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

Kent Golding hops. Note that the flower is fairly large and loose – that’s typical of this variety. (via

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

Neal Dow (courtesy

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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Brewing Rebellion: John Doel

It’s time to look at another Toronto brewer! John Doel is up today: brewer, businessman, and political figure (funny, how an awful lot of brewers wind up in politics: John Carling, George Sleeman, Alexander Keith…the list goes on!).

The man himself: John Doel (via

The man himself: John Doel (via

John Doel was born in Wiltshire, England, in 1790, and emigrated to Philadelphia around 1817. However, it seems that the United States was not quite to his liking; he arrived in York (Toronto) on November 5, 1818. While he seems to have been a bookseller in Philadelphia, he spent 1825-1830 as a mail carrier in York. However, he got into the brewing scene early: first establishing a brewery on Sherbourne St, followed by his brewery at Bay and Adelaide. This latter brewery commenced operations in 1827—we can only assume that between brewing beer and delivering the post, Doel was very busy! However, his brewery and real estate investments gave him a comfortable living.

In politics, Doel was a Reformer. Censuses (you knew I was going to reference the census, right?) list him as a resident of St. Andrew’s ward. By 1834, the ward elected him to Toronto City Council. 1834 was an important year for Reformers like Doel—they won a majority on the new council and William Lyon Mackenzie was elected Toronto’s first mayor (Doel voted for Mackenzie, too!).

Doel's brewery in the 1840s (Toronto Public Library)

Doel’s brewery in the 1840s (Toronto Public Library)

Mackenzie and Doel were close associates through the mid-1830s. Doel’s brewery even played a role in the 1837 Rebellion, serving as one of the Reformers’ meeting places. Meetings in late July saw the creation of a Reformers’ declaration; Doel signed it on July 28, 1837, and was named to the Vigilance Committee on July 31. In fact, Mackenzie first advocated open rebellion at Doel’s brewery, during a meeting that took place in late October. His plan to seize Lieutenant Governor Francis Bond Head and proclaim a provisional government was met with considerable skepticism and some alarm.

Doel himself never took part in the actual uprising, which happened on December 7th of that year. After the rebellion, he served as an alderman and justice of the peace. Operations continued at the brewery until it was burned on April 11, 1847, and Doel himself died in 1871. Doel’s home was demolished in 1925. Looking at the intersection today, it’s hard to believe a brewery was ever there, much less one which harboured secrecy and rebellion!

The site of Doel's brewery today.

The site of Doel’s brewery today (the northwest corner, i.e. the left side).

- Katie

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New Brew: Maple Porter

In honour of Canada Day, Ed has brewed up a special beer. He’s made an oh-so-Canadian Maple Porter!

Recipes for maple beers are not very common in the Victorian period, but they certainly existed. Once such recipe appeared in the Young Housekeeper’s Friend in 1846.

Maple Beer Recipe from Young Housekeeper’s Friend. Image from Google Books

Maple molasses is simply maple sap boiled until it reaches the consistency of molasses, thicker than syrup, but not boiled down to sugar crystals. This recipe calls for neither barley nor hops, but many recipes did. A recipe for maple beer that appeared in The Balance, and Columbian repository, Volume 4, a magazine from 1805, notes that malt or bran may be added to the beer. In The Backwoods of Canada, Catherine Parr Traill’s maple beer recipe called for no barley, but she saw hops as an essential ingredient. Recipes for maple vinegar were quite common in the early 1800s when commercially produced vinegar was expensive and hard to obtain in the backwoods of Canada. Housewives and brewers would have had to be careful when brewing beer and vinegar in the same household, as the yeast that makes vinegar is different from the yeast that makes beer, though they act on the same principle ingredients. The brewer would have to be careful or everything he or she brewed would turn to vinegar!

Our Maple Porter is a deep mahogany brown beer. The maple is quite evident on the nose, but the predominant taste at first sip are complex dark
chocolate notes. It’s a smooth, rich beer with a long finish – just when you think it’s done, the maple resurges for another round. Our Maple Porter is only available in the historic brewery while supplies last – and they’re going fast!

In other news, you may have noticed that it’s been hot lately. Very hot. This isn’t really the weather for stouts and porters. So we’re cutting back on our darker beers and focusing more on our IPA, Pale Ale, and Best Bitter – yes, it’s making a comeback this year!

So, come enjoy the summer days at Black Creek Pioneer Village and stop by our historic brewery to pick up a growler of Maple Porter!


