian mind. In the nineteenth century worldview, poverty was a moral failing and/or defect. Alcohol just made you a worse person.

Won't someone think of the children??? (Courtesy www.victorianweb.org)

Won’t someone think of the children??? (Courtesy http://www.victorianweb.org)

Hence why Burr was pushing not just for increased control of liquor sales, but for outright prohibition:

“I believe the morals of the public are greatly injured by the use of intoxicating liquors. My experience as a Justice of the Peace and Jail Commissioner for nearly 20 years, shews that 9 out of 10 of the male prisoners and 19 out of 20 of the female prisoners, have been brought there by intoxicating liquors. I have visited the Jails from Quebec to Sandwich through the length and breadth of Canada, and I have personally examined nearly 2000 prisoners…they nearly all signed a petition that I presented to them for a Maine Liquor Law, many of them stating that it was their only hope of being saved from utter ruin, unless they could go where intoxicating liquors were not sold.” (20)

Here’s where the story gets particularly interesting: the Maine Liquor Law that Burr references is in fact the prohibition legislation that had been passed in Maine in 1851. You know, the same Maine Law that we learned about last month. Burr was also very keen to get Neal Dow, the temperance-loving/alcohol-hoarding mayor of Portland, up to Toronto. Dow couldn’t make it, but did communicate with the Canadian Committee about the history and operation of his prohibitory system in Maine.

We meet again, Mr. Dow (courtesy www.fineartamerica.com)

We meet again, Mr. Dow (courtesy http://www.fineartamerica.com)

There are a few things to tease out here. First, it’s interesting to see how well-organized and far-reaching the temperance movement had become by the 1850s. These temperance advocates are reaching across national borders, drawing on the experience of other figures in their field. It’s a more consolidated movement.

Second, it’s interesting to see the transition from “tempering” alcohol consumption by avoiding hard liquors, to prohibiting all alcoholic beverages: from controlling alcohol to criminalizing it. Burr states several times throughout his report that measures aimed at simply regulating the sale of alcohol do nothing to curb intemperance; the only way to solve the problem is to ban alcohol outright. This is certainly a strengthening of rhetoric and attitude. Temperance advocates are becoming more rigid, more extreme in their views, and more willing to adopt radical measures.

Finally, Burr also includes several references to former/current alcoholics who support the Maine Law. Essentially, they claim that they are slaves to alcohol, and thus they have more freedom to enjoy their rights without it. I suspect Burr is trying to circumvent the argument that the government is restricting the populace’s rights and freedom through prohibition by reframing ideas of liberty. To his mind, he’s actually giving people more freedom: the freedom from the control of alcohol.

The extracts themselves are fascinating reading and give great insight into the dialogue that was happening at the time. Temperance ties itself up in so many other social and political issues—like many other parts of brewing history, it’s not solely about beer!


PS. Dear Mr. Burr: I hope that you are okay with our using alcohol sales to restore the house you built.

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New Brew: Simcoe Hopped Ale

We hope you had an excellent long weekend! The celebrations aren’t over in the brewery, though. We still have plenty of our August specialty beer: the Simcoe Hopped Ale.

As you may have guessed, this beer was brewed in honour of the holiday. Civic Holiday lands on the first Monday in August, and it’s celebrated through most of Canada. Personally, I enjoy the name “Civic Holiday” (it may just be me, but it reads as “Long Weekend For The Sake Of It Day”),  but as it turns out, the holiday has different names in different parts of the country. In Toronto (not the rest of Ontario, just Toronto), it’s been known as “Simcoe Day” since 1969.

Attempts to get the rest of the province to call the holiday “Simcoe Day” haven’t been successful. Luckily, the Black Creek Historic Brewery falls within Toronto’s limits!


John Graves Simcoe (1725-1806)  Courtesy www.archives.gov.on.ca)

John Graves Simcoe (1725-1806)
Courtesy http://www.archives.gov.on.ca)

John Graves Simcoe was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Born in England on February 25, 1752, he established himself as a military officer, commanding the Queen’s Rangers in the American Revolutionary War. Following the Constitutional Act of 1791, Simcoe was appointed the first Lieutenant Governor of the newly-created Upper Canada. Though he only remained in Upper Canada until 1796, Simcoe left an indelible mark on the province’s history.

To name just a few: he was the driving force behind the Act Against Slavery (1793), established the town of York (now Toronto), and began construction on a road system that included Yonge and Dundas streets. Simcoe’s impact on the province is made even more remarkable by the brevity of his time here.

And so, it seems fitting to honour Simcoe with a new brew. Our Simcoe Hopped Ale is a North American pale ale. Surprisingly, given the name, Simcoe hops originate from Washington state—they’re known for their aromatic qualities and fruity fragrance.

The Simcoe Hopped Ale is amber-orange in colour, with quite a lot of orange on the nose as well. The taste is more grapefruit and earthy notes, though. The hops are noticeable on the front of the tongue, but overall, this is a smooth beer. If you like the citrus notes of our North American IPA, but find the hops a bit intense, this may be a good beer to try.

The Simcoe Hopped Ale will be available in the historic brewery while supplies last. See you at the brewery!



