The Black Creek Brewery Goes to Baltimore

Once again, your trusty beer journalist has gone international!

I spent this past weekend at the Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (better known as Balticon). While I was primarily attending as my fantasy author alter-ego, I was also there in the capacity of Black Creek Beer Expert.

Our porter, spotted in the wilds of America! (A fellow Canadian author brought it down - I was thrilled)
Our porter, spotted in the wilds of America! (A fellow Canadian brought it down – I was thrilled!)

Besides participating on science fiction and fantasy panels, I was invited to give a talk on historic beers. After all, if an author had a medieval setting, wherein the hero drinks an ice-cold, hoppy beer with lots of head…well, that wouldn’t be historically accurate. Not at all.

Hence my presentation: 45 minutes to discuss three distinct time periods (Ancient Egypt/Mesopotamia, Medieval Europe, Victorian Canada/Britain) and also spread the word about the Black Creek Historic Brewery. I’m pleased to say that the talk was well-attended and received many positive comments…as well as a number of inquiries about Black Creek!

2014-05-25 17.02.20

I also received numerous requests to make the talk available online. Since we are all about education and beer knowledge here at the Black Creek Growler, I think that sounds like a fine idea! My plan is to record the presentation and sync it to my slides – hopefully, the video will be available within a few days. When it is, I will update this blog accordingly. 🙂

Until then, we look forward to seeing you in the brewery!



Brewery on the Banks: Patrick Cosgrave

It’s time to meet another Toronto brewer! Today, we’re focusing on Patrick Cosgrave and his sons John and Lawrence.

There’s a lot of history hidden in Toronto’s physical geography. One of my favourite bits of “lost Toronto” is Garrison Creek. Originally starting just northwest of St. Clair West, it wound its way through downtown Toronto to the lake. All that remains of the river (besides handy Discovery Walk signs) are the ravines in Christie Pits, Bickford Park, and Trinity Bellwoods, along with some really peculiar intersections and curves through Little Italy and Queen West.

Bridge where Garrison Creek crosses Crawford and Dundas streets, ca. 1910-1925 (via
Bridge where Garrison Creek crosses Crawford and Dundas streets, ca. 1910-1925 (via

Unsurprisingly, Garrison Creek also intersects with Toronto’s brewing history.

In the mid-1800s, several breweries stood directly south of what’s now Trinity Bellwoods park, along the banks of Garrison Creek. The creek provided both water for brewing and a means of cooling the wort. One of these breweries stood on a plot of land bounded by Queen, Niagara, Richmond, and Garrison Creek (now Walnut Street). Built by Thomas Bains in 1844, it became the Thompson Brewery when his partner Isaac Thompson took sole proprietorship in 1852. The brewery changed hands again when Patrick Cosgrave purchased it in 1865.

Trinity Bellwoods in the 1870s.
Trinity Bellwoods in the 1870s (click to enlarge).

As you all know, I have a slight love affair with the census, which shows that Patrick was born about 1817 (aged 54 on the 1871 census), hailed from Ireland, and was a Roman Catholic. He immigrated to Canada about 1850, bringing with him his wife Elizabeth, sons James and John, and “helper” Catherine. He partnered with Eugene O’Keefe for a few years before acquiring the Thompson Brewery. The 1861 census shows two children born in Toronto: Lawrence and Mary.

John and Lawrence would join their father in the brewery in 1871 and 1879 respectively, thus forming Cosgrave and Sons Ltd. Patrick died on September 6th, 1881, leaving his sons to enter in into a new partnership together. They managed Cosgrave and Sons Ltd until 1934 when E.P. Taylor acquired the brewery and merged it with the Dominion Brewery to create Cosgrave’s Dominion Brewery. By 1945 it merged again with the O’Keefe Brewery and was finally demolished in 1963.

Advertisements in the “Toronto World,” 1880s.


When researching, I love coming across small, telling details: the sort of footnotes that make the past feel more alive.

