1800s Beer Slang

There’s something inherently amusing about hearing slang different from your own. “What?” you say. “You call what a what?” Then you go on about “double-doubles” and “two-fours,” and people give you funny looks.

Slang evolves over time, and it tends to be fairly regional (just ask a New Zealander about hokey pokey). We’ve got our own terms for alcoholic beverages – two-fours, mickeys, handles, and so on – and so did the Victorians. In fact, they had rather a lot of terms for beer in general, and very specific types of beer as well – just goes to show you how important it was to everyday life!

Here are just a few examples I’ve found in Victorian slang dictionaries. Grab a top o’ reeb, you malty coves, and we’ll see you in the jerry for bitters!


Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811).

Act of Parliament: a military term for small beer, five of pints of which, by an act of parliament, a landlord was formerly obliged to five to each soldier gratis

Beggar-maker: A publican, or ale-house keeper.

Belch: All sorts of beer

Bub: Strong beer

Cali bogus: Rum and spruce beer, American beverage

Flip: Mixture of small beer, brandy, and sugar

Hard: stale beer, nearly sour, is “hard beer.”

Knock me down: Strong beer or ale

Neck stamper: The boy who collects the pots belonging to an alehouse, sent out with beer to private houses (Now, this is interesting – first of all, that alehouses sent beer out to public houses at all, and secondly, that it was common enough to that there was a term for the boy sent to collect the pots. Apparently, there was takeaway beer in 1811! – K)

Taplash: Thick and bad beer

Three threads: Half common ale, mixed with stale and double beer (like old styles of porter – K)

Whip-belly vengeance: Weak or sour beer



Sinks of London laid open : a pocket companion for the uninitiated, to which is added a modern flash dictionary containing all the cant words, slang terms, and flash phrases now in vogue, with a list of the sixty orders of prime coves (1848).

(First, I’d just like to say that one of the authors of the Lexicon Balatronicum above – George Cruikshank – also wrote this dictionary. He was about 19 when the Lexicon was published, and about 56 here. Clearly, he led a consistently interesting life.)

Bene bowse: Good beer

Gutting a quart pot: Drinking a pot of beer

Hot flannel: Mix of beer, gin, eggs, sugar, and nutmeg

Malty coves: Beer drinkers (this is my new term for all beer tour and sampler participants – K)


The Slang Dictionary; or, the vulgar words, street phrases, and “fast” expressions of high and low society (1864)

Belly-vengeance: small sour beer

Bemuse: to fuddle one’s self with drink

Bitters, to do: to drink beer

Bivvy: a pot or quart of beer

Boozing-Ken: a beer-shop, a low public house

Boozy: intoxicated

Bunker: beer

Cold Blood: a house licensed for the sale of beer “not to be drunk on the premises.”

Dogsnose: gin and beer, from the mixture being cold, like a dog’s nose.

Gatter: a pot of beer

Heavy wet: porter and beer “because the more a man drinks of it, the heavier and more stupid he becomes.”

Hush-shop: a shop where alcohol is sold “on the quiet,” without a license

Jerry: a beer-house

Lush: intoxicating drinks of all kinds, but generally beer.

Lushington: a drunkard

Never fear: a pint of beer (an example of Cockney rhyming slang – not for the faint of heart – K)

Rot-gut: bad small beer

Small-beer: “He doesn’t think small beer of himself,” he has a high opinion of himself

Swankey: cheap beer

Swizzle: small beer

Top o’ reeb: a pot of beer (this is an example of Cockney back slang – essentially, slang made by reversing words – K)

Wobble-shop: unlicensed beer shop


The American Slang Dictionary  (1891)

To take the chill off: to warm beer

Cooler: a drink, generally beer or some mild beverage

Dogsnose: mixture of gin and beer, otherwise known as “a h’aporth and a penn’orth,” that is one cent’s worth of beer and two of gin (aha, a slightly more thorough explanation! – K)

Gatter: beer, or more properly, porter

Pop: a mild drink, like ginger-beer

Rolling the duck: sending out for beer

Rushing the growler: sending to the saloon for beer with a can or pitcher (we’ve seen this before! – K)

Schooner (Am): a large beer glass


When you’re next at Black Creek, do feel free to drop some of this slang into your conversations. To Queen and Country!



Clarke, Hewson, George Cruikshank, and Francis Grose. Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence. London: C. Chappel, 1811.

Cruikshank, George. Sinks of London laid open : a pocket companion for the uninitiated, to which is added a modern flash dictionary containing all the cant words, slang terms, and flash phrases now in vogue, with a list of the sixty orders of prime coves. London: J. Duncombe, 1848.

Hotten, John Camden. The Slang Dictionary; or, the vulgar words, street phrases, and “fast” expressions of high and low society. London: John Camden Hotten, 1864.

Maitland, James. The American Slang Dictionary. Chicago: R.J. Kittredge & Co., 1891.