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1800s Beer Slang

There’s something inherently amusing about hearing slang different from your own. “What?” you say. “You call what a what?” Then you go on about “double-doubles” and “two-fours,” and people give you funny looks.

Slang evolves over time, and it tends to be fairly regional (just ask a New Zealander about hokey pokey). We’ve got our own terms for alcoholic beverages – two-fours, mickeys, handles, and so on – and so did the Victorians. In fact, they had rather a lot of terms for beer in general, and very specific types of beer as well – just goes to show you how important it was to everyday life!

Here are just a few examples I’ve found in Victorian slang dictionaries. Grab a top o’ reeb, you malty coves, and we’ll see you in the jerry for bitters!


Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811).

Act of Parliament: a military term for small beer, five of pints of which, by an act of parliament, a landlord was formerly obliged to five to each soldier gratis

Beggar-maker: A publican, or ale-house keeper.

Belch: All sorts of beer

Bub: Strong beer

Cali bogus: Rum and spruce beer, American beverage

Flip: Mixture of small beer, brandy, and sugar

Hard: stale beer, nearly sour, is “hard beer.”

Knock me down: Strong beer or ale

Neck stamper: The boy who collects the pots belonging to an alehouse, sent out with beer to private houses (Now, this is interesting – first of all, that alehouses sent beer out to public houses at all, and secondly, that it was common enough to that there was a term for the boy sent to collect the pots. Apparently, there was takeaway beer in 1811! – K)

Taplash: Thick and bad beer

Three threads: Half common ale, mixed with stale and double beer (like old styles of porter – K)

Whip-belly vengeance: Weak or sour beer



Sinks of London laid open : a pocket companion for the uninitiated, to which is added a modern flash dictionary containing all the cant words, slang terms, and flash phrases now in vogue, with a list of the sixty orders of prime coves (1848).

(First, I’d just like to say that one of the authors of the Lexicon Balatronicum above – George Cruikshank – also wrote this dictionary. He was about 19 when the Lexicon was published, and about 56 here. Clearly, he led a consistently interesting life.)

Bene bowse: Good beer

Gutting a quart pot: Drinking a pot of beer

Hot flannel: Mix of beer, gin, eggs, sugar, and nutmeg

Malty coves: Beer drinkers (this is my new term for all beer tour and sampler participants – K)


The Slang Dictionary; or, the vulgar words, street phrases, and “fast” expressions of high and low society (1864)

Belly-vengeance: small sour beer

Bemuse: to fuddle one’s self with drink

Bitters, to do: to drink beer

Bivvy: a pot or quart of beer

Boozing-Ken: a beer-shop, a low public house

Boozy: intoxicated

Bunker: beer

Cold Blood: a house licensed for the sale of beer “not to be drunk on the premises.”

Dogsnose: gin and beer, from the mixture being cold, like a dog’s nose.

Gatter: a pot of beer

Heavy wet: porter and beer “because the more a man drinks of it, the heavier and more stupid he becomes.”

Hush-shop: a shop where alcohol is sold “on the quiet,” without a license

Jerry: a beer-house

Lush: intoxicating drinks of all kinds, but generally beer.

Lushington: a drunkard

Never fear: a pint of beer (an example of Cockney rhyming slang – not for the faint of heart – K)

Rot-gut: bad small beer

Small-beer: “He doesn’t think small beer of himself,” he has a high opinion of himself

Swankey: cheap beer

Swizzle: small beer

Top o’ reeb: a pot of beer (this is an example of Cockney back slang - essentially, slang made by reversing words – K)

Wobble-shop: unlicensed beer shop


The American Slang Dictionary  (1891)

To take the chill off: to warm beer

Cooler: a drink, generally beer or some mild beverage

Dogsnose: mixture of gin and beer, otherwise known as “a h’aporth and a penn’orth,” that is one cent’s worth of beer and two of gin (aha, a slightly more thorough explanation! – K)

Gatter: beer, or more properly, porter

Pop: a mild drink, like ginger-beer

Rolling the duck: sending out for beer

Rushing the growler: sending to the saloon for beer with a can or pitcher (we’ve seen this before! - K)

Schooner (Am): a large beer glass


When you’re next at Black Creek, do feel free to drop some of this slang into your conversations. To Queen and Country!



Clarke, Hewson, George Cruikshank, and Francis Grose. Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence. London: C. Chappel, 1811.

Cruikshank, George. Sinks of London laid open : a pocket companion for the uninitiated, to which is added a modern flash dictionary containing all the cant words, slang terms, and flash phrases now in vogue, with a list of the sixty orders of prime coves. London: J. Duncombe, 1848.

Hotten, John Camden. The Slang Dictionary; or, the vulgar words, street phrases, and “fast” expressions of high and low society. London: John Camden Hotten, 1864.

Maitland, James. The American Slang Dictionary. Chicago: R.J. Kittredge & Co., 1891.





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New Brew: English India Pale Ale

Something new is brewing at Black Creek!

With the warmer months upon us, we’ve been veering away from our stouts and porters and experimenting more with our pale ales. One of these is a wholly new beer for us: an English India Pale Ale!

