New Brew: Thomas Benson’s Olde Ale

Hello, beer lovers!

Remember how a few weeks ago, I mentioned that Ed was pondering a very special beer here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery? Well… we were both so excited by it, that he went ahead and brewed it!

To recap: a few years back, MPP Kevin Flynn gave us a historic beer recipe, written by Thomas Benson sometime between 1827-1837. We were thrilled to return to it! For my part, it was fascinating to watch Ed work with this historic recipe…and to see and taste the finished product.

As per Thomas Benson’s recipe, Ed used cinnamon, licorice root, and capsaicin (cayenne pepper) to flavour the beer, along with a healthy dose of molasses. (Molasses adds extra sweetness, and also gives the yeast more to work with.)

Some ingredients...

Some ingredients…

According to Ed, capsaicin was used to give the impression that the beer was stronger than it was. Before the industrial revolution, beers were typically served at strengths of “mild” and “old” or “strong.” “Mild” beers cost publicans less to buy from the brewers. So, it was common for tavern-keepers to buy mild beer cheaply, and then age it to “old” beer to turn a profit. Similarly, a bit of strong or stock ale might be added to a mild beer to give it a stronger taste—and thus justifying an increased price! In some cases, capsaicin might have been used in a similar way to create a stronger flavour.

The Olde Ale pours a deep, burnished orange/dark amber. Molasses and caramel notes come through on the nose, and the sweetness carries through on the initial sip. This beer has a nice weight, and the mouthfeel starts quite smoothly—but the spices add a nice tingle as the beer moves over the tongue. There are definitely cinnamon notes, but the cayenne is the real player here. Its heat hit most at the back of the throat and tongue.

Recipe from the diary of Thomas Benson, part of the Benson family fonds at the Archives of Ontario

Recipe from the diary of Thomas Benson, part of the Benson family fonds at the Archives of Ontario

I am notorious for my love of spicy things, so I was all over this. That being said, I found the sweetness of the malt and molasses really calmed and balanced the spice here. As well, licorice root has a coating effect, which also tempered the intensity. Expect a long, long finish—but honestly, the cayenne heat just made me want to have another sip. This is a great beer for hot weather—definitely one to sip on the patio, maybe with some barbeque or pulled pork. Again, thinking sweetness to balance the heat!

Of course, my favourite part of the Olde Ale is its historicity. Not only has it been made with historic methods, it was sourced from a historic document. I wonder what Thomas Benson would make of it?

And what will you make of it? Well, you can drop by this weekend and try some for yourself. After all this is probably the closest you can get to drinking 1800s beer!

See you in the brewery!


Leave a comment

Filed under Historic Recipes, New Brew

The Most Important Microbe in Half Way House

Recently, a young visitor followed his parents into the historic brewery. He stopped suddenly, sniffed, and exclaimed, “It smells like bread!”

Our young visitor was quite right! After all, bread and beer share many ingredients: water, grains, and yeast. Of course, the process of baking and brewing is quite different (just ask our interpreters upstairs in the Half Way House kitchen), but the action of yeast lies at the heart of both.


There is yeast in these casks! Yeast and fermenting wort!


The same species of yeast is used for both brewing and baking: Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The name itself is Latinized Greek – saccharo derives from the word for “sugar,” and myces, “fungus.” Cerevisiae means “beer.” So…Saccharomyces cerevisiae literally means “Beer Sugar-Fungus.” Unappealing name? Absolutely.

Accurate? Surprisingly so!

You see, at the most basic level, yeast metabolizes sugar (glucose, maltose, or trehalose) and converts it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. It is a living organism – we sometimes refer to S. cerevisiae as being a “top-fermenting yeast” because its surface is hydrophobic: it avoids liquids if possible. Thus, the yeast organism clings to the carbon dioxide bubbles it produces and floats to the top of the cask.

S. cerevisiae likes dark fruits very much. In fact, it’s part of that white, dusty film you see on plums and grapes! This becomes particularly interesting when we consider very, very early beers: qi from the Yellow River Valley was a mixture of honey, barley, rice, and grapes, while beers from Egypt and Mesopotamia often contained dates, figs, grapes, or plums. The yeast clinging to these fruits’ skins was most likely instrumental in fermenting the beers!

