“Death in the Pot” – Beer Adulteration in the 1800s

Here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery, our standard roster of beers is made from four ingredients: malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. That’s it, as per tradition, the 1516 Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) and several British Acts of Parliament. (Some of our specialty brews are different—but hey, they’re specialty brews for a reason!)

Frontispiece of Frederick Accum's treatise on the adulteration of food. Found on Archive.org!

Frontispiece of Frederick Accum’s treatise on the adulteration of food. Found on Archive.org!

In the 1800s, however, things could be less cut-and-dried. Adulteration of food and beverage ran rampant in an era before modern regulations, and beer was no exception. I found two treatises from the 1820s bemoaning impurities in their flour, their tea, and their beer. These writers identified some main reasons for adulterating ales:

Increasing intoxicating effects

Basically, the alcohol content is beer is determined by the sugar content (yeast metabolize sugar to alcohol), which is in turn dependent on the proportion of malt you’ve used. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the price of malt spiked. Some brewers, therefore, found other ways to add some “cheer” to your cup.

Opium, poppy extract, and tobacco could all be added to beer to make it feel like you were getting drunk more quickly. More common was cocculus indicus: the fruit of the Indian berry plant: a potent narcotic.

Increasing bitterness

Say you’re a little short on hops. What else can you use? Bitter herbs and plants like aloes, wormwood, horehound, bitter oranges, and quassia (a flowering tree) could all be used to mimic hops’ particular astringency. Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with flavouring your beer with herbs—medieval gruit beers took a combination of rosemary, bog myrtle, and sweet rosemary. However, hops contain oils that act as preservatives. Beers made without them simply don’t keep as long.

Colouring dark beers

In the 1820s, brewers were making porters from a blend of brown and pale malts. As mentioned, the Napoleonic Wars increased barley prices—and brewers discovered they could make more wort from pale malts. However, customers expected porters to be dark, and the pale malts weren’t cutting it.

So instead, brewers boiled down sugar to a black colour. Once added to the wort, it would darken it. Burnt treacle and sugar also mimicked the roasted tastes and sweeter finish of a porter. Sugar and molasses could also add fermentable sugars if your grain bill was lacking.

“Aging” beers

In the early modern period through the early 1800s, it was common for brewers to make two types of beer: aged (or “stale”) beer and mild beers. Aged/old beers had a sharper taste, whereas mild beers were…well, milder and a bit sweeter. In taverns, it was quite common to order and serve a mixture of both, but sometimes, unscrupulous brewers and tavernkeepers added a shot of old ales to mild ones in order to “age” them. Apparently, combining assorted dregs and leftovers into a single cask wasn’t unheard of, either!

Now, adulteration was generally slammed as a means of cutting corners and saving costs. But looking to early-nineteenth century Ontario, I wonder if adulteration sometimes resulted from necessity or desperation. Adding molasses when you didn’t have enough barley would result in a higher-alcohol beer, and additives like capsicum might well have helped liven taste when brewing ingredients were scarce (both molasses and capsicum/cayenne were ingredients in Thomas Benson’s ale, incidentally—he seemed unbothered).

While I certainly don’t want opium or tobacco in my beer, I’m all right with a bit of ginger. Maybe even treacle, depending on the style. Then and now, transparency about brewing method and ingredients is the key. :)



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New Brew: Elderflower Stout

A new month, a new brew. :)

Elderflowers in a basket (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Elderflowers in a basket (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Our November specialty beer launches this weekend! This month at the Black Creek Historic Brewery, Ed has crafted an Elderflower Stout. Elderflowers are flowering hedgerow plants or shrubs. They’re identifiable by their feathery white sprays of flowers and small, dark berries. Both flowers and berries are frequently used in cooking and baking (the leaves, roots, and sticks can leave you pretty sick, though).

The indomitable Mrs. Beeton tells us:

The elder-berry is well adapted for the production of wine; its juice contains a considerable portion of the principle necessary for a vigorous fermentation, and its beautiful colour communicates a rich tint to the wine made from it.