New Brew: English India Pale Ale

Something new is brewing at Black Creek!

With the warmer months upon us, we’ve been veering away from our stouts and porters and experimenting more with our pale ales. One of these is a wholly new beer for us: an English India Pale Ale!

In all likelihood, some of you have had our standard IPA, which is a North American version of this British classic. As you know, the IPA was originally brewed for export to India, using increased levels of alcohol and hops to survive the long ocean voyage. However, it’s not just the amount of hops that give beer its flavours and aromas – the kind of hops matters too.

Kent Golding hops. Note that the flower is fairly large and loose - that's typical of this variety. (via www.gov.uk)
Kent Golding hops. Note that the flower is fairly large and loose – that’s typical of this variety. (via http://www.gov.uk)

Our usual IPA uses North American hops, such as Citra, resulting in a citrusy, almost grapefruit-like bitterness. For the English version, we’ve used Kent Goldings: a quintessential British hop variety. While the pale amber/orange colour is very similar to its North American cousin, the English IPA is a little less intense, with an earthier aroma. Kent Golding hops provide a smoother, sweeter bitterness (I realize “sweeter bitterness” is an oxymoron-or a novel title. Trust me, it makes sense in beer). The mouthfeel is more rounded as well, the hops less aggressive on the tip of the tongue.

Our English IPA is only available in the historic brewery. We look forward to seeing you down here!



Maine: Temperance and Rum Riots

And once again, your beer journalist has gone international. This time, I’m spending a short period in Maine, busying myself with some academic pursuits. Whenever I travel, particularly if it’s outside of Canada, I love checking out the local beer scene. I’ve discovered that Maine has a thriving craft brewing industry, mostly centred in Portland.


This is actually fairly ironic, given Maine’s beer history. Maine was one of the first states to start heavily pushing for prohibition. Legislation to enact prohibition in Maine was tabled in 1837. And yes, I mean prohibition, rather than temperance. Maine cut straight to the chase with its alcohol legislation. Considering the American Temperance Society was established in 1826, followed by Upper Canada’s first society in 1828, an 1837 call for all-out prohibition feels early indeed!

But this early legislation ultimately failed to pass. Another attempt was made in 1849, but that one never got off the ground, either.

And then, Neal Dow was elected.


Neal Dow (1804-1897) was elected

Neal Dow (courtesy www.fineartamerica.com)
Neal Dow (courtesy http://www.fineartamerica.com)

mayor of Portland in April, 1851 as a “Temperance Whig.” He has variously been called “the Napoleon of Temperance,” “the Prophet of Prohibition,” and “the Father of the Maine Law.”

This is what my MFA’s faculty would call “foreshadowing.”

Dow was a strict temperance advocate with strong patriotic and religious beliefs. Alcohol had no part in Maine as he saw it, and so he crusaded for prohibition in the state. If nothing else, Dow was a man committed to his cause: Governor John Hubbard signed Dow’s proposed legislation into law on June 2, 1851. Known as “the Maine Law,” it prohibited the sale of any “beverage alcohol” in the state (that qualifier of “beverage alcohol” is important—we’ll come back to that). The Maine Law proved popular amongst temperance politicians in other states, too. By 1855, twelve other states had gone dry.

However, the Maine Law was decidedly unpopular with working and immigrant classes, particularly the Irish, who saw prohibition as an attack on their culture. I like to think that this was one reason behind Dow losing the mayoral seat in the next year’s election, but that may be wishful thinking on my part. Regardless, Dow used the next few years to travel the US and Canada, spreading the good word of prohibition, before getting re-elected in 1855.

Did you know that Portland had a Rum Riot in 1855?

Me neither.

After Dow resumed the mayoral mantle, rumours spread that he was stockpiling alcohol at City Hall. Remember—he was a staunch temperance advocate, so this seemed dodgy, to say the least. A search warrant was issued, and on June 2, 1855, four years to the day after the Maine Law was passed, a crowd assembled outside City Hall, some 2000-strong. The hordes turned violent, and Dow ordered the local militia to open fire. One man, John Robbins, was killed, seven were wounded, and Dow was soundly criticized for his overly-harsh response.

Looking towards Portland's City Hall just after the Great Fire of 1866. Portland couldn't catch a break. (courtesy the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views)
Looking towards Portland’s City Hall just after the Great Fire of 1866. Portland couldn’t catch a break. (courtesy the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views)

As it turns out, there was alcohol in Portland’s City Hall. But it was intended for Portland’s medical community (thus slipping neatly through the loophole prohibiting only the sale of beverage alcohol—see, it was important!). Ironically, Dow had acquired the alcohol improperly, and thus violated his own law. In any case, the Maine Law was repealed the next year, in 1856.

And so it seems that American beer history is just as delightful to explore as our own. Their beer’s pretty good, too! (The standouts so far are a lovely, citrusy IPA and a complex brown ale with an interesting, lingering fruitiness.)

