Recap: Hop Harvest 2013

EDIT: The Wet Hop Ale could use a little more ageing. It’ll officially be out September 5th. If you were planning a special Labour Day Weekend visit to BCPV we can fetch you some – but try to hold off on drinking it right away!

On Saturday, August 24, we had our annual Hop Harvest! It was a great success!

When Black Creek opened for the season on May 1, the hops barely poked above the ground. But now, they’ve reached the tops of their supporting poles. Despite a cool spring and summer, they definitely achieved some impressive height—we’re very glad that Doug (one of our interpreters) was around to help us cut the vines down!

Our Head Gardener Sandra Spudic and I met our intrepid hop harvesters at the Visitors’ Centre. After introductions, we headed over to see the barley fields. There, Sandra discussed some of the challenges of historical horticulture. Three years ago, we made an Estate Ale from hops and barley grown onsite. Last year, wild geese ate most of our barley. This year, we’re sparring with sparrows. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Next stop: the hop garden. As the late morning sun slanted through the vines, we clustered around a long table where Sandra showed us the yellowish lupulin inside the hops. Lupulin is the powder secreted by the hops’ lupulin glands (but of course) and it lends beer its distinctive bitter aromas and flavours. Various oils and resins in the hops also help preserve the beer. As I explained during the harvest, and as I noted here, the introduction of hops was essential in transforming brewing from domestic chore to large-scale industry.

Our hops, as seen on an early summer morning.
Our hops, as seen on an early summer morning.

To make his Wet Hop Pale Ale, Ed needed a full bushel basket of hops. Our hop-pickers did not disappoint, stripping the pale, pinecone-like flowers with gusto and efficiency. We quickly learned that if you pick enough hops, your hands start to acquire that lovely hoppy smell.

Just before noon, we carted our bounty down to the brewery. Generally, hops are dried before they’re added to the boil, but as this is a “Wet Hop” ale, Ed just put them straight in. Hops are added during the boil for flavouring purposes, and also to force those preserving oils to integrate into the wort—a process called “isomerization.”

Our harvest.
Our harvest.

By now, our crew had earned a break. We grabbed a few growlers and went to the taproom, where our hard-working hop-pickers sampled bread made with hop-risen yeast and cookies made with spent rye and barley mash. Both bread and cookies were prepared in the Half Way House bake oven by our baker, the lovely and talented Amy. Yours truly also led a guided tasting of our beers.

The Wet Hop Pale Ale is fermenting in the barrels as I type this. Our band of hop harvesters will get the first chance to purchase some starting officially on September 5 (it just needs a touch more ageing). Thanks to all who participated (and a huge thanks to Sandra); it was a great event!

– Katie

New Brew: Lemon Balm-Mint Ale

We’re getting towards the end of August, and you know what that means! Time for a cool and refreshing ale!

Ed’s Lemon Balm Pale Ale has been consistently well received, so he’s brewing another batch. This crisp pale ale has a hint of mint flavour and lemon aroma courtesy of the herb, Lemon Balm (this year, Ed’s also added some extra mint to heighten those notes). For those unfamiliar with lemon balm, it’s a bushy herb related to mint that is easily recognizable by the strong lemon smell given off by its crushed leaves. In the past Lemon Balm was considered a healing and soothing plant, and especially effective in relieving pain due to indigestion. Lemon Balm was also used to impart a lemony taste and smell to many beverages and foods.

Some Lemon Balm!
Some Lemon Balm!

The ale is aging now (and even though it’s still quite young, it already tastes delicious!) and will be for sale starting August 24th, only at Black Creek Historic Brewery located in the heart of Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto, Ontario. As per usual, this specialty brew will be available only for a very limited time – until the fridges are empty!

– Katie

Still Waters Distillery – A Spirited Affair

swlogoBlack Creek Historic Brewery has met it’s match in Still Waters Distillery!  Founded in 2009 by Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein, this micro-distillery in Concord, Ontario produces hard liquors like we produce beer, one handmade batch at a time!  Like Black Creek, they start from scratch with raw materials including grains, corn and fruit.  Once brewed and distilled, it’s into wooden casks to age.  Due to the small scale of each batch, the bottles produced are numbered and released as limited editions.  Their current line up of products includes Single Malt, Rye and Corn Whiskey, Vodka, Rye, Brandy and in the near future – gin! 

SpiritedAffair-OnPupleWe are thrilled to welcome Still Waters Distillery as our whiskey supplier for A Spirited Affair, our fundraiser celebrating beer, whiskey and wine on September 27th, 2013.  They will be on site providing samples and talking about the unique methods they use to create their amazing beverages.  Tickets for A Spirited Affair are available through our website.

In the meantime, you can purchase Still Waters products through the LCBO, online or at the brewery at 150 Bradwick Drive, Unit #26 in Concord.  They also love to do tours which you can book ahead of time by contacting the brewery.

Once you’ve got your bottle home, here’s an 1860s recipe for a summery Whiskey Cobbler from The Bon-Vivants Companion.

Whiskey Cobbler.
(Use large bar glass.)
2 wine-glasses of whiskey.
1 tablespoonful of sugar.
2 or 3 slices of orange.
Fill tumbler with ice, and shake well.  Imbibe through a straw.

Ginger Beer to Ginger Ale: How a Brew Became New

Currently in our fridges at the Black Creek Historic Brewery: Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, Best Bitter, and Rye Pale Ale. The Lemon Balm-Mint is coming soon—keep your eyes open for a post on that!

But sometimes I feel like a temperance drink. In these warm summer months, that often means a ginger ale (although I often yearn, absolutely yearn for a Bundaberg Ginger Beer…but alas). Victorians would have been familiar with these beverages too; and you’d be more likely to find them in a brewery than a temperance hall!

Either I need to go back to New Zealand, they need to distribute this in Canada, or we need to try brewing (alcholic) ginger beer!

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

By the 1850s, however, new laws forced English ginger beer brewers to water their product down to 2% alcohol. It still remained incredibly popular. In 1877, writers John Thomson and Adolphe Smith estimated that some 300,000 gallons of ginger beer were being sold in and around London. With the rise of imperialism, ginger beer also went global. Soldiers stationed in the Caribbean and Africa were particularly fond of this spicy brew, drinking it to combat homesickness. Local populations adopted it, though they typically made non-alcoholic versions.

So, what’s the difference between ginger beer and ginger ale? Easy: ginger beer is brewed, ginger ale is carbonated water flavoured with ginger. With some exceptions, ginger beer tends to be spicier, with a more pronounced ginger taste and cloudier appearance, while ginger ale is lighter in taste and colour.

(Courtesy )

Although ginger ale was reputedly invented in Ireland, Canada has a role to play in ginger ale’s history. In 1890, University of Toronto alumnus and pharmacist John McLaughlin opened a carbonated water plant in Toronto by Old City Hall. By adding various fruit juices, he developed sodas to sell to pharmacies. His Belfast Style Ginger Ale was one notable example, and by 1904, he had refined the recipe into a lighter, sharper version he called “Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale.”

The rest, as they say, is history. And as they also say, just don’t drink Canada dry. You might regret it the next day. 😉