Turns out it’s good for beer-making, too! The Elderflower Stout pours very dark indeed; black enough that you can’t see through it. At first sniff, I thought, “Wine,” but then richer, more chocolate aromas came through. Those carried through the flavours as well­—chocolate and roasted grains carry things at first, but then the elderflowers emerge in the mid-taste. They give a subtle, floral edge to the beer: a hint of grape-like fruitiness. The BBC’s food writer likens elderflowers’ aroma to a “heady Muscat grape,” so the very strong wine character I’m getting isn’t too surprising!

This beer is medium-bodied: some weight on the tongue, but nothing too heavy. It’s very round and smooth, with a dry finish. This would make a good dessert beer, I think, perhaps paired with some lighter tea-cakes or scones.

The Elderflower Stout launches this weekend, and will last until we’re out. Come on down for a floral taste in the middle of November! (And don’t forget, Black Creek’s Christmas events and activities begin November 21st!)



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Taddle Creek and Enoch Turner

“Lost” rivers continue to fascinate us here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery. We’ve talked about them before – all those brewers in Queen West, along the banks of the now-forgotten Garrison Creek. This week, we’ve turned our gaze slightly north to Taddle Creek.

Taddle Creek (courtesy www.lostrivers.ca)

Taddle Creek (courtesy http://www.lostrivers.ca)

Taddle and Garrison Creeks actually started from similar locations: roughly around St. Clair Ave, slightly west of Bathurst Street. But while Garrison Creek meandered through Christie Pits, Bickford Park, Little Italy, and Trinity Bellwoods before ending up at the Toronto Garrison, Taddle Creek swung east towards Avenue Rd, cut through U of T (if you visit Philosopher’s Walk, you can walk along the old streambed) and eventually emptied into the harbour near the Distillery District.

At least one brewer set up operations on the banks of Taddle Creek. Enoch Turner (1790-1866) emigrated to Canada from Staffordshire, arriving to York in the late 1820s. He established a brewery around Parliament and Front Sts, in the curve of the Taddle Creek.

Unfortunately, a massive fire destroyed the brewery in 1832. Fortunately, Turner had clearly made friends amongst the citizens of York. Several nearby businessmen gave him loans (including his neighbor James Worts) and the Toronto Circus donated the proceeds from a benefit performance. The 1834 City Directory lists Turner back in his old spot at Palace St (the old name for Front) “…near the windmill.” That windmill, the directory also tells us, belonged to Gooderham and Worts.

The 1851 Directory and Almanac describes the area thusly: “Palace Street runs east from the Market-Square, towards the upper end of which Jarvis is situated. The principal private residences on this street are those of the Honourable Christopher Widmer and the cottage of Enoch Turner, Esq., which, with their tastefully laid out grounds, have a handsome appearance.”

Enoch Turner's home and brewery, surrounded by an arm of Taddle Creek. South is at top. (courtesy Toronto Public Library)

Enoch Turner’s home and brewery, surrounded by an arm of Taddle Creek. South is at top. (courtesy Toronto Public Library)

So it seems Mr. Turner had managed to rebuild himself quite nicely. And it seems he was an integral part of the community that had helped him back to his feet. The Almanac also lists both Turner and W. Gooderham as churchwardens at Trinity Church, and notes that “Adjoining the church is a handsome gothic School House, built by Enoch Turner, Esq., and given by him to the church. It is capable of accommodating 200 children. The Sunday School is in a flourishing condition.”


Turner and his partner Samuel Platt decided to retire in 1854, selling the brewery. The Globe newspaper describes quite an impressive structure: “116 feet by 42 feet, two storeys high, independent of three capital stone cellars, paved with flags, also a spacious cellar 43 feet by 21 feet, with malt house and granary above…and every convenience for brewing and distilling on a very extensive scale…”

Enoch Turner died in 1866, by which point Taddle Creek had been filled in and submerged as far west as Elizabeth St. Much like Taddle Creek, however, Enoch Turner’s presence lingers in Toronto: in Trinity Church, his schoolhouse, and in the fond memories of him here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery.


