A Spirited Affair: It’s Here!

At long last, tonight is the night! At 7:00 pm tonight, Black Creek Pioneer Village will glow with lamplight, echo with laughter and dancing feet, and host local breweries, wineries, and distilleries!


A Spirited Affair is an annual fundraiser to restore a selection of our historic buildings. Our Flynn House received A Spirited Affair’s attention last year. This year, we’re focusing on Burwick House: a prime example of a middle class home in 1860s Ontario.  With your help, we can preserve these unique buildings for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

For more information about a Spirited Affair, click here! And for a detailed breakdown of tonight’s events, here!

And don’t worry, we’ve got lots more happening at the brewery through October. Ed will shortly be brewing the Pumpkin Ale – perfect for Thanksgiving and Halloween. And on October 16th, we have the first of our two “Say Cheese, Say Cheers!” nights. Join expert Julia Rogers as she pairs five local cheese varieties with fine craft beers, sample our homemade bread and root chips – and of course, tour the brewery! Reserve tickets early to avoid disappointment; see here for more details!

Also coming up in October: our Hallowing Hootenanny returns! On October 18th/19th and 25th/26th, bring your wee ones to Black Creek for a frighteningly good time! Wear your favourite costume, trick-or-treat through the village…and maybe slip away for a sample of our Pumpkin Ale! ;)


No question: with some much going on, autumn is one of our favourite seasons at Black Creek. We look forward to sharing it with you.



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A Spirited Affair: Spotlight on Whisky

Less than a week to go until our Spirited Affair! This is our annual fundraiser featuring local beer, wine, and spirits. Now, we’re pretty familiar with beer here on the Growler. We also did a spotlight on wine last year.

But what about spirits? What’s the story behind distilled drinks like whisky?


If you’d like the dictionary definition, distillation is the “…process of separating component substances from a liquid mixture by selective vaporization and condensation.”

The dictionary definition is not terribly helpful.

But what it means is that the different substances making up a liquid mixture evaporate at different temperatures. If you can control the temperature correctly, you can extract alcohol from a wort-like mixture by boiling it out, and then condensing those gases to turn it back into a liquid. All while the water remains behind, resulting in a beverage with a much higher alcohol by volume.

Whisky has its roots in Ireland, dating back to roughly 1100 CE. According to the stories, Irish monks had travelled through the Mediterranean and Middle East; they then brought knowledge of distillation back with them. In any case, distillation of whisky was established in both Ireland and Scotland by the 15th century. Whisky-making spread to North America with British, Irish, and Scottish immigrants (George Washington had quite an impressive distillery),and in Canada, it was also helped along by the Late Loyalists who arrived from the States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Québec in particular had quite a large number of distilleries around this time—the Molson family actually started out distilling, rather than brewing.

Brewer, distiller, kindly smile - John Molson, is there nothing you can't do?

Brewer, distiller, kindly smile – John Molson, is there nothing you can’t do?

Indeed, through the early 1800s, whisky was more popular than beer. By the middle of the century, there were over 200 whisky-makers in Canada. However, since hard liquors are very high in alcohol, they attracted attention from early temperance advocates, who urged people to drink milder beverages like beer. Some of these Victorian distillers are still quite familiar to us today: Seagram, Hiram Walker (Canadian Club), and of course, Gooderham and Worts.

Advertisement for the Waterloo Distillery, operated by Seagram and Sons (courtesy the University of Waterloo)

Advertisement for the Waterloo Distillery, operated by Seagram and Sons (courtesy the University of Waterloo)



However, there are a few key differences between brewing and distilling. It starts very similarly: a cereal grain (barley, rye, corn, it doesn’t really matter) is malted, milled, and then placed into a mash tun. With the addition of hot water, enzymes formed in the malting process convert the starch into a fermentable sugar. The sugar-infused liquid is then separated from the grains.

The pot still's set-up.

The pot still’s set-up.

This is where things diverge. At this point, brewers would boil this “sweet wort” in a brew-kettle and add hops for flavour. Distillers cool the “wash” immediately and add the yeast to start fermentation. When fermentation is complete, the distiller now has a liquid that is about 8% ABV. Pretty high for a beer, nowhere near high enough for whisky (legally, whisky has to be at least 40% ABV).

So, the distiller then places the wash into the still and begins heating it. In the 1800s, distillers were still using copper pot stills. As the wash is heated, the alcohol will evaporate before the water. The vapour passes into the condensing tube where it cools and turns back into liquid form—except most of the water has been left behind, meaning the alcohol is much more concentrated. Victorian condensers were often submerged in open wooden “backs” (vessels) containing cold water.

