Bright Beautiful Bottles!

Whether it’s a stubby or a slender 500-mL vessel, few things are more familiar or ubiquitous than a bottle of beer.

Yet this wasn’t always the case. Until the late nineteenth century, beer was mostly sold from casks, with a very small percentage of output bottled.

But there were some bottles to be found, mostly for export beers. Some of the earliest beer bottles used in the United States were stoneware. Pottery bottles tended to be two-toned, but there are a few examples of solid cream-coloured bottles as well. They were particularly used for storing porter, but as you can imagine, they were very heavy and difficult to transport. Nevertheless, they exemplified what we think of as a “proper beer bottle shape.” That is, they were relatively low-shouldered, with shorter necks than wine bottles.

Two-toned stoneware bottle, Black Creek Pioneer Village collection.
Two-toned stoneware bottle, Black Creek Pioneer Village collection.

Though glass wasn’t quite as strong, it proved a lighter alternative. Britain’s abolition of taxes on glass in 1845 added to their popularity as well. Some green, blue, and clear glass bottles survive, but most early beer bottles were brown: the better for keeping out light that might spoil the beer. Many bottles were made from three-piece moulds with a “blob” top: a rounded lobe at the mouth of the bottle, which was stoppered and wired shut. By the mid-nineteenth century, ale bottles tended to be shorter, squatter, with abrupt shoulders and straight necks.

"Blob" top.
“Blob” top.


Corked ale bottle.
Corked ale bottle.

As beautiful as these early bottles are, they proved a massive inconvenience for both brewers and drinkers. Prior to the development of automated bottling lines, bottling had to be done by hand. As the Black Creek Historic Brewery knows first-hand, bottling by hand is a difficult, time-consuming endeavour – but so is corking! The bottle would be held between the knees and the cork knocked in with a “flogger.” Alternatively (or perhaps, additionally), the cork could be secured with a wire.

While the corkers and bottlers probably needed a brew themselves after all their hard work, drinkers were little better off. These early beer bottles needed to be opened with corkscrews and couldn’t be resealed. Once drinkers cracked one open, they were committed to it!

Bottled beer really got a boost in the 1870s, particularly from the advent of pasteurization in 1876. Following Louis Pasteur’s methods, glass bottles were heated to 50 degrees Celsius for thirty minutes, thus killing any lingering microbes and ensuring a longer shelf life. At about the same time, the railways boomed, allowing this more stable beer to be sent further, faster. The decade ended with Englishman Henry Barrett’s invention of the screwtop bottle in 1879. Now, finally, bottled beer could be resealed.

Further developments followed in the 1890s with American William Painter’s invention of the crown cap in 1892. Moreover, by the late 1890s, beer was being chilled, filtered, and artificially carbonated so that it would stay “bright” in the bottles, thus resembling our modern beers more and more closely.

The good old days: an assortment of glass ale bottles in the taproom at Black Creek Pioneer Village.
The good old days: an assortment of glass ale bottles in the taproom at Black Creek Pioneer Village.

However, despite all of this, bottled beer only became ubiquitous (and indeed, taken for granted) after World War I. The Canadian stubby was invented in 1961, and the rest, as they say, is history…

…until 1984, when the stubby was discontinued. But that, alas, is ale for a different tale.

– Katie

(With thanks to Martyn Cornell of Zythophile and the Society for Historical Archaeology. Both go into great depth, for those interested in exploring this topic further!)

Announcement: Black Creek Historic Series Gift Pack

Just in time for the holidays!

We are very pleased to announce a special treat this winter: a Historic Beers of Canada gift pack. Available now in the LCBO, this gift pack brings together the first three beers in our Historic Beers of Canada series.

But wait! There’s more!


The gift pack also includes a sneak peek of the fourth beer in the series. To represent the 1840s, we’ve created a wheat stout called “Riel’s Dream.” Louis Riel was a prominent politician and leader among the Metis peoples, fighting to protect their rights and culture. He led two major resistances against the Canadian government: first, the Red River Rebellion of 1869-1870, followed by the North-West Rebellion of 1885. Although arrested and executed for high treason, he is regarded by many as a hero and the “Father of Manitoba.”

