What is Ale? What is Lager?

One of the most common questions I get down in the Brewery is – what is the difference between ale and lager? It’s not exactly common knowledge to know the difference between the two, and unless you’re a big beer fan it’s likely you don’t know all the differences.

Taste
Many casual beer drinkers notice a difference immediately between ale and lager as soon as they take a sip. If you prefer popular brands of beer such as Molson Canadian or Coors, you are likely used to the taste of lager. Lager is crisp, light, and easy to drink. Lagers do not tend to be overly bitter or complex, which makes them a popular choice for those who are not a huge fan of overly bitter or malty beers. Ales tend to have a more complex variety of flavors. Here at the Black Creek brewery, our flights can go from a dark beer with hints of coffee and caramel, to a bitter hoppy beer that tastes like grapefruit and citrus. This is not for everyone – a bitter beer or a malty beer can be flavors that can be a little overwhelming to someone who is used to a clean and mellow Lager taste. One type is not inherently better than the other; it is all up to your personal tastes and palate. If you don’t like ales or you don’t like lagers, maybe you just haven’t tried the right one!

Method
The most precise and scientific answer to the difference between ale and lager lies in the brewing method. Ale is made with something called top fermenting yeast – this is what we use down in the Black Creek brewery, as all our beers are ales. This yeast tends to thrive in a warm climate, Black Creek beers ferment in the cask for a week before they are bottled.

The yeast used to make a lager does not rise to the top the way the yeast used to make ale does. But that is not where the differences stop. This yeast does not thrive at warm temperatures, and instead needs cool temperatures to do its job. The brewing process also takes much longer – often a few weeks or even a month.

There are a few other differences than have less to do with yeast and more to do with another ingredient – hops. Ales tend to use more hops, especially in bitter beers such as India Pale Ales.

Serving
Down here at the Black Creek brewery, we serve ales in an old fashioned way. Ales have historically been served at cellar temperature, which is cooler than room temperature but not ice cold. If you head over to a regular bar, it is likely you will have your ale served quite cold. However, advocates of traditional ale will insist on serving your ale at cellar temperature. Ales also tend to be cloudier in appearance if they have not gone through a filtration process.

Lagers are traditionally served at a very cool temperature, and are not intended to be served at cellar temperature. A cold serving temperature pairs well with the crisp and smooth flavor of your usual lager. Lagers also tend to be clearer than unfiltered ale.

History

Ales are thought to be the original style of beer. Enjoying ale, especially one with lower alcohol content, was a nutritious way to replenish calories and quench thirst. Everyone from children to adults would enjoy beer, as it was a way to deal with both hunger and thirst. Ales were typically enjoyed all over Europe, especially in Britain. When British settlers immigrated to Canada, they brought the tradition of brewing ales with them. That’s why here at the Black Creek historic brewery, we only brew ales. Settlers in this part of Ontario at the time would have been making ales as opposed to lagers, much like their British counterparts back home.

Historians believe that lagers became popular in Bavaria during the middle ages. When brewing was typically undertaken in colder temperatures, brewers realized that fermenting their beers longer and at a colder temperature produced a much different style of beer. Not only did this beer have a mellow and clean taste, but it was also lighter and clearer in appearance. When serving beverages in glassware became popular in the 19th century, it only made sense that a beautifully clear beer would be the beverage of choice.

So as you can see, there are some important differences between an ale and a lager. Hopefully this post helps you differentiate next time you’re down at the bar or at a brewery!

Hops to you,

Dani

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The Gustaff Beer-Poisoning Case!

Oh, gentle readers, do I have a story for you. It’s a story of attempted murder, an international manhunt, incompetent criminals—and yes, beer.

The year is 1865; the place, Toronto. Alexander McKinnon runs a bookshop. In July, he decides to advertise for an agent, and eventually hires a man named George Gustaff.

So far, so normal. Until you realize that Gustaff and his pal, known only as “Davis” are passing themselves off as doctors and running practices. They’re often seen around town together and known as “Doctors Gustaff and Davis.” Although it seems Davis might be a slightly more legitimate doctor—there is a listing in the 1865 Toronto City Directory under “Physicians/Surgeons” for an Arthur Davis, living at 41 Adelaide St. East. This is right at the corner of Bay and Adelaide, which tallies with a witness statement later on in this story.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Point is, Gustaff and Davis are using their medical reputations to buy drugs without suspicion.