In the 1600s, a Dutch tradesman and lens-crafter named Anton von Leeuwenhoek (LAY-when-hook) observed yeast for the first time, as globules floating in liquid. He didn’t realize that the yeast was alive, though: he thought the globules were grain particles floating in the wort. Through the 1600 and 1700s, then, people were well aware of yeast’s existence and role in fermentation; they just thought that it was a chemical agent, rather than a biological one.

Louis Pasteur (WikiMedia Commons)

Louis Pasteur (WikiMedia Commons)

However, a major paradigm shift occurred in the 1835, when French inventor Charles Cagniard de la Tour observed yeast budding and multiplying during fermentation. The yeast was a living microorganism! Twenty years later, chemist Louis Pasteur demonstrated that fermentation and yeast multiplication occur hand-in-hand. Moreover, he demonstrated that certain microorganisms, yeast among them, are capable of living without oxygen, and that only certain microorganisms can convert sugars into alcohol – fermentation is a biological process, not a chemical one.

By our time period here at Black Creek, Pasteur was deep into his publications on fermentation, beginning with  “Mémoire sur la fermentation alcoolique” in 1857.

Interestingly, the other strain of yeast commonly used in brewing – bottom-fermenting or lager yeast – is named after Pasteur. Saccharomyces pastorianus received its name in 1870. This yeast is commonly called Saccharomyces carlsbergensis (yes, as in that Carlsberg), but this is technically invalid as S. pastorianus was first.

For a tiny microorganism, yeast packs a powerful punch! Between the brewery and the kitchen, it is the most important microbe in Half Way House. :)


Leave a comment

Filed under Brewing History

New Brew: Apricot Ale

Image by Fir0002

Image by Fir0002

It’s time for our first specialty brew of the season! Down here in the Black Creek Historic Brewery, Ed has been busily crafting an Apricot Ale – a light, fruity beer to kick off the Victoria Day Weekend. It also ties in nicely with our Pirates and Princesses event May 16th-18th.  Pirates, of course, require ale, and the apricot’s delicate sweetness and beautiful golden colour definitely puts one in mind of royalty!

The beer is golden too, with hints of apricot in the flavour and aroma.  There’s a bready malt taste too, and it’s fairly lightly hopped. This ale is light-to-medium-bodied, perfect for an afternoon on the patio. It hits our fridges this weekend, and there it will remain until it’s all been sampled and purchased.

Victorians liked their apricots too! For them, it was a late summer dessert. In her Book of Household Management, Mrs. Beeton says:

The apricot is indigenous to the plains of Armenia, but is now cultivated in almost every climate, temperate or tropical. There are several varieties. The skin of this fruit has a perfumed flavour, highly esteemed. A good apricot, when perfectly ripe, is an excellent fruit. It has been somewhat condemned for its laxative qualities, but this has possibly arisen from the fruit having been eaten unripe, or in too great excess. Delicate persons should not eat the apricot uncooked, without a liberal allowance of powdered sugar. The apricot makes excellent jam and marmalade, and there are several foreign preparations of it which are considered great luxuries

She also gives a recipe for an apricot pudding that sounds both a) achievable, and b) delicious. Very important considerations indeed!

INGREDIENTS – 12 large apricots, 3/4 pint of bread crumbs, 1 pint of milk, 3 oz. of pounded sugar, the yolks of 4 eggs, 1 glass of sherry.

Mode.—Make the milk boiling hot, and pour it on to the bread crumbs; when half cold, add the sugar, the well-whisked yolks of the eggs, and the sherry. Divide the apricots in half, scald them until they are soft, and break them up with a spoon, adding a few of the kernels, which should be well pounded in a mortar; then mix the fruit and other ingredients together, put a border of paste round the dish, fill with the mixture, and bake the pudding from 1/2 to 3/4 hour.

If you want to try this at home, be aware that Victorians rarely gave specific cooking temperatures, as they assumed you’d either be using a wood-fired oven…or, you obviously know what temperature to bake puddings at, because you’ve been doing this your whole life, right? ;)

In any case, I looked up modern recipes to compare, and my best advice is to bake it around 325 F and check it at 25 minutes. If anyone tries it, let us know!