Though Riel was most active post-Confederation, his story begins in 1844, when he was born near modern-day Winnipeg. As such, we’ve used Manitoba wheat to make this stout, along with Saskatchewan barley. French-Canadian hops also pay homage to Riel’s background and history.

The Black Creek Historic Beers of Canada gift pack is available now in the LCBO (check with your local store first). It retails for $15.95 and includes the first four decades of our series:

Rifleman’s Ration (War of 1812)
Dray Horse Ale (1820s canal-building in Quebec)
Montgomery’s Courage (1837 Upper Canada Rebellion)
Riel’s Dream (1844: birth of Louis Riel)


It’s a historic release for the Black Creek Historic Brewery – we invite you to celebrate with our historic beers!

– Katie

New Brew: Chicory Stout

It’s a new month, and you know what that means:

Time for a new brew!

Our latest specialty beer hits our fridges this weekend. For November, Ed’s crafted a Chicory Stout. To make it, he took two ounces of roasted chicory root and made a cold infusion by placing them in 1.5 L of water for 24 hours. Then, during the last 15 minutes of the boil, he added this cold infusion to the wort.

Chicory’s an interesting plant because although it’s a member of the endive family, its roasted roots taste an awful lot like coffee. In fact, through history, that’s mostly how chicory was used: as either a coffee replacement or adulterating agent.

Yes, an adulterating agent. Adulteration of food and drink was rampant during the Victorian era. Flour was whitened with chalk and bulked out with plaster of Paris, bean flour, and sawdust. Used tea leaves could be saved, dried, dyed, and repackaged as fresh. There were even unscrupulous brewers (the horror!) who used bitter chemicals, some of them poisonous, to cut down on hops.

Through the nineteenth century, coffee became increasingly popular in Great Britain. However, it all had to be imported. Luckily, Britain enjoyed a close trade relationship with Brazil, as well as coffee-producing colonies of its own. One slight problem: by the 1850s, the duty tax on coffee was 75% of the market price, making it very expensive. Chicory, which has a similar taste, sold for less than the duty and so was frequently cut into the mixture to keep costs down. Of 96 “coffee” samples examined at the time, only 7 were pure coffee.

Looking at minutes from an 1854 session of the House of Lords reveals a preoccupation with the economic implications of chicory. Since more chicory used meant less duties paid, it was estimated that adulterating coffee had cost the Office of the Exchequer some £336,000. However, other lords argued that the poor would just cut chicory into their coffee themselves, and that the real issue was one of labelling.

One of the interesting things here is that no one seems terribly surprised by the prevalence of adulteration. Indeed, some were so used to adulterated products that they actually preferred them. As Britain’s empire expanded, the tastes of its populace sometimes outpaced their ability to meet them. While some lords and coffee growers argued that consumers ought to at least know what they were buying (coffee or a coffee/chicory blend?), in this case, monies lost seemed to take predominance.

After all, unlike sawdust, chicory isn’t harmful. In fact, it’s still used as a coffee substitute by those who prefer a caffeine-free option. Those coffee-like flavours blend wonderfully with the rich, burnt-grain notes of our Stout. It is quite noticeable, particularly on the swallow. The beer has a less rounded mouthfeel than the silky-smooth Sweet Stout we had last month, but I’m interested to see how the beer ages, since it was very, very young when I tried it.

The Chicory Stout is available only at the Black Creek Historic Brewery for a limited time – until it runs out! Hope to see you for a visit soon!

– Katie

Event – Winter Warmer Beer and Cheese Tasting – November 14th

Join us on Thursday, November 14th to take the chill off winter with a pairing of robust, full-flavoured craft beers and hearty cheeses with rustic accompaniments.  Join expert Julia Rogers of Cheese Culture and treat yourself to a rich journey into the delicious world of cheese.  Guests will sample five cheese varieties from Ontario and Quebec each paired with a selected Canadian craft beer, along with our popular fresh-baked bread and handmade root chips.  This enjoyable evening includes a guided tour of the brewery and sampling of our historic ales.  The event begins at 7:00pm and tickets must be pre-purchased.

$33.95 per person, $29.95 for members (plus taxes). Call 416-667-6284 for tickets.