Also, Davis is apparently a doctor specializing in “private diseases.”

Yeah.

*cough*

So in September 1865, Gustaff invites McKinnon to the London Exhibition. McKinnon says no. Then Gustaff invites McKinnon on a fishing trip, suggesting that “[McKinnon] should bring the eatables and he should bring the drink.” McKinnon declines this invite as well.

Fast-forward to October 3rd. Gustaff and Davis go to Brummel’s druggist on King Street East and purchase some Prussic acid. You may know this chemical better as hydrogen cyanide. It is colourless, smells of almonds, and it is extremely poisonous.

And apparently used in nineteenth century medical practice. Gotta love those Victorians!

This neck of the woods: King Street East, ca. 1856. (Courtesy the City of Toronto Archives.)

Acid in hand, the duo go to McKinnon’s office and check out a family Bible. Davis says he’ll have to ask his wife before buying it. Gustaff then tries to purchase a ten-cent bottle of ink with a ten-dollar bill. McKinnon says, “No worries, it’s not worth making that kind of change. Just pay me next time.”

“No, no,” Gustaff answers. “I’ll—uh, I’ll throw this 25c thermometer in, too!”

(I may be paraphrasing.)

Anyway, McKinnon then opens the safe to make change, and Gustaff says, “Whoa! You got a lot of money in there!”

(Still paraphrasing, but seriously, it was like $200 in bills.)

Taking directly from McKinnon’s eventual statement, he then continued, “As you are so flush, you should treat to a bottle of ale.”

McKinnon says sure, so Gustaff runs off and comes back a short time later with a bottle and a tumbler. The bottle’s cork won’t come out, so they break the bottle’s neck (which was a legit method back then), spilling most of the beer on the floor. “Have a glass,” Gustaff says, twirling his mustache diabolically.

(Okay, okay, I don’t know if he had a mustache, but he ought to have.)

“Why bother?” says McKinnon. “There’s hardly any beer left in the bottle now.”

“No, no, I insist.” Mustache-twirling intensifies.

And so the beer is poured. McKinnon wraps a package; Davis tries out their new ink. Eventually, McKinnon takes a mouthful of beer and realizes, “Whoa, this is bitter!”

Not the good kind of bitter, either.

Immediately, he feels dizzy. Suspecting he’s been drugged, he tries to run down the stairs, but collapses insensate at the bottom. Davis and Gustaff clean out the bottle and then pass directly by him, heading off for a celebratory drink at Gregor’s saloon.

It just occurred to me that nowhere does it say whether Gustaff and Davis actually stole the money after poisoning McKinnon, or if they abandoned their mission.

In any case, McKinnon comes to, his stomach burning. Pretty much everyone assumes he’s drunk, but he manages to drag himself to the Sergeant-Major of Police. There, he explains that he’s been drugged with poisoned beer.

Like this guy, but worse!

A manhunt ensues! Davis remains in the city, but Gustaff flees to the United States, apparently leaving luggage and unpaid hotel bills will-nilly behind him. By the end of the year, he’s arrested by J. Eustacio, of the New York Metropolitan Police. And to top it off, Gustaff has been going under the alias Dr. Swift.

Gustaff might itself be an alias. He’s not in any census records.

But wait! This is happening in the US now! To face trial in Canada, he must be extradited back to that country!

“Case under the Extradition Treaty,” The Globe, December 1st, 1865.

After a little finagling (the American judge wasn’t wholly convinced of the legal authority of the first batch of papers), Gustaff is extradited on February 6th, 1866. He’s first arraigned on March 22nd, 1866, but two witnesses don’t show (of course), so the trial is postponed until April.

And then –

Oh, and then –

Like, people are pretty sure he did it. Apparently, he went around to several people in the weeks before the poisoning, boasting that if he killed a certain man, he’d get $200. He also bragged about possessing a certain acid, “…one drop of which would kill a dog or cat; two drops, a man.” AND he talked about his failed attempts to lure McKinnon on a fishing trip.

He’s not really very good at this.