Especially if you swap the glass of sherry for a glass of the Apricot Ale…


Leave a comment

Filed under Current Brews, New Brew

Back to Benson: Re-Examining an Old Recipe

I missed Ed over the winter. Now that the Black Creek Historic Brewery has opened its doors for the 2015 season, we’re back to giving tours, leading samples…and sharing our knowledge with each other.

“Hey, Katie,” Ed said, early one morning as I was opening our POS system, “can you go back into the blog archives? We posted a historic recipe a few years ago. I want to take a look at it.”

“Sure thing!”

I’ve only been writing this blog for two years, so it was fun to dip back into posts past. In short order, I found the article Ed wanted. In early 2013, Andrew Morrison, an archive at the Archives of Ontario, sent our Special Events coordinator a recipe he’d found in a notebook belonging to Thomas Benson—a prominent businessman in Upper Canada, and the first Mayor of Peterborough.

Recipe from the diary of Thomas Benson, part of the Benson family fonds at the Archives of Ontario

Recipe from the diary of Thomas Benson, part of the Benson family fonds at the Archives of Ontario

The notebook dates from somewhere between 1827-1837, though there’s no exact date on the recipe itself. It’s fascinating! Period recipes are a great way to infer brewing methods from the 1800s…and this recipe has some intriguing ingredients, too.

To Brew Five Gallons Strong Beer

Take Three ounces Hops, and rub them well into a close vessel sprinkling on them, when rubbed, about a teaspoon-full of salt – then pour on boiling water sufficient to saturate them and cover close.

Boil two and a half gallons water, dash the boil with cold water and suffer it to cool down to 180° Faht. Pour it into your Mash-tub. Mash it well till the malt is thoroughly wetted, and allow it to stand close covered about two hours, then run the liquor off into a vessel prepared to receive it – having first of all placed a whisk of clean hay or straw over the hole in your mash-tub to preven the malt running off with the liquor. If at first the liquor should run off thick or discoloured pour back until it runs clear.

Mash the second time with the same quantity of water at 190°, and let it stand covered two hours. Get up your first wort into the boiler and add the Hops, a quarter of a pound of liquorice root (previously bruised) 1/4 [illegible] 1/4 ounce Capsicum, a bit of Cinnamon, and three ounces Treacle. Boil smartly for an hour, then run off into a cooler, carefully straining out the hops to be boiled in the second wort, which must also be boiled an hour. Observe that your malt must not stand dry between the mashings but must be Kept constantly moist by ladling the liquor over it.

Run off the second liquor into the Cooler, and cool down as quickly as possible to 65°. then run it into the tun as quick as you can so that it shall suffer no diminuation of heat, and add sufficient yeast to cause fermentation. Let it work till it comes to a good deep head and has attenuated about 8°, then cleanse it by adding about a quarter ounce of ginger and rousing it well. The liquor is now fit for putting into the Keg, which must be done carefully. The Keg must be quite full to let the yeast work over, adding fresh liquor too Keep it full till it has done working. then bung it up close but take care to watch it well lest it should begin to work again and burst the Keg, which may be prevented by easing the keg.

The only thing that now remains is to fine the beer. Finings are made by dissolving Isingladd in Stale Beer till it acquire a thin gluey consistence like size. the beer in which the ising-glass is dissolved must be quite stale and very clear. Add a sufficient quantity of this to clear your beer a gill will sometimes be sufficient but it may require more.


“Does he mean capsaicin?” Ed wondered, when I returned to the brewery with my findings.


“I wonder what that would taste like—maybe like a chili beer?”




When I had a bit more time, I examined scanned copies of the original recipe to see if we were missing anything. Benson actually wrote “capsicum,” which today, refers to mild bell peppers, but can also refer to spicy chili peppers. So it seems we were right—it looks like a very early version of a chili beer. The cinnamon and ginger would also bump the heat factor up.


“But molasses? Licorice root?”


Molasses features in a lot of early Canadian beer recipes. It’s sugar, so it ferments out easily. Essentially, it supplements the malt, giving the yeast a little more to work with. Licorice root has a very sweet taste and also coats the throat—it can be used as a remedy for sore throat. So, my guess is that it’s there to balance out the heat from the spices.


Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes...

Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes…

Benson’s recipe doesn’t mention what to use in the grain bill. Today, chili beers are often light-coloured ales, or occasionally lagers. Certainly, I think that the capsicum, ginger, and cinnamon would get lost in a heavier, darker beer. Something along the lines of a pale ale makes sense. Not an IPA, though—with the extra hops and alcohol, I suspect there’d be too much going on. But maybe a base similar to that of our Ginger Beer…


In any case, it sounds like it would be an interesting summer brew: something to get the sweat glands revving and cut through the stickiness of our muggy Toronto afternoons. Ed’s pondering this, I can tell. We shall see where it leads!


In the meantime, check out the original posting here!




1 Comment

Filed under Historic Recipes

Black Creek Historic Brewery: 2015 Edition!

Aaaand, we’re back!

Well, almost. We’re back on Friday, May 1st. And we’re launching straight into things! Ed’s already been in to brew, and he’ll be bottling Friday morning to make sure our fridges are filled. My lovely and talented colleague Blythe will be ready to kick off the first Historic Brewery Tour of the season, followed by yours truly this weekend.

What have we got in store for 2015?

Lots, as always! Here’s a sneak peek at some selected brewery events.



Behind Closed Doors

Our Behind Closed Doors tour meets on the porch of the Half Way House every weekday at 12:30 pm. Led by one of our friendly beer experts, it’s a chance to stretch your legs and explore other parts of the village. No, we don’t explore beer on this tour ­– rather, we take you into closed and/or un-interpreted buildings to chat about parts of history we might not otherwise touch on.

Historic Brewery Tour

The Historic Brewery Tour also meets on the porch of the Half Way House: you can take the tour daily at 2:00 pm. We explore the social history of drinking in nineteenth century Canada, the ingredients used in beer-making, as well as the process of brewing in a historic brewery like ours. And of course, no tour is complete without sampling the finished product.

An additional cost does apply – you can purchase your ticket at Admissions!


Beer Sampler

So, you have a taste for history, do you? Come join us in the historic brewery daily from 3:00-4:00 pm to try some samples of our historic beer. We’ll give you a 4 oz glass, which we will fill not once, not twice, but thrice – each time with a different style of beer. On weekends, we have an additional sampler from 12:30-1:30.

Same as the tour: additional charges do apply. (You don’t have to go  to Admissions, though: the Beer Sampler is available for purchase right in the brewery!)

Brewery Apprenticeship

Try your hand at brewing: the old-fashioned way! Spend the day working alongside Ed, wearing traditional nineteenth century garments and learning to brew with historic methods. Join the beer tour to learn more about your creation, and then take a growler home as a souvenir. Spots are filling quickly, though – learn more here!

 Event Apprentice 01



Specialty Ales

Our list of specialty offerings for 2015 can be found here. With a new brew (or two!) every month, it’s always a good time to visit the brewery!


Hop Harvest

 The hop garden looks a little bare and forlorn right now, but in a few short months, our hops will have attained some impressive height. Spend the day harvesting our hops with Head Gardener Sandra Spudic, sample some special goodies and beer after working up that appetite, and come back in a few weeks to taste the Wet Hop Ale you helped us make!

The hops are usually ready for harvesting around late August/early September. You’ll want to book your spot early to avoid disappointment, so watch this space for details!

A Spirited Affair 

Our perennial favourite returns! It’s always an affair – and this year, the boys come home! Start with 1860s ballroom dancing and traditional ales, and then be whisked away to celebrate the food, drink, and fashion of the post-War years. Dance the night away to boogie-woogie swing music, sample an array of fine refreshments, and join the fun!

Costumes are highly encouraged. You were certainly a dapper bunch last year!

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015 – save the date!


Tavern Tales

This one is for the members! Gold and Village Members can join me in the brewery on December 17th for an old-fashioned pub night! With tavern games, traditional Canadian folktales, rousing pub songs, beer from the historic brewery and treats from the Half Way House kitchen, it’ll be a night of fun and frolic in equal measure. There may also be revelry. I’ve yet to decide on that one.

(Psst…you can become a Member at any time. Just saying. ;) )

And for now…

The beginning of the season is always an exciting time for us. It’s been a long, cold winter – we’re so glad to get back to sunny days and our cosy brewery. Can’t wait to see you all for another adventure-filled season. We’ve missed you, beer lovers!