Did you know that there was a string of robberies in Queen West in 1868? Neither did I, until I found this reference in the Globe and Mail:

Following upon the theft of a quantity of plate from the house of Mr. D. B. Read, on Queen Street West, on Tuesday night, was another robbery, which took place at Cosgrave and Co’s brewery, in the same section of the city, on Wednesday night. On going to the office yesterday morning, the vault was found open and the cash box gone. The window of the office, which had not been fastened the previous evening, was opened. An axe was found in the office with which the burglars had chopped away enough of the stone beside the door to enable them, with the aid of an iron poker, to pry the door of the vault open. The cash box was found in the yard of the adjoining premises, but the money contents, luckily only $8, were gone.” (Globe and Mail, October 16, 1868)

Can’t you just imagine Patrick coming in to find the axe on the floor and cash box missing? Cursing himself for not fastening the window?

1892 map of Toronto for insurance purposes - Cosgrave's is south of Queen West (via Toronto Public Library)
1892 map of Toronto for insurance purposes – Cosgrave’s is marked in red south of Queen West and west of Niagara Street  (via Toronto Public Library).

Patrick’s death in 1881 caused a stir in the brewery. I found details of a court case the brothers Cosgrave went into shortly afterwards: they’d had a deal to sell their beer to a hotel keeper in Ottawa, one Michael Quinn. However, Quinn was trying to back out of the deal, claiming that he had entered into it with Cosgrave and Sons, Patrick Cosgrave was now dead, and therefore the firm no longer existed, so any agreement was rendered null and void.

A footnote in history, but a telling one: this Toronto brewery was supplying hotels in Ottawa? Clearly, operations and production had expanded significantly under Patrick’s leadership.


One final tidbit, just for pure fun: in 1918, Cosgrave and Sons Ltd had a fivepin bowling team in a local business league. Looking at the scores, they weren’t too bad, either!


Something to think about, the next time you walk along Queen West!


PS. Our Apricot Ale is out and it is delicious. Come pick some up before it’s all gone!


Beer and Spice is Very Nice: Mustards from “Whisky and Spice”

We’re mixing things up here on the Growler today! Our beer isn’t just for drinking (though of course, we highly recommend that), and we’re always interested to see what people are creating with our ales. You may recall that I used our Irish Potato Stout in an Irish Lamb Stew…

Well, Dan Gordon of Whisky and Spice is doing something even cooler!


Whisky and Spice is a producer of mustards that matches spices with craft beers, wines, and spirits. Over on his website, Dan explains:

“Our craft brewers, wine makers and distillers take great care to choose the finest ingredients. They apply many years, often decades or centuries of experience, to their craft…At Whisky and Spice our goal is to build on those complex flavours by matching craft beer, wine and spirits with the world’s finest quality spices to create products that excite the senses.”

Currently, Whisky and Spice makes three mustards: Whisky Honey Mustard, Riesling Apple Mustard, and Porter Pepper Mustard.


That last one? Yes, that’s our porter, which makes us hugely excited!

In fact, according to Whisky and Spice, the Porter Pepper Mustard is about 40% beer by volume, which means you can really taste the beer. Out of curiosity, I perused the ingredient list:

Chinese mustard seed, porter (beer), molasses, brown sugar, cider vinegar, spices.

That’s it. No preservatives, no chemicals, no additives. It’s pretty amazing; this really is “whisky and spice” — or beer and spice, in this case!

Tasting this was like unexpectedly meeting an old friend. The porter lends a lot of flavour here: all of its espresso notes come through, as does its hint of dark chocolate. It goes really nicely with the molasses and brown sugar. The sweetness isn’t overpowering, though; this mustard actually has quite a bite to it. That interplay between sweetness and spice sent me back for seconds (and maybe even thirds…okay, yes, thirds).


There wasn't much left in the end...
There wasn’t much left in the end…

Again out of curiosity, I searched for Victorian mustard recipes, to see if they used beers as well. The formidable Mrs. Beeton has this recipe:

Indian Mustard

450. INGREDIENTS – 1/4 lb. of the best mustard, 1/4 lb. of flour, 1/2 oz. of salt, 4 shalots, 4 tablespoonfuls of vinegar, 4 tablespoonfuls of ketchup, 1/4 bottle of anchovy sauce.