In all likelihood, some of you have had our standard IPA, which is a North American version of this British classic. As you know, the IPA was originally brewed for export to India, using increased levels of alcohol and hops to survive the long ocean voyage. However, it’s not just the amount of hops that give beer its flavours and aromas – the kind of hops matters too.

Kent Golding hops. Note that the flower is fairly large and loose - that's typical of this variety. (via www.gov.uk)

Kent Golding hops. Note that the flower is fairly large and loose – that’s typical of this variety. (via http://www.gov.uk)

Our usual IPA uses North American hops, such as Citra, resulting in a citrusy, almost grapefruit-like bitterness. For the English version, we’ve used Kent Goldings: a quintessential British hop variety. While the pale amber/orange colour is very similar to its North American cousin, the English IPA is a little less intense, with an earthier aroma. Kent Golding hops provide a smoother, sweeter bitterness (I realize “sweeter bitterness” is an oxymoron-or a novel title. Trust me, it makes sense in beer). The mouthfeel is more rounded as well, the hops less aggressive on the tip of the tongue.

Our English IPA is only available in the historic brewery. We look forward to seeing you down here!



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Maine: Temperance and Rum Riots

And once again, your beer journalist has gone international. This time, I’m spending a short period in Maine, busying myself with some academic pursuits. Whenever I travel, particularly if it’s outside of Canada, I love checking out the local beer scene. I’ve discovered that Maine has a thriving craft brewing industry, mostly centred in Portland.


This is actually fairly ironic, given Maine’s beer history. Maine was one of the first states to start heavily pushing for prohibition. Legislation to enact prohibition in Maine was tabled in 1837. And yes, I mean prohibition, rather than temperance. Maine cut straight to the chase with its alcohol legislation. Considering the American Temperance Society was established in 1826, followed by Upper Canada’s first society in 1828, an 1837 call for all-out prohibition feels early indeed!

But this early legislation ultimately failed to pass. Another attempt was made in 1849, but that one never got off the ground, either.

And then, Neal Dow was elected.


Neal Dow (1804-1897) was elected

Neal Dow (courtesy www.fineartamerica.com)

Neal Dow (courtesy http://www.fineartamerica.com)

mayor of Portland in April, 1851 as a “Temperance Whig.” He has variously been called “the Napoleon of Temperance,” “the Prophet of Prohibition,” and “the Father of the Maine Law.”

This is what my MFA’s faculty would call “foreshadowing.”

Dow was a strict temperance advocate with strong patriotic and religious beliefs. Alcohol had no part in Maine as he saw it, and so he crusaded for prohibition in the state. If nothing else, Dow was a man committed to his cause: Governor John Hubbard signed Dow’s proposed legislation into law on June 2, 1851. Known as “the Maine Law,” it prohibited the sale of any “beverage alcohol” in the state (that qualifier of “beverage alcohol” is important—we’ll come back to that). The Maine Law proved popular amongst temperance politicians in other states, too. By 1855, twelve other states had gone dry.

However, the Maine Law was decidedly unpopular with working and immigrant classes, particularly the Irish, who saw prohibition as an attack on their culture. I like to think that this was one reason behind Dow losing the mayoral seat in the next year’s election, but that may be wishful thinking on my part. Regardless, Dow used the next few years to travel the US and Canada, spreading the good word of prohibition, before getting re-elected in 1855.

Did you know that Portland had a Rum Riot in 1855?

Me neither.

After Dow resumed the mayoral mantle, rumours spread that he was stockpiling alcohol at City Hall. Remember—he was a staunch temperance advocate, so this seemed dodgy, to say the least. A search warrant was issued, and on June 2, 1855, four years to the day after the Maine Law was passed, a crowd assembled outside City Hall, some 2000-strong. The hordes turned violent, and Dow ordered the local militia to open fire. One man, John Robbins, was killed, seven were wounded, and Dow was soundly criticized for his overly-harsh response.

Looking towards Portland's City Hall just after the Great Fire of 1866. Portland couldn't catch a break. (courtesy the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views)

Looking towards Portland’s City Hall just after the Great Fire of 1866. Portland couldn’t catch a break. (courtesy the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views)

As it turns out, there was alcohol in Portland’s City Hall. But it was intended for Portland’s medical community (thus slipping neatly through the loophole prohibiting only the sale of beverage alcohol—see, it was important!). Ironically, Dow had acquired the alcohol improperly, and thus violated his own law. In any case, the Maine Law was repealed the next year, in 1856.

And so it seems that American beer history is just as delightful to explore as our own. Their beer’s pretty good, too! (The standouts so far are a lovely, citrusy IPA and a complex brown ale with an interesting, lingering fruitiness.)

The Stowaway IPA from Baxter's Brewing Co.

The Stowaway IPA from Baxter’s Brewing Co.

Old Gollywobbler Brown Ale, from Sea Dog Brewing Company.

Old Gollywobbler Brown Ale, from Sea Dog Brewing Company.

To Queen and country!

PS. Back at Black Creek, our Lemon Balm Pale Ale will be available in the historic brewery very shortly! For a refresher on this fresh summer ale, click here!

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