See you soon!


Leave a comment

Filed under Brewery Events

Queen Victoria Walks into a Bar: Matching Beers and Historic Figures

A few weeks ago, we had award-winning author Tee Morris join us here on the Growler to pair beers with the characters in his novel. That got me thinking—Tee has a pretty good idea of what his characters might drink, but what about the historical figures that surround us here at Black Creek Pioneer Village? Plus, I enjoy matching people to beers they might like.

So, if one of our “people of the past” could choose any one of the beers we brew down in the Black Creek Historic Brewery, which would it be?

After some research, some pondering, and a few cackles, I think I’ve got some answers:

John A. MacDonald


Here at Black Creek, we focus quite a bit on the 1860s, and you can’t get into 1860s Canadian history without talking about John A. MacDonald. Our first prime minister was also a notorious tippler—not perpetually drunk, but capable of astonishing binges. Apparently the governor-general sent more than one letter lamenting MacDonald’s tendency to periodically vanish on drinking sprees.

Since whisky seems to have been his beverage of choice, I’d pair Johnny with our Whisky Barrel-Aged Brown Ale. At 6% ABV, it’s slightly higher than most of our offerings, which I’m sure he’d appreciate (even if his liver wouldn’t). As well, the vanilla and oak flavours imparted by the aging process would probably hold great appeal!

Queen Victoria


She lent her name to the time period. Her portrait hangs all through the village—including on the brewery wall. She helmed the era’s dominant power. We certainly need to think about Queen Victoria!

She was a hearty eater, a quick eater, and she had a sweet tooth. Though the upper classes were used to rich food, it seems her tastes were relatively plain. That being said, she was fond of fruits and tea-time treats. And so, I’d probably recommend our Raspberry Porter for our good Queen. Sweet and fruity, it’s a lovely dessert beer: not too heavy, and a good choice for those who don’t often drink beer (Victoria liked claret and whisky—combined).

The real question of course, is thus: would she be amused?

One hopes so.

Daniel Stong


The Stongs were Pennsylvania German—go far enough back, and you’d probably find a few lager-lovers in the family. However, we only brew ales here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery.

As the owner of a fairly sizeable farm, Daniel Stong would have been accustomed to long hours of physical work. After a day in the fields, I think he would have appreciated a beer with some body to it, something rich and complex. At the same time, when you’re tired, you don’t necessarily want something too heavy—and I think he’d have liked something to quench his thirst, too.

Hence, the Rifleman’s Ration. It’s about the right time period, too: this beer commemorates the War of 1812, and Daniel and Elizabeth Stong built First House in 1816: the year after the war ended.

Rowland Burr

Rowland Burr lends his name to the village of Burwick, from whence our Burwick House hails. He was also a temperance advocate. He can have some mulled cider from the Half Way House kitchen.

Mary Thompson

Alexander and Mary Thompson were the husband-and-wife team that built and ran the Half Way House. Alexander died in 1867, whereupon Mary continued running things until her own death five years later. From medieval times, women have often been involved in brewing and tavernkeeping—after all, it’s largely domestic work. (I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again: bread and beer are both made from grains, water, and yeast—hops and process make up the difference.)

I think Mrs. Thompson would enjoy our Lemon Balm and Mint Pale Ale. It’s definitely a thirst-quencher (and you think Daniel Stong had it rough: domestic work is no less physical!), and in a strange way, the lemon balm and mint have always reminded me a bit of tea. The perfect pick-me-up!

Daniel Flynn

Step Behind Closed Doors: Weekdays at 12:30!

Step Behind Closed Doors: Weekdays at 12:30!

If you’ve been on our Behind Closed Doors tour, you’ve almost certainly seen Flynn House. The Flynns were an Irish family, boot and shoemakers by trade, who settled north of Yonge and Finch in the 1850s—a few years after the influx of Irish immigrants that resulted from the Great Famine.

Of course, the easy thing to do here is to recommend our Irish Potato Stout. Stout and potatoes, what could be more fitting?

I don’t like taking the easy way.