Mode.—Put the mustard, flour, and salt into a basin, and make them into a stiff paste with boiling water. Boil the shalots with the vinegar, ketchup, and anchovy sauce, for 10 minutes, and pour the whole, boiling, over the mixture in the basin; stir well, and reduce it to a proper thickness; put it into a bottle, with a bruised shalot at the bottom, and store away for use. This makes an excellent relish, and if properly prepared will keep for years.

Isabella Beeton, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861)


But I think I may have to try this one:

Toasted Cheese

Cut some Cheddar cheese in flakes; put it in the oven and when quite dissolved, stir it up with pepper and English mustard.

Another way: Mix the cheese in a saucepan, with a little milk or beer and a little mustard. When it is a smooth paste, serve it up on buttered toast.

Madame Marie de Joncourt, Wholesome Cookery (1882)

Cheese, beer, and this porter pepper mustard on toast? Yes, please!

You can learn more about Whisky and Spice (and order some mustard of your own) here. Also, check out Dan’s Pinterest gallery; there’s some beautiful food photography!





New LCBO Beer: Empirical Ale

That’s right, we have a new beer in the LCBO! Just ahead of Victoria Day, we are releasing the Empirical Ale. The Empirical Ale is brewed along the same lines as an IPA.

This makes sense, given that this beer pays homage to the beers shipped throughout the British Empire to supply thirsty soldiers: particularly those in India. Beer was not completely unknown in India, but it was primarily made from rice and millet. The first European-style brewery was opened by Edward Dyer in the late 1820s, near Kasauli (northern India). By the 1880s, there were still only twelve European-style breweries in India. Soldiers preferred the brews they’d been drinking at home – let’s face it, if you were stationed somewhere far away, you probably would too, right? However, since so little ale was produced locally, they relied on imported beer from Great Britain.

From the eighteenth century, British brewers had struggled to export beer to India. The beer simply did not weather the voyage well; it could take six months travelling around the Cape of Good Hope and then north across the Indian Ocean. However, a brewing manual from 1768 suggests the following:

From "Every Man His Own Brewer; Or, a Compendium of the English Brewery" by Samuel Child
From “Every Man His Own Brewer; Or, a Compendium of the English Brewery” by Samuel Child (1768)

So eighteenth-century brewers already knew that hops helped beer destined for warmer climes.

George Hodgson is a name often associated with the India Pale Ale. According to beer history site Zythophile, Hodgson’s brewery was located a short distance from the East India Company docks; thus, the East India Company used his beer for sale in India. The ocean voyage aged Hodgson’s pale October ale beautifully. By the 1820s, more and more brewers were joining in, creating extra-hoppy pale ales for the Indian market, a style known as “India Pale Ale” by the 1830s at least.

And now, in 2014, we offer our Empirical Ale. This 5% beer is deep amber in colour with a really strong nose. If you’ve ever smelled our jar of hops on our Historic Brewery Tour, you’ll be familiar with the scent. Piney/resin-y aromas abound, with hints of citrus as well.


This is definitely one for the hopheads (myself included!). The focus here isn’t so much on the malt, but on the hops: we’ve used Cascade and Nugget. This is a bitter beer, but to me, this bitterness leans more towards pines and resins than towards the grapefruit flavours of our standard IPA.

The mouthfeel is bright and sharp. The front of the tongue feels it first; the finish on this one is shorter than our Irish Potato Stout, but my mouth tingled by the end! It’s the kind of bite that makes you want more—it reminds me somewhat of a dry white wine. This beer would be great on a hot day, or at a BBQ; perhaps over the Victoria Day weekend? 😉

The Empirical Ale should already be rolling out to stores, although it does not seem to be on the LCBO website as of yet. This ale will be here for a limited time, so hop to it!