Plus, Robert Johnson, barkeeper at Gregor’s saloon, testifies that at 2:00 the afternoon of the attempted murder, Gustaff bought a bottle of ale “tightly corked, without either foil or wire.” (At that time, it was common for beer bottles to have a wire hood to help hold the cork in place, similar to what you see on champagne bottles today. In this specific incident, it’s a historical detail that makes me entirely too happy.) At the same time, he bought a glass tumbler.

Corked ale bottle from Black Creek’s collection. Note the “blob top,” very characteristic for bottles of this time period.

Suspicious much?

So the trial doesn’t really focus on whether he put something in McKinnon’s beer, but rather, what that something was. If it was really hydrogen cyanide, the defense asked, wouldn’t McKinnon have smelled it as soon as he raised the glass to his lips? And if Gustaff really put a full drachm (roughly a teaspoonful) in McKinnon’s beer, wouldn’t that mouthful have proved fatal?

The beer’s alcohol might have impeded the poison’s efficacy, the prosecution argued. Same for the apple McKinnon had eaten shortly before. You know what they say: an apple a day keeps false, murdering doctors away. Or something like that.

Anyway, to the surprise of exactly no one, Gustaff is found guilty and summarily sent to Kingston Pentitentiary.

“York and Peel Assizes,” The Globe, May 1st, 1866.

“It was a thing almost to make one shudder,” writes the Globe, “that they [Gustaff and Davis] came to McKinnon’s to purchase a family Bible, in view of their subsequent proceedings.”

And that, my friends, is such a Victorian response that my vision just turned sepia.

We are quite amused.

So there you have it: a case of attempted murder in 1860s Toronto that centered on a glass of beer. To embark on such crime, Gustaff must have been an… (wait for it, wait for it) Extra-Special Bitter.

BAM.

On a slightly more serious note, this thrilling tale marks my final entry for the Black Creek Growler. Since 2013, it has been a wild ride. We’ve had some good ales, shared some good tales, and I’ve loved every sip of history. Thanks for everything, beer-lovers. You’ve been wonderful companions on this journey.

Also, the specialty brew for December is our Winter Warmer (amber ale, coriander and orange peel notes), and the brewery closes until spring on December 23rd, 2017.

All my best to you. Now, all together, one last time:

To Queen and Country!

– Katie

DIY Beer Tastings!

Over the years, we’ve had thousands of people come to sample our beer in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. But what if you want to bring some friends together at your next dinner party? What if you want to put together…your own beer tasting?

Never fear! Your trusty beer journalist is here to give you some advice!

 

Step One: Consider Your Audience

Who’s your crowd? What do they normally drink? Are they game to try anything, or do they have a preferred style?  Are they seeking easy recommendations for their next night out, or do they want to try really unusual, hard-to-find beers?

Answering these questions for yourself will help you figure out the next set!

Step Two: Choose Your Scale and Scope

Do you want to have a close exploration of one style? Get as wide a range as possible? Stick to one geographic region, or taste beers from all over the world?

Every answer’s a good one, but sorting this out before you get to the store can save you time staring at bottles and second-guessing yourself.

Generally speaking, you probably want to sample between three to five beers, so setting some parameters can help you narrow your options!

Step Three: Calculate How Much You Need

One standard serving of 5% ABV beer is 12 oz. A pint’s either 16 oz (American) or 20 oz (British). Obviously, you want to be consuming responsible amounts.

If you’re doing flights of beer (which you are), you don’t want to go above 4 oz per style, and 2-3 oz is just fine—this is only a taste, after all!

Step Four: Logistics

You will need…

  • Sufficient glasses
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • A place to dump unwanted samples
  • Napkins if you are fancy
  • Notepads and pencils if you’re REALLY fancy

Step Five: The Order

There is a method to our madness in the brewery. When you’re sampling different beers, the general rule of thumb is to start mild, and work your way up.

First, look at the ABV content of your beer. The lowest ABV beers usually get sampled first, working your way up to the higher ones. (So that 4% English Bitter should come before the 6.5% India Pale Ale.)

But wait, there’s more!

Consider “mild’ in terms of flavour as well. If you have a 5% pilsner and a 4.8% oatmeal stout, you don’t want to have the stout first. Why? Because it’s a much heavier, more complex beer and it’ll mask the pilsner on your palate.