The first liquid to come out of the condensing tube is a mix of volatile compounds (methanol, anyone?) that evaporate first. They are called the “heads,” and must be thrown out. Similarly, distillers don’t use the very end of their distillation—the “tails”—as it does not actually add anything useful to the whisky. To concentrate the wash even more, it is distilled again—Scotch and Canadian whisky gets two rounds, Irish whiskey gets three. The product is then aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels, where it can “breathe” and develop mature aromas, flavours, and colours.

(Sidebar: properly, this beverage is spelled whiskey in the United States and Ireland, and whisky in every other whisky-producing country in the world, including Canada.)

You can try some delicious offerings from the Toronto Distillery Company this Thursday. We look forward to seeing you—it will be a spirited event indeed!


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A Spirited Affair: 2014

We’re having an affair!


Now that I have your attention – a Spirited Affair draws nigh! We’re two weeks away from our fundraising event featuring local beer, wine, and whisky. First, we’ll step back in time to a lively 1860s town. There, you can learn Victorian dancing, sample fine drinks and 1800s snacks (personally, I’m looking forward to the bacon jam), and interact with lively local characters—including our shopkeeper, brewmaster, and barmaid. But watch out for the Temperance advocate! Before you leave, be sure to drop by our Flynn House to see what’s changed since last year’s Spirited Affair. (Spoiler: a lot)

Tired yet? We hope not! Next stop: the 1960s! Twist and shout with a Beatles tribute band, and learn the cool moves of 1960s dance crazes. When all that dancing works up an appetite, sip cocktails and nibble on gourmet food – does mini quiche Lorraine, salmon mousse, and shrimp cocktails sound good for starters? ;)

Then, enjoy the smooth crooning of Andy de Campos, participate in our silent auction, and play our exciting fundraising games—there are prizes to be won!

And we want you to join in the fun: 1960s outfits are highly encouraged. There were some very sharp dressers at last year’s event—we look forward to seeing your favourite get-up!

But there’s a serious cause alongside our celebration. The Spirited Affair is a fundraiser, directly impacting a restoration campaign called “Explore History­ – Build a Better Future.” This campaign was launched by the Living History Foundation with support from the Toronto Region Conversation Authority. This year, we are focusing on the much-needed restoration of our Burwick House.

Burwick has had a long, long life - some of the resulting damage is visible in this image.

Burwick has had a long, long life – some of the resulting damage is visible in this image.

Burwick House was one of the first buildings to be moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village. It’s one of the best examples we have of 19th century middle class life and customs. Situated in the heart of the village, it is also situated close to our hearts—now it’s time to show it the love it so richly deserves.

From the archives (Katie may have too much fun with the archives...): Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1959, the year before it officially opened. Burwick House has already been moved (just right of photograph centre).

From the archives (Katie may have too much fun with the archives…). Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1959, the year before it officially opened. Burwick House has already been moved (just right of photograph centre).

Our guests this year include:

A Spirited Affair will be held on Thursday, September 25th, 2014, from 7:00-10:00 pm. Tickets are $80/person and include drink samples and gourmet foods—advance reservations are required. To avoid disappointment, book early! Click here, or call our customer service line at 416-667-6295.

You can find more information here as well.

It’ll be an affair to remember! We can’t wait to see you there.



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New Brew: Wet Hop Ale

Our Wet Hop Ale is ready! Brewed with the hops we harvested a short time ago, this seasonal ale has turned out very well indeed. Usually, beer is brewed with dried hops (actually, modern beers are brewed with compacted hop pellets, but that is beside the point). With the Wet Hop Ale, Ed has used hops straight from the vine. Seriously, maybe 10 minutes passed between filling our bushel baskets and putting the hops in the brew-kettle – and that’s because we walked to the brewery and chatted with Ed!

So, what is the Wet Hop Ale like?

Coming in at 5% ABV, this beer is a deep gold colour, almost a light amber. Brewing with wet hops is like cooking with fresh herbs rather than dried: the nose is quite delicate and floral. Naturally, this ale is hop-oriented, but they aren’t very aggressive. Floral and citrus notes come through to start, with a hint of underlying earthiness. The beer has a bit more weight on the tongue than I expected, but this is a smooth, satisfying beer.

Since this brew requires hops that have just been harvested, we can only make the Wet Hop Ale once each year (it’s become my personal sign that autumn is fast approaching). Like much of life, it is far too fleeting – which makes us appreciate it all the more. :)

The Wet Hop Ale will be available only at the historic brewery whilst our stocks last. And in another sign of approaching autumn, I noticed a Stout and Porter fermenting in the casks; look for those in a week or so!


PS. Save the date! A Spirited Affair, our fundraiser and celebration of craft beers, wines, and spirits, is on September 25th. It’s a great event to support a great cause (restoration of our historic buildings). For more information and tickets, please click here!

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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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