We’re Back! Looking at our 2014 season

If you’re reading this, Black Creek Pioneer Village has once again opened its doors after our winter off-season. Or, if you are reading this prior to 9:30 am EST, we’re opening in just a few short hours.

After a long, bitterly cold winter, we are thrilled to return to our cosy brewery in the heart of the village. What are some brewery-related events to look forward to this season?




Behind Closed Doors

Our Behind Closed Doors tour meets on the porch of the Half Way House every weekday at 12:30 pm. Led by one of our friendly beer experts, it’s a chance to stretch your legs and explore other parts of the village. No, we don’t necessarily explore beer on this tour ­– rather, we take you into closed and/or un-interpreted buildings to chat about parts of history we might not otherwise touch on.

If you’re with me, expect to learn about orphans and home children – a timely topic, considering the work Black Creek is doing with the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association this year.


Historic Brewery Tour

The Historic Brewery Tour also meets on the porch of the Half Way House: you can take the tour daily at 2:00 pm. We explore the social history of drinking in nineteenth century Canada, the ingredients used in beer-making, as well as the process of brewing in a historic brewery like ours. And of course, no tour is complete without sampling the finished product.

An additional cost of $4.50 per person does apply; you can purchase your ticket at Admissions!


Beer Sampler

So, you have a taste for history, do you? Come join us in the historic brewery daily from 3:00-4:00 pm to try some samples of our historic beer. $4.50 gets you a 4 oz glass, which I will fill not once, not twice, but thrice – each time with a different style of beer. On weekends, we have an additional sampler from 12:30-1:30.


Brewery Apprenticeship

Try your hand at brewing: the Victorian way! Spend the day working alongside Ed, wearing traditional nineteenth century garments and learning to brew with historic methods. Join the beer tour to learn more about your creation, and then take a growler home as a souvenir. Spots are filling quickly, though – learn more here!

 Event Apprentice 01



Specialty Ales

Our list of specialty offerings for 2014 can be found here. With a new brew (or two!) every month, it’s always a good time to visit the brewery!


Hop Harvest

 The hop garden looks a little bare and forlorn right now, but in a few short months, our hops will have attained some impressive height. Spend the day harvesting our hops with Head Gardener Sandra Spudic, sample some special goodies and beer after working up that appetite, and come back in a few weeks to taste the Wet Hop Ale you helped us make!

This year, our Hop Harvest is on Saturday, August 23rd. Reservations apply; book early to avoid disappointment.


A Spirited Affair 

We had so much fun last year, we’re doing it again…but with a twist! We’ll be jumping a whole century in time, from the 1860s to the 1960s. Come enjoy drinks, food, and dancing at this event to fundraise for the restoration of our Burwick House. Best of all: 1960s-style clothing is highly encouraged. Between the inspiration of Mad Men and the Beatles, we anticipate a very sharp-looking crowd!

September 25th – save the date!

 Spirited Affair


Say Cheese¸ Say Cheers! 

This perennial favourite is back! Join cheese expert Julia Rogers as she pairs artisanal cheeses with craft beers. Our first event, on October 16th, celebrates Oktoberfest, while our second, on November 13th, is all about bold and beautiful Winter Warmers.

Visit our website to reserve your spot!



Honestly, I love it all. Let me pick four things; one for each season at the village.

Watching the new lambs skip and headbutt each other (they’re so soft and white, sometimes they almost seem to glow); the coolness of the brewery on those roasting summer days; the crisp snap to the air and frost-sheathed grass when I arrive each morning in autumn; and the gentle, amber-orange glow that fills the village during Christmas by Lamplight.

Our hops, on one of those gorgeous summer mornings that you just know is going to ignite into a scorcher...
Our hops, on one of those gorgeous summer mornings of restrained heat; the kind that you just *know* is going to burst forth into a scorcher of a day…

Staring down the season on May 1st, it’s hard to imagine fitting so many wonderful events into eight short months! We certainly look forward to seeing you here at the brewery.

It’s good to be back. 🙂