One more caveat: sour beers and hops affect the palate longer than malt tastes. So still save those lambics and IPAs for the end.

Confused?

Low ABV → High ABV

Mild flavours → Malty flavours → Sour/Hoppy flavours

Don’t worry. It’s part instinct, part practice. You’ll get the hang of it!

Tasting at Pen Druid, in Sperryville, VA.

Step Six: Do Your Homework

Your pals will appreciate if you can tell them a little about each beer. Learn the dominant tasting notes for each style, and maybe a little history, if that’s your jam. Though if you’re reading this blog, I hope it is!

Step Seven: Be a Good Host

While serving, keep track of quantity and pacing. People tend to adjust their rate to match others’, so keep things easy and relaxed. Break things up with snacks and water, and make sure all of your friends have a safe way to get home.

And there you have it!

Your very own beer-tasting party, in seven easy steps! Be responsible, and have fun!

-Katie

 

The Most Interesting Man in the World

Over the years, we have covered many interesting historical personalities on this blog: from the indomitable Susannah Oland to the lyrical John Ross Robertson. But, oh, readers: I have found the most interesting beer-related man in the world. And his name is—Jerry Thomas.

Jeremiah P. Thomas was born in Sacket’s Harbor, New York in 1830. He learned bartending as a young man—and then took off to the west coast to join the California Gold Rush (1848-1855). There, he continued bartending while searching for gold, and eventually returned back east to New York City. There, he opened his own bar under PT Barnum’s American Museum. Because of course he did.

But even that was not cool enough. Thomas then hit the road, working as head bartender at hotels across the United States and Europe. As he travelled, he developed a distinctly flashy style: pulling tricks and juggling while making his drinks. In fact, his signature drink—the Blue Blazer—was a hot toddy set aflame, and then tossed from cup to cup to create  “a blazing stream of liquid fire.”

Jerry Thomas demonstrating his famous Blue Blazer.
“How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion” New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1862. pg. 77.

But wait, there’s more!

He travelled with solid silver bar tools. He wore jewellery as ostentatious as his showmanship.

At one point, he made more money each week than the Vice-President of the United States.

He returned to New York City and in 1866 (so, right at our time period), opened his own bar again. But we’re not done. His favourite things included kid gloves, a gold Parisian watch, and collecting art.

And there’s still more.

Dear readers-

Dear readers, in the 1870s this man was president of The Gourd Club, for he had produced its largest specimen.

To recap:

Virtuoso bartender, fashionista, and gourd enthusiast.

At this point, I think his legacy is probably pretty self-evident, but let’s go into it anyway. Among all these other highlights, Thomas was the first to put forth the notion of bartender as creative professional: he is the original bartender personality. His book, How to Mix Drinks: Or, the Bon-Vivant’s Companion (1862) was the first book on mixing drinks published in the United States.  It’s no wonder the foreword to his book says, “His very name is synonymous in the lexicon of mixed drinks with all that is rare and original.” For indeed, he was one of the cornerstones of the mixed-drink culture we still see today.

And he’s really, really cool.

Some recipes!

Ale Punch

A quart of mild ale, a glass of white wine, one of brandy, one of capillaire [syrup flavoured with orange flowers or fruit], the juice of a lemon, a roll of the peel pared thin, nutmeg grated on the top, and a bit of toasted bread.

 

Ale Sangaree

(Use large bar glass)

1 teaspoonful of sugar, dissolved in a tablespoonful of water.

Fill the tumbler with ale, and grate nutmeg on top.

 

Porter Cup

Mix in a tankard or covered jug a bottle of porter, and an equal quantity of table-ale; pour in a glass of brandy, a dessert-spoonful of syrup of ginger, add three or four lumps of sugar, and half a nutmeg grated; cover it down, and expose it to the cold for half an hour; just before sending it to the table, stir in a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda. Add the fresh-cut rind of a cucumber.

 

Arf and Arf

(use large bar glass)

In London this drink is made by mixing half porter and half ale, in America it is made by mixing half new and half old ale.

All recipes from How to Mix Drinks1862. Check it out, maybe you’ll find a new favourite!