Further Reading

I highly recommend Lost Breweries of Toronto, by Jordan St. John: a very good survey of Enoch Turner and his colleagues.


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Pumpkin Ale is here!

Spices ready to be popped in the kettle!

Spices ready to be popped in the kettle!

You’ve been very, very patient…and now, the time is come. Our Pumpkin Ale comes out this weekend at the Black Creek History Brewery! This is a perennial favourite, so we’re very pleased to celebrate it the rest of this month.

And this is no “Pumpkin Spice Ale,” either. Ed’s Pumpkin Ale uses real pumpkin puree. One addition during the mashing breaks the pumpkin’s starch into sugar that will be fermented alongside the malt. Another during the boil adds that truly pumpkin-y taste and aroma. Ed’s also added ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice – everything you’d expect in a pumpkin pie. It’s autumn in a glass, perfect for Halloween!

Look for the Pumpkin Ale in the LCBO, too!

Look for the Pumpkin Ale in the LCBO, too!

Speaking of Halloween, our Howling Hootenanny weekends are also here: October 17th & 18th, 24th & 25th, and the big day itself: October 31st. Take the kids trick-or-treating in the village, make creepy crafts to take home, and decorate your own pumpkin. If you find you need some refreshment after braving the Haunted Maze and Apple-Slingshot (though I’ve no idea how ANYONE could get tired of apple-slinging), come join us in the historic brewery for a fresh sample of Pumpkin Ale!


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Something Sweet: Honey Brown Ale

Soon, soon, soon

Soon, soon, soon

October is shaping up to be a busy month here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery! Our Spirited Affair last Saturday was a killer-diller of an evening. Ed’s brewed his first batch of the Pumpkin Ale (out October 18th). But before we get to that, we have another specialty beer for you!

Our Honey Brown Ale hits the fridges this weekend, just in time for Thanksgiving. Honey’s having a resurgence of interest in the brewing world, but its alcoholic roots actually go back much further – not to beer, but to mead. Mead is a mixture of fermented honey, water, and occasionally spices, fruits, and grains. It was a hugely popular drink in the Medieval Ages, particularly through Scandinavia and Great Britain (no Norse or Old English saga would be complete without mead being consumed at a mead-party in a mead-hall on mead-benches…Old English literature has its peculiarities). In those contexts, alcohol was an important accompaniment to ritual gatherings, the binding of oaths, and the making of boasts…which essentially amounted to the same thing as binding an oath.

On the technical side, honey has a lot of delicate, complex flavours and enzymes, which makes it a really interesting addition to brews. However, honey is mostly sugar, and yeast love it. In fact, 90-95% of the sugar in honey is fermentable. So, it takes a careful hand while brewing: you don’t want the yeast to devour it all and leave you with none of that honey flavour.

Luckily, there are several brews out there that do an excellent job. Besides our Honey Brown, there’s the Chateau Jiahu from our comrades at Dogfish Head Brewery. They’ve replicated an ancient Chinese beverage that used honey both for flavour and alcohol content (it’s upwards of 9%!). Closer to home, you may have tried the Royal Stinger/Apiary Ale from the Fairmont Royal York. Only available on draught in the hotel, it’s made with honey from their own rooftop beehives!


You could also try this Victorian recipe:

Spruce beer recipe: Boil to a jelly half a pound of fine starch, and add to it one and a half pound of strained honey, and one gallon of soft water, allow for three times this receipt two ounces of the essence of spruce, add yeast, and close the cask as soon as fermentation ceases. It will be fit to use in two days, and will not keep a very long time.

The housekeeper’s encyclopedia of useful information for the housekeeper in all branches of cooking and domestic economy, Mrs. E.F. Haskell, 1864

So how does our Honey Brown taste?

It pours a dark golden-brown colour, and you can smell the honey right away. At first sip, it’s mostly notes of our classic Brown Ale: some slight burnt caramel and toasty malt flavours. Then the honey hits. Playing along the rear of the palate, the honey comes up through the nose and leaves a very sweet finish as well. This is an incredibly smooth beer, almost silky in mouthfeel. After swallowing, you’ll notice the honey on the tongue for a long time; it’s a lot more noticeable than last year…

And I think it would pair well with some post-Turkey relaxation. We’re open all long weekend, so drop by and say hi!





