New Brew: Maple Brown Ale

We hope you had a lovely holiday! A new specialty beer has hit the fridges down here in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. For July, we have our Maple Brown Ale.

Ed used our classic Brown Ale as the base for this recipe, before adding a litre or so of pure maple syrup. As it happens, the addition of maple syrup can be a tricky part of the brewing process. It’s 98% sugar, which means that the yeast love it, and want desperately to ferment it. Too heavy a hand, and you can end up with a too-high-ABV, unbalanced beer.

But of course, this fine balancing act wasn’t a problem for Ed! The Maple Brown Ale is a subtly sweet beer, coming in at 5% ABV. You can just detect the maple on the nose, but initially, the usual caramel flavours of our Brown Ale abound. It’s a very smooth beer, a bit heavier on the tongue than our classic Brown. The maple syrup really comes into play on the finish. After swallowing, the maple taste rushes up, lending the beer a sweet finish.

Find out more about the Maple Brown Ale below, in the next installment of our web series!

Even after Canada Day, we still have some growlers left in the fridge, so hurry down before it’s all gone, eh? :)


PS. I could be wrong, and I hate to be a tease (well, not really)…but I think Ed might be plotting again. ;)

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New Brew: Ginger Beer

Hello everyone!

Another month, another specialty beer at the Black Creek Historic Brewery! Just in time for Father’s Day and the annual Battle of Black Creek , Ed has brewed up his magnificent Ginger Beer.

Besides being delicious, Ginger Beer has a long and fascinating history. Early ginger beers were made from water, sugar, and ginger, and fermented with the ginger beer plant. 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%.

Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes!

Ginger also appears in many 19th century beer recipes!

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!

Last June's growler. Love that golden-orange colour!

Last June’s growler. Love that golden-orange colour!

Ed’s ginger beer is a really nice amber ale. It is  this isn’t an overly bitter beer. The ginger is definitely noticeable, but mild, the spice growing more pronounced after the first sip. There’s a moderate finish, too; 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.

It is 5% ABV, so please don’t give it to the wee ones!

The Ginger Beer will be available from the historic brewery starting this weekend. As usual, quantities are limited: when it’s gone, it’s gone. (Full disclosure: this is my personal favourite of Ed’s specialty beers…but I’m willing to share!)

Two more pieces of exciting news, we’ve embarked upon a mini-webseries exploring our beers and beer history. The first installment is up now – check it out, and spread the word! :)

As well, we received quite a nice write-up from the blog Open Air Pursuit. We have very many warm and fuzzies.

To Queen and country!


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Odes to Ale: Beer Poetry

Victorian poetry is nothing if not distinctive, full of emphasis on the senses, Romanticism, sentimentality…and a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism. The Victorians were a contradictory folk. Alongside poems of nature and religion, medieval imagery and forlorn lovers, there were also poems of beer. Whether or not beer loosened poets’ lips and let lyrical lines spring forth is up for debate.

In any case, we’ve found some ale-related anthems to share with you! Grab a pint of your favourite beer (I’m grabbing a Porter, before Ed focuses more heavily on Pale Ales and Best Bitters over the hot summer months), settle in, and let the words wash over you. :)



The Empty Bottle – William Aytoun (1813-1865)

William Aytoun was a Scottish poet, lawyer, and popular professor of rhetoric at the University of Edinburgh. With poems like this, we’re not surprised!

Ah, liberty! how like thou art
To this large bottle lying here,
Which yesterday from foreign mart,
Came filled with potent English beer!
A touch of steel — a hand — a gush —
A pop that sounded far and near —
A wild emotion — liquid rush —
And I had drunk that English beer!
And what remains? — An empty shell!
A lifeless form both sad and queer,
A temple where no god doth dwell —
The simple memory of beer!

Lines on Ale – Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Most of us know Edgar Allan Poe from “The Raven,” or “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but his body of work contains a number of lesser-known gems. This short poem is one of them…although we’re a little disquieted by the fact that it was published in 1848, just one year before his untimely and bizarre death (he was delirious and wearing someone else’s clothes – no cause of death was ever definitively established and all records have since been lost). 

Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away.
What care I how time advances;
I am drinking ale today.


Terence, This is Stupid Stuff – from A Shropshire Lad – A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

Alfred Edward Housman was an English poet and renowned Classical scholar. Regarding his poetry, best known for his collection of poems “A Shropshire Lad,” which has been continuously in print since 1896. They’re emotional, vulnerable poems – with the occasional wry smile. Much like the Victorians themselves.

 Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad…

Whole Leaf Hops

Whole Leaf Hops

And now, perhaps some poetry on Porters and Pale Ales…


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Sour Ales

Hello, beer-lovers!

As part of my quest to expand my palate, I have been tackling beers beyond my usual English/Irish/Scottish-style ales. For the past little while, I’ve been sampling beers from the continent, enjoying German weisses and witbiers, but most particularly—Belgian sour ales.

Sour ales are very different from what we do at the Black Creek Historic Brewery. Down here, we cool our wort very quickly—it’s quite an endeavour to get it from kettle to cooling ship to cask as soon as possible. See, wild yeasts and bacteria naturally occur everywhere. If you’ve got a piece of fruit nearby, you probably have some wild yeasts, too! Not all yeasts are created equal: some create very odd flavours indeed. Likewise, some bacteria devour the sugar in wort and turn it into acid.

Ed running wort through the cooling ship.

Ed running wort through the cooling ship.

So generally speaking, we try to avoid those microorganisms getting into the beer. However, sour ales specifically seek them. Sour ale brewers deliberately encourage bacteria like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus and wild yeast strains like Brettanomyces to set up shop in their wort. These microbes impart a tartness and sourness to the beer that’s very different from our ales here at Black Creek. An article on NPR phrases it very well: “Sour beers are to the adult beverage world what yogurt is to dairy. It’s beer that’s been intentionally spoiled by bacteria—the good bacteria.”

Some of the most common varieties are lambics, gueuzes, and Flanders red ales. Lambics are a variety of spontaneously fermented Belgian ale. When cooling, the wort is exposed to open air overnight. Unlike our “crash cooling,” this allows those sourness-producing bacteria to help ferment the beer. Gueuzes are blends of various older and younger lambics, while Flanders red ales are an ale often inoculated with the Lactobacillus bacteria, and left to mature in oak casks.

My Untappd has been getting some exercise. Rodenbach is one of the oldest sour ale breweries - it was founded in 1821!

My Untappd has been getting some exercise. Rodenbach is one of the oldest sour ale breweries – it was founded in 1821!

So what do these beers taste like? They remind me very much of red wine. It’s a fruit-like tartness—I’ve gotten a lot of cherry and raspberry. The level of hop bitterness is noticeably low: practically absent in some places. Certainly not an unpleasant taste, just a very unusual one, particularly for someone so used to our historic ales!

That being said, it’s worth remembering that early Victorian beers likely would have had some sourness. By the 1870s, breweries were the largest consumers of harvested ice, and the science of fermentation was much better understood thanks to Pasteur’s work in the 1860s, but prior to that it’s quite likely that brewers would not have been entirely able to keep their wort free of wild yeast and bacteria.

My favourite sour ale so far? A Berliner Weisse from our friends over at Beau’s All-Natural Brewing. It’s still very tart, but more like citrus than cherry. Like so many things in beer, it’s down to personal preference. :)

Beau's "Ich Bin Ein Bearliner" is in the centre. Love that gorgeous light colour!

Beau’s “Ich Bin Ein Bearliner” is in the centre. Love that gorgeous light colour!

What unusual beers have you tried lately?




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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!


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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. :)


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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…


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