-Katie

The Not-So-Humble Hop

It’s mid-September, which means our hops have just passed their peak season. The ripening of our hop flowers is an annual sign that summer is ending, and Ed’s Wet-Hop Ale is just around the corner. Of course, we mostly know hops for their role in flavouring and preserving beer, but Victorians had many other uses for this feisty little plant!

Ed picking hops!

To start, Victorians often wrote about hops’ soporific qualities; many remedy compilations suggest stuffing one’s pillow with hops as a sleep aid. According to The Family Physician (1865), hops are especially useful when “…for any reason the use of opium is considered objectionable.” (The Family Physician, p. 829). All of the calming benefits, none of the narcotic drawbacks! (I bet it smelled pretty strong, though.)

The New Family Herbal goes a step further. If you really want a good night’s sleep, it suggests a teaspoonful of a tincture of hops…made from “six or seven ounces of Hops in two pints of proof spirits” (The New Family Herbal, p. 139). I’m not sure the hops were entirely responsible for any drowsiness!

But this particular manual lists many more uses for hops: in addition to helping you sleep and making beer taste great, apparently taking powdered hop seed could destroy worms. Hops heated in a flannel bag were touted as a cure for toothache. They also claimed that decoctions of hops cured ulcers, cleansed the blood (thus healing scabs, ringworms, and other ailments), eased jaundice, and even “…destroy[ed] the heat of the liver and stomach” (ibid).

Not to be outdone, The Hop Farmer: or, a Complete Account of Hop Culture (1838) adds animals to the species reaping hops’ benefits. In addition to using hops to cure rheumatism, this book suggests using decoctions of hops to strengthen cattle against severe weather!

From “The Hop Farmer: or, a Complete Account of Hop Culture,” by E.J. Lance (1838).

This all sounds great, but what does 21st-century science say on the matter?

No clinical studies have been done to evaluate hops’ medical benefits. That said, it looks like hops do help with insomnia, anxiety, tension, and irritability. There is also some evidence that they can help with indigestion and poor appetite. And of course, hops’ bitter acids have some antimicrobial qualities – that’s why they preserve beer!

So the next time you drink a hoppy IPA – or try one of the many fine Wet Hop Ales coming out from Ontario craft breweries – you know hops aren’t all bitterness and acid. Well – biologically, they are. But metaphorically, they’re a little sweet as well.

-Katie

 

Susannah Oland: Brewmistress

This week, we are spotlighting one of Canada’s formidable female brewers: Susannah Oland. Today, you might recognize her beer under the name Moosehead!

Susannah Oland. Image from Moosehead.ca

But let’s go back: way back. In 1865, Susannah emigrated from England to Canada with her husband John and their nine children. Upon arriving in Nova Scotia, John worked for the railway, while Susannah minded their children and brewed her signature Brown October Ale in the backyard. Impressed by her brew, friends encouraged the Olands to go into business, and by 1867, John and Susannah had established The Army and Navy Brewery. Situated on twelve acres in Turtle Cove, on the east side of the Halifax harbour, they ran a brisk business – local soldiers and sailors proved dependable customers, with a definite taste for Susannah’s ale!

However, tragedy struck just three years later. In 1870, John died in a riding accident, leaving Susannah to raise their children alone. Financial difficulties left her no choice but to sell the majority of shares in The Army and Navy Brewery, thus losing control temporarily. However, Susannah possessed both determination and solid business sense. Upon receiving an inheritance from a family member in 1877, she returned to the beer world by forming a brewery of her own: S. Oland, Sons and Co. (the use of her initial was another canny business move – she wanted to hide the fact that a woman ran the brewery!).

1871 census. Notice that Susannah is listed as “Widowed,” and it’s her sons who are “Brewers.”

 

1881 census: much the same story.

 

As a complete sidebar, it looks like her son John got into a spot of trouble: he voted in his deceased father’s place during a local (and hotly contested) election…but he was, unfortunately, underage at the time of voting (check out the 1871 census: he wouldn’t have been 21 at the time). However, it seems that nothing came of it.

A close local election was held in Halifax (“The Globe,” Nov 11, 1870).

 

Uh-oh… (“The Globe,” Feb 22, 1871).