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A Spirited Affair! 2015 Edition!

This year's Spirited Affair is Saturday, October 3rd!

This year’s Spirited Affair is Saturday, October 3rd!

It’s that time of year again! Yes, it is our annual shindig and fundraiser – A Spirited Affair! Last year, we boogied down to the 1960s. Now, we’re jiving in the 1940s as the Boys Come Home!

This event gives you two time periods in a single evening, as we mix the elegance and tradition of the 1860s with the excitement and spirit of the late 1940s. Sample traditional ales alongside modern offerings. Tap your toes to violin music and toss a few horseshoes…and then take our slang challenge (it’s a gas!) as you sample fine foods. And of course, the evening wouldn’t be complete without some lindy hop dance lessons!

1940s style!

1940s style!

And we want you to join in the fun: 1940s outfits are highly encouraged. There were some very sharp dressers at last year’s event—we look forward to seeing your favourite get-up!

But there’s a serious cause alongside our celebration. The Spirited Affair is a fundraiser, directly impacting a restoration campaign called “Explore History­ – Build a Better Future.” This campaign was launched by the Living History Foundation with support from the Toronto Region Conversation Authority. This year, we continue to support the much-needed restoration of our Burwick House. Burwick House was one of the first buildings to be moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village. It’s one of the best examples we have of 19th century middle class life and customs. Situated in the heart of the village, it is also situated close to our hearts—now it’s time to show it the love it so richly deserves.

From the archives (Katie may have too much fun with the archives...): Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1959, the year before it officially opened. Burwick House has already been moved (just right of photograph centre).

From the archives (Katie may have too much fun with the archives…): Black Creek Pioneer Village in 1959, the year before it officially opened. Burwick House has already been moved (just right of photograph centre).

A Spirited Affair will be held on Saturday, October 3rd, from 7:00-10:00 pm. Tickets are $80/person and include drink samples and gourmet foods—advance reservations are required. To avoid disappointment, book early! Click here, or call our customer service line at 416-667-6295.

You can find more information here as well.

It’ll be an affair to remember! We can’t wait to see you there.


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New Brew: Wet Hop Ale

Just in time for our Two-Day Pioneer Harvest Festival, our Wet Hop Ale is ready! Brewed with the hops grown onsite, this seasonal ale has turned out very well indeed. Usually, beer is brewed with dried hops (actually, modern beers are brewed with compacted hop pellets, but that is beside the point). With the Wet Hop Ale, Ed has used hops straight from the vine.

So, what is the Wet Hop Ale like?

Ready for harvesting!

Ready for harvesting!

Coming in at 5% ABV, this beer is a deep gold colour, almost a light amber. Brewing with wet hops is like cooking with fresh herbs rather than dried: the nose is quite delicate and floral. Naturally, this ale is hop-oriented, but they aren’t very aggressive. Floral and citrus notes come through to start, with a hint of underlying earthiness.

Since this brew requires hops that have just been harvested, we can only make the Wet Hop Ale once each year (it’s become my personal sign that autumn is fast approaching). Like much of life, it is far too fleeting – which makes us appreciate it all the more. It’s becoming more popular with other breweries, too – I just picked up a fresh Autumn Hop Ale from Amsterdam Brewery that I’m very excited to try! :)

The Wet Hop Ale will be available only at the historic brewery whilst our stocks last. And in another sign of approaching autumn, our Stout and Porter are back in the fridges!


PS. Save the date! A Spirited Affair, our fundraiser and celebration of craft beers, wines, and spirits, is Saturday, October 3rd. Shake and shimmy at this 1940s-themed event and support a great cause (restoration of our historic buildings). For more information and tickets, please click here!

This year's Spirited Affair is Saturday, October 3!

This year’s Spirited Affair is Saturday, October 3!

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