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Shakespeare’s Beer

I think it may finally be summer. It’s consistently warm, we’ve seen a few vicious thunderstorms already, and the evenings are long and light. If you’re looking for something to do on these warm summer nights, we’re hosting the Humber River Shakespeare Co. on July 16, 2014, for a performance of Romeo and Juliet. Black Creek takes on a special beauty in the evenings; the setting goes with Shakespeare like…well, an India Pale Ale and a hot day!

Speaking of beer (as we do here on the Growler), you can try some of our heritage-inspired beer in the Pavilion before the show and during intermission. A summer night, Shakespeare, and beer…sounds like a trifecta to me!


And Shakespeare himself has some connections to beer. In England, the Assize of Bread and Ale was passed ca. 1267—it regulated the price, weight, and quality of bread and beer, tying the price to the market value of corn. Not corn like maize, remember—in Britain, corn refers to cereal grains: wheat, barley, oats, etc. To ensure that brewers and alehouses were abiding by the Assize, a special job was created: that of the “ale-conner,” or “ale-taster.” They travelled around, checking prices and testing the quality of the ingredients used. A very trying, wearying job, to be sure—but one which was in fact held by Shakespeare’s own father. John Shakespeare was an ale-taster for Stratford during Shakespeare’s childhood, so we can assume that young Will knew a thing or two about brewers!

But what was the beer like in Shakespeare’s day? Generally speaking, due to the malts used, it was likely fairly dark and sweet, and not as heavily hopped as beers today. In the Elizabethan era, a distinction was still drawn between unhopped “ale” and hopped “beer.” Although dates get a little slippery, it seems that immigrants from the Low Countries were brewing beer with hops in England from the early 1400s, although serious attempts at cultivating English hops didn’t happen until the early 16th century. By Shakespeare’s time, initial English resistance to hops seems to have largely died down, and the distinction between hopped/unhopped brews, while still present, was fading. The term “ale” may have shifted to represent a milder brew, whereas “beer” was bitterer.


Except his beer probably wouldn’t have had such a pronounced head. Whatever. We’ll roll with it!

Certainly, Shakespeare uses both terms in his plays. “Ale” is mentioned some fourteen times, while “beer” gets five mentions, reminding us what an important place beer occupied in the Elizabethans’ general life experience. Interestingly, when Shakespeare mentions beer specifically, he adds a prefix: it’s either “small” or “double” beer. This likely results from the two general classifications of Elizabethan beer: single and double. Logically, double beer was twice as strong as single beer. There was, however, a point at which brewers created a very potent, unauthorized “doble-doble.” Admittedly, this makes me smile.


By the Victorian age, the use of hops was taken for granted and brewers were exploring lighter malts as well. I wonder what Shakespeare might have thought of our historic ales? I like to think that upon tasting our Brown Ale, he would have quoted himself:

“…a quart of ale is a dish for a king.”


PS. If you’re interested learning more about the Humber River Shakespeare Co.’s performance of Romeo and Juliet and/or purchasing tickets, please click here!




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Baking Beer Bread!

While I enjoy learning about beer, I can’t actually drink very much at once. This is a slight problem when our growlers are like a bottle of wine; once they’re open, you should drink them within a few days. Earlier this week, I found myself nervously eyeing my growler of ginger beer, well aware that it was slowly losing its flavor.

And so, I combined two of my favourite things (beer and bread) and used up my remaining beer by making a ginger beer bread.

I hoped that beer bread was historic. After all, beer and bread have a long, intertwined history. They are made from largely the same ingredients (grains, yeast, water, herbs/hops, depending on time period – okay, hops are different). Like bread, beer comes from the land, and for Victorians, beer could be an important dietary staple – in fact we recently had an excellent article published about the Black Creek Historic Brewery, centering on just this relationship between beer, food, and agriculture.

Barley growing in the village.

Barley growing in the village.

However, after consulting with our resident expert on historic baking (Amy in the Half Way House—she is incredibly talented and exceedingly knowledgeable) and perusing numerous Victorian cookbooks, I’ve had to conclude that Victorians weren’t really making beer bread. Indeed, they likely would have asked, “Why would I put my beer into bread, when I could just have beer and bread?”

A good question indeed. Today, we have very different ideas of what beer “should” taste like. Pasteurization and refrigeration have made us acutely aware of—and intolerant to—any hint of sourness. So, rather than fretting about “using up” beer before it went oh-so-slightly-off, Victorians would’ve just drunk it.

Oh well. History doesn’t always work the way you want it to.

Nevertheless, beer bread is wonderful. No reason why we can’t enjoy it today!