 

You don’t HAVE to divulge your vote (revolutionary, I know), unless there’s an ethical question surrounding it. Young Oland’s standing firm (“The Globe,” Mar 8, 1871).

 

Yep, they’re letting it slide. From my wide-ranging perusals of “The Globe,” the sanctimonious tone is typical (“The Globe,” Mar 8, 1871).

Besides John’s voting issues, the Olands’ brewery survived two fires, and by the time Susannah died in 1886, her sons had become proficient brewers in their own right. After her death, her sons John Jr., Conrad, and George took over the brewery, renaming it the Maritime Malting and Brewing Co. It was not the last time the name would be changed, nor the last tragedy. The brewery survived the Halifax Explosion in 1917, Prohibition, and two World Wars, adopting several new monikers along the way. It finally became Moosehead Breweries Ltd in 1947, after the popularity of its Moosehead Pale Ale.

Through it all, the Oland family remained; they’re currently on their sixth generation! Where Sleeman, Molson, Labatt, and the others have passed into international partnership, Moosehead alone remains wholly Canadian. A fitting legacy for a fine brewmistress!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

A Beer for All Seasons

While chatting about people’s beer preferences, I would often hear visitors to the brewery describe themselves as “seasonal beer drinkers.” Fair enough, I am too. Even the most fervent lover of stouts and porters finds them a bit much on a day when the Humidex hits 40. Likewise, a light lager doesn’t always do it on a cold, rainy night.

But then I thought a little more about it, and I realized: the weather isn’t the only factor influencing the beers towards which I gravitate. When you’re selecting a beer to drink, there’s a whole range of things to think about: the setting, the list of available beers, the food, your cravings/mood on that particular day…

And so, I have compiled this list of alternate beer categories. Enjoy!

“The Go-To”

This is the beer that you can find on tap in nearly any pub. Easy-drinking, it’s the sort of beer you can drink throughout the night—and feel pretty pleased about.

For me? Beau’s Lugtread Ale.

“The Back-Up”

Okay, so you’re scanning the beer list…and you’re not seeing anything that grabs your interest. In fact, you’re contemplating getting water instead. Then you see it­—that beer that really isn’t your favourite, but you will still drink it!

For me? Guinness

“That Beer That’s Harder To Find, But You Love It, so When You See It, It’s Yours”

It’s not a common beer, but you fell in love with it long ago. When you spy it on a beer list, there’s no question. It’s yours, right now.

For me? Black Creek’s Ginger Beer, Péché Mortel (Dieu du Ciel).

“The Thirst-Quenching Beer”

You’ve been outside for hours. The sun is beating down. Probably, you’ve been doing physical work or exercise, and you are parched. Sometimes, you just need a beer, and this hits the spot.

For me? Sidelaunch Wheat, Beat the Heat (Black Oak)

The Half Way House Inn: home of the Black Creek Historic Brewery.

“The Sitting By the Fire on a Midwinter’s Night”

It’s the middle of winter. The wind chill is somewhere in the negative-20s. A gale is howling around your house, darkness has fallen, and if you don’t have a blazing fire, you should. It’s just you, a good book, and a beer in a very fancy glass.

For me? Midvinterblot (Sigtuna Brygghus)

“That Beer You’ve Heard Everyone Rave About and then You Randomly Spy it in the LCBO One Day”

Pretty self-explanatory, and it also just happened to me!

For me? Founders Kentucky Breakfast Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout

(Old Bust Head, a craft brewery in Warrenton, VA)

“The Local Brew in a Strange City”

Travelling as often as I do, I’ve made friends with beers and breweries in many different cities. It’s always fun to see what’s on tap elsewhere, and you start to find a few reliable favourites.

For me? Old Bust Head’s Mocha Macchiato Stout, Alewerks’ Old Stitch

“The What IS That, I MUST Try It!”

Every so often, you come across a beer that you just have to try. Maybe the description is particularly intriguing. Maybe it boasts your exact favourite flavours. Or maybe your favourite brewmaster is trying a new recipe. 😉

For me? Black Creek’s Gingerbread Stout, Hypnopompa (Omnipollo), Earl Grey Porter (Royal City Brewing)

*

What about you? What are your beers for all seasons? Maybe you’ll find your next one down at the Black Creek Historic Brewery!

To Queen and Country!

Katie