The Stowaway IPA from Baxter's Brewing Co.
The Stowaway IPA from Baxter’s Brewing Co.
Old Gollywobbler Brown Ale, from Sea Dog Brewing Company.
Old Gollywobbler Brown Ale, from Sea Dog Brewing Company.

To Queen and country!

PS. Back at Black Creek, our Lemon Balm Pale Ale will be available in the historic brewery very shortly! For a refresher on this fresh summer ale, click here!

Brewing Rebellion: John Doel

It’s time to look at another Toronto brewer! John Doel is up today: brewer, businessman, and political figure (funny, how an awful lot of brewers wind up in politics: John Carling, George Sleeman, Alexander Keith…the list goes on!).

The man himself: John Doel (via www.lost-toronto.blogspot.com)
The man himself: John Doel (via http://www.lost-toronto.blogspot.com)

John Doel was born in Wiltshire, England, in 1790, and emigrated to Philadelphia around 1817. However, it seems that the United States was not quite to his liking; he arrived in York (Toronto) on November 5, 1818. While he seems to have been a bookseller in Philadelphia, he spent 1825-1830 as a mail carrier in York. However, he got into the brewing scene early: first establishing a brewery on Sherbourne St, followed by his brewery at Bay and Adelaide. This latter brewery commenced operations in 1827—we can only assume that between brewing beer and delivering the post, Doel was very busy! However, his brewery and real estate investments gave him a comfortable living.

In politics, Doel was a Reformer. Censuses (you knew I was going to reference the census, right?) list him as a resident of St. Andrew’s ward. By 1834, the ward elected him to Toronto City Council. 1834 was an important year for Reformers like Doel—they won a majority on the new council and William Lyon Mackenzie was elected Toronto’s first mayor (Doel voted for Mackenzie, too!).

Doel's brewery in the 1840s (Toronto Public Library)
Doel’s brewery in the 1840s (Toronto Public Library)

Mackenzie and Doel were close associates through the mid-1830s. Doel’s brewery even played a role in the 1837 Rebellion, serving as one of the Reformers’ meeting places. Meetings in late July saw the creation of a Reformers’ declaration; Doel signed it on July 28, 1837, and was named to the Vigilance Committee on July 31. In fact, Mackenzie first advocated open rebellion at Doel’s brewery, during a meeting that took place in late October. His plan to seize Lieutenant Governor Francis Bond Head and proclaim a provisional government was met with considerable skepticism and some alarm.

Doel himself never took part in the actual uprising, which happened on December 7th of that year. After the rebellion, he served as an alderman and justice of the peace. Operations continued at the brewery until it was burned on April 11, 1847, and Doel himself died in 1871. Doel’s home was demolished in 1925. Looking at the intersection today, it’s hard to believe a brewery was ever there, much less one which harboured secrecy and rebellion!

The site of Doel's brewery today.
The site of Doel’s brewery today (the northwest corner, i.e. the left side).

– Katie

New Brew: Maple Porter

In honour of Canada Day, Ed has brewed up a special beer. He’s made an oh-so-Canadian Maple Porter!

Recipes for maple beers are not very common in the Victorian period, but they certainly existed. Once such recipe appeared in the Young Housekeeper’s Friend in 1846.

Maple Beer Recipe from Young Housekeeper’s Friend. Image from Google Books

Maple molasses is simply maple sap boiled until it reaches the consistency of molasses, thicker than syrup, but not boiled down to sugar crystals. This recipe calls for neither barley nor hops, but many recipes did. A recipe for maple beer that appeared in The Balance, and Columbian repository, Volume 4, a magazine from 1805, notes that malt or bran may be added to the beer. In The Backwoods of Canada, Catherine Parr Traill’s maple beer recipe called for no barley, but she saw hops as an essential ingredient. Recipes for maple vinegar were quite common in the early 1800s when commercially produced vinegar was expensive and hard to obtain in the backwoods of Canada. Housewives and brewers would have had to be careful when brewing beer and vinegar in the same household, as the yeast that makes vinegar is different from the yeast that makes beer, though they act on the same principle ingredients. The brewer would have to be careful or everything he or she brewed would turn to vinegar!

Our Maple Porter is a deep mahogany brown beer. The maple is quite evident on the nose, but the predominant taste at first sip are complex dark
chocolate notes. It’s a smooth, rich beer with a long finish – just when you think it’s done, the maple resurges for another round. Our Maple Porter is only available in the historic brewery while supplies last – and they’re going fast!

In other news, you may have noticed that it’s been hot lately. Very hot. This isn’t really the weather for stouts and porters. So we’re cutting back on our darker beers and focusing more on our IPA, Pale Ale, and Best Bitter – yes, it’s making a comeback this year!

So, come enjoy the summer days at Black Creek Pioneer Village and stop by our historic brewery to pick up a growler of Maple Porter!