Oktoberfest: Beer and Royalty

First of all:

The Pumpkin Ale has officially hit the fridges. Ed’s also doing a few more batches. Thought you might like to know. ;)

Now that we have that out of the way, tonight is our first “Say Cheese, Say Cheers!” event of the year (don’t worry, if you’ve missed this one, there is another on November 13th). In honour of our Oktoberfest theme, I decided to do a little digging into this famous festival. Now, when I think of Oktoberfest, I immediately think of beer:

Lots and lots of beer... (image via www.wikimedia.org)

Lots and lots of beer… (image via http://www.wikimedia.org)

However, there is much more to this Volksfest (People’s Fair). It is a sixteen-day funfair in Munich, the largest of its kind in the world. And it’s been running a long time; the first true Oktoberfest was held on October 12th, 1810, to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. That first year, beer did not play a prominent role: the main attractions were horse races. In fact, the races were so well-received that they were repeated the next year, and a tradition was born.

By 1814, there are references to numerous Oktoberfest beer shacks. Gradually, the focus shifted from horses to beer. Officially, the only beer that can be served at the Munich Oktoberfest is beer that was brewed within Munich’s city limits and also conforms to the Reinheitsgebot (a German/Bavarian purity law dating from 1487—it states that only malted barley, water, and hops may be used in making beer). Thus, six breweries can produce official Oktoberfestbier:

  • Augustiner-Bräu
  • Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu
  • Löwenbräu
  • Paulaner
  • Spatenbräu
  • Staatliches Hofbräu-München

The Oktoberfestbier has its roots in another, similar beer style: the Märzen beer. Medieval brewers had difficulty brewing in the summer months. Without refrigeration, it was difficult to keep the beer at temperatures at which the yeast could properly ferment, and the beer itself was vulnerable to bacterial infection during warmer weather. As such, a 1553 Bavarian brewing ordinance restricted the brewing season from September 29th to April 23rd.

Thus, to ensure a supply of beer during the summer months, brewers produced extra beer in March. This Märzen beer (Märzen is the German word for March) was usually brewed to have a higher alcohol content and more hops—similar to the reasoning behind brewing India Pale Ales. By the time the brewing season started in the fall, the casks of leftover beer needed to be emptied to make room for new brews. This need to drink all the beer led to small, informal festivals through September and October, which were eventually absorbed in the 19th-century Oktoberfest.

Märzen-Oktoberfestbiers are usually well-aged, deep amber to dark copper in colour. Medium-to-full-bodied, the long aging time mellows out the hops and highlights their malty character. Early Märzen-Oktoberfestbiers tended to be darker than we’re used to. But then, in 1841, two brewmaster friends, Gabriel Sedlmayr and Anton Dreher, experimented with lighter malts. They added a new malt to their mix: one which was quite pale and slightly caramelized.

This was the Vienna malt. Thirty years later, the Spaten brewery released a Märzen with a slightly darker version of the Vienna: the Munich malt. This beer was also explicitly released under the Oktoberfestbier brand name.

Vienna malt on the right; Munich malt on the left.

Vienna malt on the left; Munich malt on the right.

So really, Oktoberfest has arisen from two wonderful things: a royal wedding and celebration of the new brewing season. I think we can all raise a glass to that!



Leave a comment

Filed under Brewing History

New Brew: Sweet (Milk) Stout

It’s time for a new brew! For Thanksgiving, we’re bringing back our milk stout. For those who missed it last time, the milk stout is an older style of stout, flavoured with lactose (there isn’t actually any milk in it, despite the plethora of amusing dairy-related advertisements – here is last year’s breakdown of the milk stout’s history, for those interested in a refresher course). Lactose is the sugar that naturally occurs in milk; it’s very complex, which means that the yeast can’t break it down during the fermentation process.


There are many great ads, like this one ca. 1900.

There are many great ads, like this one ca. 1900.

Instead, the lactose remains in the beer, lending it a subtle sweetness and silky mouthfeel. This beer is a brown-black in colour; holding it up to the light, I just glimpsed some lighter brown. Dark chocolate and coffee aromas were evident on the nose, and it starts off feeling like our usual stout: rich, coffee-chocolate tastes and a fully body. But then, that lactose sweetness emerged (maybe a hint of vanilla, hard to articulate just what it is), just enough to lighten things up. It is a very rounded beer, smooth and heavy on the tongue. Expect a long finish on this one – I can still taste the sweetness! 

We have some milk stout in the fridges now, and we’ll bring down more for this Thanksgiving Day weekend. It’s a complex, satisfying beer, perfect for rounding off that Thanksgiving dinner! 



PS. For those amongst us who, like me, are sadly lacking in the lactase enzyme (i.e., you lactose intolerant types)…there is lactose in this beer. There isn’t very much, but it is there. I have not noticed any discomfort after tasting it, but everyone’s tolerance level is different – we’ll always remind you about the lactose, but you know yourselves better than we do!



Leave a comment

Filed under New Brew

Mixed Company: Women and Taverns

While interpreting our Half Way House, we’re often asked about women and taverns. Specifically, did women ever go into taverns? Were they even allowed to?

These questions are easy enough to answer, but they’re not actually the right questions. You see, when most people ask about “taverns,” they usually mean “the taproom.” Today, hotels often have a self-contained restaurant or bar, discrete from the rest of the hotel. It is easy to see the taproom in similar terms – an autonomous tavern set within the space of the inn – but in fact, it is the Half Way House in its entirety that comprises the tavern. The taproom is not the tavern itself, but rather, a component of it.