So, for Mr. Flynn, I’m recommending the Rye Pale Ale that we did two years back. Roggenbiers are specialty German beers, but rye beers have taken off amongst North American craft breweries, too. Adding rye malt to the grain bill introduces spicy flavours—reminiscent of rye breads, funnily enough. Some brewers push the hops, too, resulting in a really flavourful beer that keeps you on your toes: something I think Mr. Flynn would appreciate!

What do you think? What historical person would you most like to have a drink with, and what would you order for the two of you?

(I do think that Emily Brontë and I could get through a few of Sigtuna’s Midvinterblots…)






Filed under Brewing History

DegL, SRM, and EBC: A Brief Look at Beer Colour Scales

The long, dark days of winter are past…which means that the heavy, dark beers of winter are slipping away too! This winter, I fell in love with rich, complex stouts and porters—especially coffee ones. Highlights include the Mocha Macchiato Stout from Old Bust Head, the Midvinterblot (an imperial porter) from Sigtuna Brygghus, and the Old North Mocha Porter from the Lake of Bays Brewing Company.

At Old Bust Head, trying the Mocha Macchiato Stout. I adored this beer.

At Old Bust Head, trying the Mocha Macchiato Stout. I adored this beer.

Now, scanning the shelves of the LCBO, we’re moving back towards pale and amber ales. Which makes sense: a heavy, oatmeal stout does seem kind of out of place in warmer weather. But considering all this also got me thinking about another aspect of beer:


Black Creek's Ginger Beer (returning this June!). A VERY different look than the stout, eh?

Black Creek’s Ginger Beer (returning this June!). A VERY different look than the stout, eh?

Beer really appeals to all the senses: we all know about appreciating taste, mouthfeel, and aroma, but what about the way your beer looks in the glass? On the one hand, some beer judging competitions see focusing on appearance as an unacceptable bias. On the other—well, I think aesthetics are just another thing to appreciate.

In the 1860s, Victorians likely weren’t terribly fussed about the appearance of their beer. But in the 1880s, an English brewer named Joseph Williams Lovibond found himself growing increasingly preoccupied by the hue of his beers.

Different colours in beers largely come about as a result of the different propo rtions of malt roasts used. The longer you kiln your malt, the darker it will be. So, very dark beers have a higher proportion of these more darkly-roasted malts. Other factors can play a part too: more alkaline water or a higher-pH mash can extract more pigment from the grains, resulting in a darker wort, and filtered beer tends to look a little lighter, since the cloudiness has been removed.

So, colour can hint at what the beer might taste like. Lovibond began experimenting with different colour scales. At first, he tried paint chips, but that didn’t work terribly well. Eventually, he came up with a set of coloured glass slides. Using this “Tintometer,” he visually matched beer samples to the slides. Determining the closest match gave the beer’s colour value in degrees Lovibond. In 1895, Lovibond retired from brewing to focus exclusively on “colorimetry,” as he called it, and he established the Tintometer Ltd. Company the next year.

An advertisement for Lovibond's Tintometer.

An advertisement for Lovibond’s Tintometer.

Another view.

Another view.

You have to give the man credit: he definitely followed his passions.

Measuring beer by degrees Lovibond held sway for decades. Honestly, it’s still pretty useful today. But it is a qualitative measurement, fairly subjective. In the 1950, the American Society of Brewing Chemists came up with a more quantitative approach. They passed light at a wavelength of 430 nanometres through beer samples, and used spectrophotometers to measure how much light was absorbed/lost along the way. To make the numbers match more-or-less with the old Lovibond scale, the absorption was multiplied by 12.7. This is the Standard Reference Method, or SRM, and it’s still used today.

Simultaneously, European brewers came up with essentially the same idea, except that the level of light loss was multiplied by 25. Thus, values on the European Brewing Convention scale—EBC—are roughly double those of SRM.

(courtesy Wikipedia)

(courtesy Wikipedia)

If you’re just kicking back on the patio, do EBC or SRM units really matter all that much? Probably not, but I know that when I’m describing beers, I like to use a somewhat-consistent colour scale. When does straw change over into gold? At what point do we go from deep copper to light ruby? For general purposes, I’m still pretty indebted to Mr. Lovibond.

Clearly, there’s more to beer than meets the eye!


Leave a comment

Filed under Brewing History