I used this beer bread recipe from Farm Girl Fare as a base…and then in a truly Victorian manner, I veered off the recipe and went by feel.

Black Creek Beer Bread

- 3ish cups of flour (the “ish” is what makes this recipe)

- 1 Tbsp sugar

- 1 Tbsp baking powder

- Salt to taste (the original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon. I put maybe 1/3, plus some sprinkled on top)

- 1.5ish cups of your favourite Black Creek beer.

  • Heat the oven. I had grown accustomed to baking with a bake-oven, which has three temperatures (quick, moderate, and slow), or with my ancient gas oven, which had two (hot and hotter), so I always guess at temperatures. I now have a less-ancient gas oven, which I put to 420 degrees. That seemed to work.
  • Mix the dry ingredients.
  • Add the beer, a half-cup at a time. Stir in between. You will have to knead it towards the end; the dough will be loose and raggedy-looking, but that is fine.
  • Shape it into a loaf. Again, it is fine if it looks a little rough.
  • Slash the top, so heat can get inside.
  • Bake until done. The crust will be browned and the bottom will sound hollow when tapped. Do make sure it’s baked all the way through; this bread is very, very moist.
Toasted and slathered with butter...

Toasted and slathered with butter…

Best served warm, with butter.

And beer, of course!


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New Brew Double Feature: Ginger Beer and Lemon Balm Pale Ale!

It’s a busy week for the Black Creek Historic Brewery! We have not one, but two new beers: one down in the brewery, one in the LCBO. Double the beers means double the fun and history!

Let’s start with our June specialty beer. Just in time for Father’s Day, Ed has made an alcoholic ginger beer.

Ginger beer originally descends from drinks such as mead and metheglin (flavoured mead). These were sweet, honey-based beverages, fermented with yeast and flavoured with a variety of spices, including ginger, cloves, and mace. Early ginger beers were made from water, sugar, and ginger, and fermented with the ginger beer plant. Interestingly, the ginger beer plant wasn’t really a plant at all, but a gelatinous composite of yeast and bacteria! From the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, ginger beers were impressively alcoholic, sometimes reaching 11%.


By the 1850s, however, new laws forced English ginger beer brewers to water their product down to 2% alcohol. It still remained incredibly popular. In 1877, writers John Thomson and Adolphe Smith estimated that some 300,000 gallons of ginger beer were being sold in and around London.

With the rise of imperialism, ginger beer also went global. Soldiers stationed in the Caribbean and Africa were particularly fond of this spicy brew, drinking it to combat homesickness. The ginger was also useful in treating upset stomachs and inflammation – I guess soldiers are more likely to take their medicine if it comes in the form of beer!

Ed’s ginger beer is a really nice amber-coloured ale. It is a malt-oriented beer, so the flavour comes predominately from the grains, rather than the hops. Because this is a fairly light malt, that translates into a subtle sweetness – this isn’t an overly bitter beer. The ginger is definitely noticeable, but mild. The spice grows more pronounced after the first sip; it gives some warmth in the chest! I like it! There’s a moderate finish, too; the light maltiness comes back through the nose at the very end. I think curries and stir-fries would go really well with this beer: foods that are themselves a bit spicy and complex (actually, a ginger-soy pork stir fry, plus this beer…now I’m getting hungry).

Please note: this ginger beer is NOT for the wee ones. It’s still about 5% alcohol!

Our ginger beer will be only available in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. It hits our fridges this weekend, and will last until…well, until we run out.


We also have a new beer in the LCBO! We have done a commercial version of our Lemon Balm PaleAle, which enjoyed consistent popularity down here in the brewery. For those unfamiliar with lemon balm, it’s a bushy herb related to mint that is easily recognizable by the strong lemon smell given off by its crushed leaves. In the past Lemon Balm was considered a healing, soothing plant, and especially effective in relieving pain due to indigestion. Lemon Balm was also used to impart a lemony taste and smell to many beverages and foods.

This is another amber ale, with citrus and mint aromas. It’s a light, refreshing beer: initial herbal notes mellow to pleasant citrus flavours. A light malty finish and tingle on the tongue round things off. That slight bite on the tip of the tongue eases as the beer moves towards the back of the throat. Overall, it’s a great warm-weather beer!

The Lemon Balm Pale Ale is available now in the LCBO. As always, it’s a good idea to check the LCBO website beforehand, just to make sure your local store has it!

Sun, porch, and beer. What more does one need?

Sun, porch, and beer. What more does one need?

Between these two new beers, it’s looking like a great weekend indeed!


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