Not a tavern. But part of one! :)

Not a (whole) tavern.

Due to the requirements for a tavern license, there isn't much difference between inns and taverns in 19th century Ontario.

Due to the requirements for a tavern license, there isn’t much difference between inns and taverns in 19th century Ontario.

So, were women allowed in taverns? Absolutely. Undertaking the proper protocols of dress and behaviour, women could in fact travel alone, though etiquette guides strongly recommended taking a companion (of either gender). Regardless, they would be staying in taverns. Taverns were public spaces, social spaces, and there was no reason or evidence for women’s exclusion from them.

The question that is meant is thus: were women allowed in taprooms?

This is where things get more complicated. And you thought they were complicated already, didn’t you? Well, just hold on!

Looking at scholarship of the Victorian era, there is a strong tendency to favour the “separate spheres” model of gendered activities. Men were out in the public sphere, whereas women withdrew to the privacy of the home. However, a model of wholly separate spheres is perhaps too rigid to be useful. When analyzing daily life (not the ideal life prescribed in the manuals and guides of the time), it may be more helpful to think of intertwined, overlapping realms, through which men and women moved with varying degrees of freedom.

Certainly, in the early decades of the nineteenth century there is ample evidence to suggest that women did enter taprooms, albeit generally with a male escort. We’ve looked at paintings of taproom scenes before – it’s not uncommon to spy women (and even kids!) in these scenes, suggesting that they were in fact an acknowledged presence within the taproom. Similarly, in the 1830s, a patron of Dow’s tavern remarked that Mr. Dow conversed with the men, while his wife primarily attended to the women; it seems he refers to the taproom as a site of mixed company.

Julius Caesar Ibbetson's  "Sailors Carousing" (1802). Note women.

Julius Caesar Ibbetson’s “Sailors Carousing” (1802). Note women.

John Lewis Krimmel 's "Village Tavern" (1814-1815). Note woman and child!

John Lewis Krimmel ‘s “Village Tavern” (1814-1815). Note woman and child!

George and I.R. Cruikshank, "Tom & Jerry taking Blue Ruin after the Spell is broke up" (1820). Many drinking women!

George and I.R. Cruikshank, “Tom & Jerry taking Blue Ruin after the Spell is broke up” (1820). Many drinking women!

John Lewis Krimmel's "Dance in a Country Tavern" (1820s, lithographed George Lehman 1833-34). Gasp!

John Lewis Krimmel’s “Dance in a Country Tavern” (1820s, lithographed George Lehman 1833-34). Gasp!

However, from the 1830s onwards, there is a tendency to regard the taproom as more of a male social space. For instance, some taverns emphasize their introduction of separate dining and sitting rooms, disconnected from the barroom. It seems that the kitchens, parlours, and balconies of taverns became spaces of female sociability, whereas the taproom solidified its purpose as a site of male comradeship.

Yet even this doesn’t tell the whole story. Women were certainly still drinking in taverns; accounts show women purchasing alcohol in amounts too small to carry home – a glass, or a pint. While they weren’t necessarily drinking in the taproom (though in some taverns, it seems, a few women were tolerated), they would have still needed to place their order. There are references to women being served from side doors and drinking on back steps, but one wonders if they interacted with male bar staff each and every time.

This is a particularly poignant question considering that there were female tavern-keepers. In 1868, 201 tavern licenses were issued in Toronto (I counted – no, seriously). Of those 201, 156 licenses went to men, and 16 went to women. 29 were assigned under initials only, meaning that gender cannot be stated for certain. This means, however, that approximately 8% of Toronto tavern-keepers were female: a minority, most definitely, but not unheard of, either. Were 8% of Toronto’s tavern-keepers never setting foot in their own taprooms?

My suspicion is that women’s relation to taproom was similar to this analogy. Imagine, if you would, certain twenty-first century bars characterized by a predominantly male clientele, grittier furnishings, and a distinct social code. As a young woman, it’s not that I am forbidden from drinking there – I simply don’t want to.

As much as I liked "True Detective," I'll stick with a cosier pub.

As much as I liked “True Detective,” I’ll stick with a cosier pub.

As Julia Rogers says in her fine book In Mixed Company: Taverns and Public Life in Upper Canada: “…[women’s] aim was sociability, not social equality; and their stepping out did not include stepping into bar areas where they were not welcome” (p. 149). It is perhaps telling that while Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book (1864) devotes a chapter to proper deportment whilst traveling, she never once mentions the taproom. Apparently, it never crossed her mind that her middle-class female audience might be socializing in there.

Perhaps this is really all an issue of semantics. Were women allowed in/did they frequent taverns? Unequivocally, yes. Were they allowed in taprooms? Yes.

Did they frequent taprooms and use them for social purposes in the same way as men?

That depends on time period. Prior to the late 1830s, perhaps. Afterwards…women drank for social purposes, but in different ways than men. While potentially imbibing the same products as the men in the taproom (working class women were much more likely to do so), they found their own social spaces within the tavern. Again, it is perhaps unhelpful to regard these behaviours as strictly “separate spheres,” but rather, as intertwining realms of sociability, and overlapping public performances.


PS. Don’t forget, our “Say Cheese! And Cheers!” nights are approaching! Book early to avoid disappointment!

Leave a comment

Filed under Brewing History

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.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.



Filed under Brewery Events

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Brews, New Brew